Elliott strong effort; Lapierre, Morrow get goals
as St. Louis catches Boston for top spot in NHL
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues got away with one, and they know it.
Call it a classic case of overlooking the opponent, playing down the competition and getting caught up scoreboard-watching and looking at the standings.
The end result was what mattered most, a 2-1 Blues victory against the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, but it was anything but a breeze.
The thunder and lightning the 16,146 expected to see out of the home team was instead witnessed outside the building with tornado warnings all around Scottrade Center and downtown St. Louis.
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
The Blues' Vladimir Sobotka (17) tries to pull away from Buffalo's Rasmus
Ristolainen Thursday night.
Inside, it was a classic clunker. But the win helped the Blues (52-17-7, 111 points) break the franchise record for wins in a season, previously shared with the 1999-2000 team that was 51-19-11-1.
The Blues also caught the Boston Bruins for the top spot in the NHL standings after the Bruins fell 4-3 in overtime against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The mood in the St. Louis locker room was somewhat somber.
"We can play way better," said Blues center Maxim Lapierre, who scored a goal in the game. "There's no way we're happy with our effort tonight. We're going to have to fix it."
In need of points, the Blues had a tough go of it against the last-place Sabres.
So when the Blues needed a pick-me-up, they turned to the guys asked to grind and produce energy. Enter the fourth line with Lapierre and Ryan Reaves. The pair is asked to forecheck and grind down the opposition. When they can chip in goals, it's an added bonus.
Lapierre's goal early in the second period got the Blues going, and Brian Elliott earned his second straight win, and the Blues needed Elliott on a night where their overall team game was not up to par.
Elliott played instead of former Sabre Ryan Miller, who got the night off with back-to-back games this weekend.
"We're trying to get through the game without putting much investment into it, and you end up in games like this," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This is when you need your goalie.
"I've been around Brian for three years, this is the best I've ever seen him play. He's playing terrific. I'm really happy for him. He's a great example of what happens when you work and compete and focus and you value every day. He's the goalie he is now because he looks like Ryan (Miller) to be honest with you. It's a good feeling to have a 1-2 punch like that."
The Blues broke the previous record for wins set by the 1999-2000 team, their only Presidents' Trophy-winning season. But Hitchcock cautioned against the feat.
"The teams that had 51 (wins), there also were ties, so I think you've got to be realistic there," Hitchcock said. "It's a different era now because you're getting those extra points in shootouts and overtimes and stuff like that.
"I coached against those teams that got the big points and they were awesome teams here ... awesome. It's a nice record, but it's an improper evaluation. I don't think it's fair to that group that got that 51 wins because I know about that group. They were not fun to play against ... not fun at all."
Elliott, who stopped 33 shots in a 1-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in his last start March 23, turned aside 24 Buffalo shots and improved to 10-0-2 lifetime against the Sabres.
"I don't think anybody thought it was going to be easy," said Elliott, who improved to 18-5-2 with a 1.93 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. "I think it's just probably human instinct to kind of let your guard down a little bit when you know they're at the bottom of the League. But we knew what we were in for. We knew they're playing teams hard. A lot of their wins have come against some of the top teams in the league. ... We've got a lot of good teams coming up here that we can't do that against."
Brenden Morrow also scored for the Blues, knocking in a rebound with 1;52 left in regulation after Nathan Lieuwen made a sprawling save on Vladimir Sobotka in the slot to make it 2-0.
That goal proved to be the winner when the Sabres (21-46-9) got a power-play goal from Cody Hodgson with 55.1 remaining to break Elliott's shutout and shutout string of 169:03.
"Two points is a lot more valuable than the SO on the scoresheet," Elliott said.
"We had a number of chances and good teams don't rely on just one goaltender," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "They have a couple and Elliott stood tall when he needed to be there and he made some key saves when he needed to. He was very good."
Lieuwen finished with 26 saves in his sixth NHL start.
"Considering that's the best team in the League right there, that's a heckuva effort," Lieuwen said. "I thought we were right there with them and I thought we definitely could have taken this game to overtime."
Lapierre gave the Blues a 1-0 lead with his first goal in 23 games since Jan. 28 against the New Jersey Devils. He converted a feed from Reaves, who got his first point in 26 games. Reaves fed Lapierre in the slot and his wrister beat Lieuwen five-hole 1:59 into the second period.
"I wouldn't say I ever see anybody the whole way, but I saw him in time to get it to him, so that was good enough," Reaves said of Lapierre. "Our first line's been doing a lot of the scoring the last couple weeks. We've talked about it as a group that we need to start helping them out a little bit, especially our line. It's been a while putting the puck in the net. Good to help the boys there."
The goal was the Blues' first in 106:10 going back to a goal by Alexander Steen 49 seconds into the third period Saturday against the Dallas Stars.
The Blues will have back-to-back games against Colorado and Chicago on Saturday and Sunday. The Avalanche has 104 points, the Blackhawks have 101. The division is all but wrapped up unless there's a major collapse the six games, but there is a need to shore up the overall game.
|(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)|
Blues forward and former Sabre Steve Ott (29) looks to get a handle on
the puck as Sabres goalie Nathan Lieuwen (50) defends the goal.
"I think it's overall, we just have to be better," Lapierre said. "There's nothing specific. We've got to be stronger on the puck. Like the play at the end, the (Buffalo) goal was my fault. Ells battled all game and it's my bad. We're going to look at the video and fix that."
"I think we kind of got caught looking at the standings and came out a little flat," Reaves said. "... It was tough to get going. We've got to fix it because we've got some big opponents coming up here.
"For sure lesson learned, but if we do that again, we're going to learn a harder lesson. I don't think we can do that one more time."
Said Hitchcock: "Elliott was great, needed him. Trap game for us. You want the game to be easier. They're working hard over there in Buffalo. ... Sometimes you play better when you're loose and just skating."
The Blues improved to 41-2-5 when they score first and 33-0-4 when leading after two periods.