Friday, March 25, 2016

Blues clinch playoff spot with 4-0 shutout of Canucks

Elliott earns third straight shutout; team ties 
Dallas in standings for first in Central Division

ST. LOUIS -- The Blues learned their lesson last week, and Brian Elliott just continues to teach lessons.

The Blues learned from a pair of losses against teams playing out the string last week with a playoff spot on the line, and Elliott simply continues to fire up goose eggs.

The Blues became the fourth team from the Western Conference to clinch a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 4-0 blanking of the Vancouver Canucks on Friday before 19,580 at Scottrade Center.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues goalie Brian Elliott makes one of 15 saves in a 4-0 win against the
Canucks on Friday. Elliott has three straight shutouts.

Elliott, who missed 10 games with a knee injury, has come back with three straight shutouts for the third time in his career, which matches a franchise record also shared with Greg Millen.

Elliott made 15 saves and his shutout streak reached 180:00. He also had three straight shutouts from April 7-11, 2013 and March 22-27, 2012. It’s a franchise record he shares with Greg Millen, who had three straight shutouts from Dec. 1-6, 1989. 

Elliott is 9-0-1 in the past 11 games he's started with a 1.61 goals-against average and .950 save percentage. 

"We talked about it before the game; you work so hard during the season to lock that up," Elliott said. "These last few games, we've definitely done a great job of playing our style of hockey. We want to be playing going into the playoffs and to solidify it tonight in front of our home fans, it puts icing on the cake. We've still got work to do and it's just a first step in a mountain climb here."

Said center Kyle Brodziak, who scored his second shorthanded goal of the season: "We had a couple not-so-good games in Alberta last week against teams that were out of the playoffs. It's kind of a different animal when you're playing against teams like that. A lot of times, they play with nothing to lose, and I thought tonight, we did a good job weathering it and controlling the play and were able to come out with a lead."

The Blues (44-22-9) tied the Dallas Stars with 97 points in the race for first place in the Central Division; the Stars own the tiebreaker because they have 42 regulation and overtime wins to 39 for the Blues. Each team has seven games remaining; the Blues play at the league-leading Washington Capitals on Saturday.

"Yeah, this one feels different. This one was up for grabs," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of the playoff spot. "This was a real challenge. It was a challenge where, I think without an experienced coaching staff, this could have gone off the rails. You see it with other teams, it went off the rails. But I think our experience knowing that two goals or even at times one goal has to get you points, and the way to manage the game and manage players that way really helped. Because we got points in games where we didn't score. We got points in games where we weren't the best team, but we had frustrated the opposition, and I think that's experience. That's what I'm proud of. I'm proud of the players and I'm really proud of the coaching staff. We managed a very difficult time with a lot of players missing in a very direct and I think concise way and I think it got us points when other teams it didn't get them.

"... The thing that stood out for me is that we got better and better as it went on. We were loose in the D-zone in the first period and then everything tightened up. As the game went on, we got more and more engaged in both zones. We were really competing in the offensive zone for 60 minutes, but we weren't doing what we do really well in our zone, which have really changed and have done a good job of a little while now. We went back to some of the strategies we had before and the guys really adapted and we got better and better as it went on."

The Blues joined the Stars, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks in clinched playoff berths. 

Rookie defenseman Joel Edmundson had his first NHL goal, and Brodziak, Robby Fabbri and Carl Gunnarsson scored for the Blues, who have won three in a row and nine of 11. Paul Stastny had two assists and has 11 points (three goals, eight assists) in eight games. Troy Brouwer also had two assists. 

The Canucks (27-34-13) lost their seventh straight game (0-6-1); they've been shut out in four of their past five. Jacob Markstrom made 33 saves.

Brodziak scored his second shorthanded goal of the season to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. He started an odd-man rush with Scottie Upshall when he deflected a Linden Vey pass; Upshall broke out of the zone, carried down the left side and fed Brodziak in the crease for an easy redirection past Markstrom at 10:51 of the first period.

"Open net, and sometimes those are a little easier to miss than you would think," Brodziak said. "He read the play perfectly right from the d-zone and took off. As soon as the d-man let me go backdoor, he found me perfectly and it was just a tap-in goal."

Fabbri's 11th point (four goals, seven assists) in 11 games was his 18th goal and came after linemates Stastny and Brouwer made quick passes, with Stastny feeding Fabbri in the left circle. Fabbri beat Markstrom with a quick wrist shot at 15:25 for a 2-0 lead. 

Gunnarsson scored his first goal since Feb. 20 on a slap shot from the point with Brouwer setting a screen in front of Markstrom at 15:32 of the second period to make it 3-0. The Blues had been buzzing around the Vancouver net and nearly scored moments before Gunnarsson's goal when Markstrom made a right pad save on defenseman Robert Bortuzzo's backhand shot. 

Elliott, who also shut out the Canucks in Vancouver on Saturday in his first game back after the injury, made breakaway saves in the first period on Jannik Hansen and Chris Higgins to keep his streak alive. Elliott denied Daniel Sedin on a shot from the slot in the second period after a lengthy shift in the Blues' zone. 

Edmundson made it 4-0 at 12:15 of the third period after Vladimir Tarasenko laid a big shoulder hit on Canucks defenseman Nikita Tryamkin, then made a backhand pass to Edmundson, whose slap shot beat Markstrom.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) cuts to the net to get a backhand
shot on Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom on Friday.

"I blacked out after I scored," Edmundson said. "It was a special moment for me and my family and I'm pretty happy about it.

"I heard all the boys were jumping over the boards so I knew they were pretty happy for me."

Now that the Blues have locked up a playoff spot, they have their sights set on winning the division and gaining as high a seed on the Western Conference as they can.

"It's been that way all year," said Elliott, who leads the League with a 1.95 GAA and .934 save percentage. "At the start, [the Stars] were kind of out of reach and we've slowly kind of climbed back. That's where we want to be, at the top of the mountain in the regular season and take it in the playoffs."

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