Thursday, March 27, 2014

Oshie's first hat trick leads Blues past Wild 5-1

Combined with Steen, Backes, St. Louis top line has 15 
points in two games; team remains top team in NHL with 107 points

ST. LOUIS -- Lyla Grace Oshie was born a St. Patrick's Day baby on March 17. She may not understand what her dad is doing on the ice these days, but T.J. Oshie's daughter will certainly see it firsthand once she's old enough.

Oshie had been looking for a way to score a goal for Lyla. He got it Tuesday against the Toronto Maple Leafs after being blanked the first three games.

But Thursday night brought a new souvenir for 'Baby Oshie.' It's another puck, but this one comes after dad netted his first career hat trick in a 5-1 victory against the Minnesota Wild at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Behind the first career hat trick for T.J. Oshie (74) and a 27-save effort
from Ryan Miller (39), the Blues blasted the Wild 5-1 Thursday night.

Oshie brought the puck home from Toronto to add to a collection of keepsakes for his daughter. He'll add another after Thursday's milestone.

"She already got one ... maybe that third one will definitely go to her," Oshie said. "It's exciting, exciting night. Happy to get the win.

"I think (the hat trick) just a bonus. We're really focusing on playing good, team hockey right now. That's what we got tonight. A few of them just happened to go off my stick. The next night is going to be someone else."

Oshie's three goals is a culmination of his consistent play in recent weeks, but Blues coach Ken Hitchcock feels it's more of a reflection of the Blues' top line with David Backes and Alexander Steen.

Backes had two assists and Steen had an assist Thursday. Combined with their efforts against the Maple Leafs on Tuesday, the line has 15 points in two games. 

"I think the whole line's playing," Hitchcock said. "They're really playing with a strong focus, but now they're really trying to lead us. I think they're trying to get details in their game. Obviously when you're leaders like they are, you get the details in their game and it forces other people to have details in their game. 

"I think they're getting ready for the playoffs. They're not trying to just ease their way into it, they're trying to play their way into it. I think they're doing a bang-up job every night. They're reading off each other, their puck support ... I think the biggest thing for me is their puck support. They're movement away from the puck is really back to where it was at the start of the year and I think it's really, really impressive."

Backes, who got into an altercation with Wild goalie Darcy Kuemper in the second period, was happy for his teammate.

"Heck of a performance by him," Backes said of Oshie. "He's been a horse for us all year; strung a couple great shots together, a top to capitalize on that last one. I couldn't be happier for him. He's worked his butt off all year. To have the last two games like he's had, he's well-deserving and I couldn't be happier for him."

Jaden Schwartz and Brenden Morrow scored for the Blues, who leapfrogged the Boston Bruins for the points lead in the NHL standings and race for the Presidents' Trophy (107-106). The Bruins defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-0 earlier Thursday.

Ryan Miller made 27 saves and is 9-2-1 with the Blues. Jay Bouwmeester had two assists.

The Blues (50-16-7) reached 50 wins for the first time since 1999-2000 when they won 51 games in their only Presidents' Trophy-winning season.

St. Louis is 8-0-2 in its past 10 home games, 11-2-1 overall in the past 13, and have defeated the Wild nine straight times. Minnesota (37-26-11) is 3-5-4 in its past 12 games and lead the Phoenix Coyotes by one point for the top wild card in the Western Conference after Phoenix defeated the New Jersey Devils 3-2 in a shootout Thursday.

Oshie scored twice in the first period; his first, which tied a career-high 19th of the season set in 2011-12, came when he collected a rebound in the slot and beat Darcy Kuemper high glove side 4:43 into the game for a 1-0 lead.

St. Louis is 40-2-5 when scoring the first goal.

Oshie's second of the game and career-best 20th of the season came shorthanded. He picked Jaren Spurgeon's pass and raced in alone before beating Kuemper five-hole for a 2-0 lead with 26 seconds left.

The Blues had to kill off a four-minute power play after Kevin Shattenkirk was in the box for roughing Cody McCormick. The Blues took exception to McCormick getting an elbow up high on Shattenkirk.

"I think it was more of a message goal," Oshie said. "I don't know what the replay showed, but I think that was a questionable play by them that got the whole thing started. We had our little scrum and to put the puck in the net, it fired us up a little bit, especially me."

Oshie's third goal came off a Bouwmeester left point shot, with Oshie getting the tip in front at 7:18 of the third period. 

There was some debate whether Steen got a tip on the puck. He did, but there was a double deflection.

"I'm pretty sure we both touched it," Oshie said. "I don't know who touched it last.

"He came right away to me and said it was mine. Steener's too good of a guy to take that one."

Backes scored three goals Tuesday against the Maple Leafs. It was the first time the Blues had a hat trick in back-to-back games since the 2000-01 season when Pavol Demitra scored on Dec. 20 and Michal Handzus scored on Dec. 23.

Minnesota was 0-for-3 on the power play in the first period, 0-for-6 in the game.

The Blues' penalty kill, which had its work cut out the entire night, thwarted the Wild on all six opportunities and has now killed 59 of 66 dating back to Feb. 1.

"It's big. They're a team that needs the points," Miller said of the Wild. "They have a good power play, they move the puck well, they have some dangerous guys. 

"We just stuck together. We got some good blocks, good reads, some nice plays and it it was one of those games where you're going to have to kill them and not get too frustrated because you know you're not going to get the calls tonight."

Schwartz added to his career-high goal total when he scored his 23rd on the power play in the second period, firing a shot from the right circle into the top corner over Kuemper with 6:50 remaining in the second for a 3-0 lead.

Kuemper stopped 19 shots for the Wild; he is 1-5-2 in his past eight decisions after winning five consecutive starts.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
The Blues' Jaden Schwartz (left) battles with the Wild's Mikko Koivu for
the puck Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

Morrow scored the Blues' second power-play goal 10:45 into the third period after a two-man advantage expired.

Parise snapped Miller's shutout 26 seconds later off a feed from Charlie Coyle. Miller's last shutout was 99 games ago against the Montreal Canadiens on March 21, 2012.

"It would have been nice," Miller said, "but I felt like [Thursday] was a step forward as far as communication with the 'D.'"

The Blues don't like to talk about statement games. They prefer to debate whether they play the right way or not.

"I don't know if Hitch will agree, but it's one of those games where you're home after being on the road for a little bit," Backes said. "There always seems to be something about that where teams come out a little flat. We had times where we were real good managing the puck, the power play was pretty efficient tonight. There were other times when we were turning pucks over and they were forcing us into turnovers where we weren't getting them below the goal line and they were turning it into transition and had a few great chances. Millsie made a lot of timely saves. I think everyone's kicking themselves a little bit that we let up the one with 10 minutes left or so."

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