St. Louis Blues' David Backes is chased by Edmonton Oilers' Brad Hunt during first period Tuesday. (Jason Franson / Associated Press)
Edmonton, Alberta — The St. Louis Blues had much to deal with Tuesday, with six more of their lot getting Olympic assignments. There was lots of press, lots of questions, lots of international intrigue. And then there was that little issue of playing the 42nd game on the NHL schedule.
The Blues took care of that too, defeating the Oilers, 5-2, at Rexall Place. The victory extended the team’s winning streak to six and a road points streak to eight (6-0-2).
The Blues got goals from Chris Stewart, Maxim Lapierre, David Backes, Vladimir Tarasenko and an empty-netter from Patrik Berglund.
The evening had “trap” written all over it, as in big, gaping hole to fall through. If you recall, the Blues nearly got sucker-punched when they renewed acquaintances with David Perron and the Oilers on Dec. 21 in the Great White North.
The result was a 6-0 win, but the process was exasperating. The Blues were thoroughly outplayed at the outset of that meeting, outshot 14-5 in the first period. Thanks only to heroics from goaltender Brian Elliott, they escaped with a 1-0 lead and parlayed it into a Stewart hat trick and lopsided win.
With all the earlier distractions, the potential for another tepid start was there. Keep in mind, the Blues had a 63-33 edge in points on the season, and a 10-3 edge in Olympians. Moreover, one of the home team’s Olympians — Russian defenseman Anton Belov — was a healthy scratch. Add your own head-scratches here.
But Alex Pietrangelo, one of six Blues named to Olympic teams Tuesday morning, did not fear a monotone mood.
“The Olympics is a long ways away,” said Pietrangelo, who joined his defense partner Jay Bouwmeester as a Canadian team pick. “We’re going to go out and play our game and focus on that for now. When the time comes, I’m sure there will be a focus on (Olympics) all around the country.”
As Pietrangelo suggested, the visitors were tuned in, dominating possession in the opening minutes, outshooting Edmonton 9-1 in the first eight minutes. They still needed help from Elliott, who denied an unimpeded Justin Schultz and Jordan Eberle’s rebound midway through the period.
That moment proved large when the Blues broke first with a power-play goal. As Brenden Morrow screened in front, Stewart powered a 40-foot shot past Ilya Bryzgalov and the Blues led 1-0 with 7:14 to play.
The goal was Stewart’s 14th on the season and fourth in four periods at Edmonton. Like last time, the Blues went to the dressing room leading on a marker by Stewart. Unlike last time, they deserved it. The Blues are 25-1-3 when scoring first.
“If you’re not ready, Edmonton is going to push you hard,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We had to make them uncomfortable early. We weren’t going to get away with playing the way we did in the first period last time.”
Conscientious in the first period, the Blues got informal early in the second. Elliott stopped Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on a breakaway in the opening seconds. But less than a minute later, the Oilers found more room and Nail Yakupov beat Elliott for his ninth goal. Perron got an assist on the play and the score was tied 1-1.
The Blues returned serve just 42 seconds later. Playing in his 500th NHL game, Lapierre outmuscled Brad Hunt in the corner and stuffed the puck by Bryzgalov for his sixth goal. Somehow, Ryan Reaves and Pietrangelo got assists on the play. The Blues had their one-goal lead back, but only briefly.
With just under 15 minutes still to go, Mark Arcobello outmaneuvered Derek Roy in front and knocked Luke Gazdic’s feed past Elliott. The score was tied 2-2. But midway through the period, the Blues established some authority.
Ryan Jones incurred a delay-of-game penalty with 9:30 to play and the Blues got their second power play goal. Pietrangelo slid a pass to a swooping Backes. Without hesitation, the captain rifled a shot through traffic for his 17th goal. The Blues were back on top 3-2 with 9:04 remaining.
Celebrating his selection to the Russian Olympic squad, Tarasenko opened some breathing room three minutes later. Vladimir Sobotka won a faceoff, Jordan Leopold nudged the puck to Tarasenko and the trigger man ripped the puck past Bryzgalov.
It was Tarasenko’s 14th of the season, and Leopold’s second assist of the night, matching his output for 14 previous games. And more good numbers came into play. The Blues are 20-0-3 when leading after two.
The pattern was true. The Blues tightened things up and limited Edmonton’s scoring chances in a scoreless third. The only worry was a late injury to T.J. Oshie, who collided knee to knee with Taylor Hall in the waning moments. Oshie eventually skated off.
Moments later, Berglund hit the empty net for his seventh goal and third in two nights.
(At) Anaheim 5, Boston 2: Mathieu Perreault scored two goals, Jonas Hiller made 30 saves in his 12th consecutive victory and the Ducks beat the Bruins for their 14th win in 15 games.
(At) Nashville 3, San Jose 2: Mattias Ekholm’s first NHL goal proved to be the game winner as Nashville beat San Jose for its first victory in four games.
Philadelphia 3, (at) New Jersey 2 (OT): Brayden Schenn scored at 1:50 of overtime and the Flyers beat the Devils after giving up a late short-handed goal that forced the extra session.
N.Y. Islanders 5, (at) Toronto 3: Frans Nielsen, Calvin De Haan and Cal Clutterbuck scored third-period goals to lead the Islanders to the victory.
Tampa Bay 4, (at) Winnipeg 2: Martin St. Louis scored the tie-breaking goal in the third period and added an empty-netter to help Tampa Bay get the win in the penalty-filled game.
(At) Phoenix 6, Calgary 0: Thomas Greiss stopped 27 shots, Lauri Korpikoski had a goal and two assists, and Phoenix rolled to the victory.