ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The past few days have been a learning laboratory for the St. Louis Blues. With several of their top players mending, they've had to find new sources of inspiration.
They discovered more sources at Excel Energy Center, beating the Minnesota Wild 2-1 on Tuesday, carrying their 27th victory into 2014.
The Wild are a wounded organization right now. After starting the season 9-1-1, the team is in a 5-13-1 reversal, a stretch that includes six consecutive losses. Top scoring threat Zach Parise has missed extensive time with a foot injury and the defense had allowed 26 goals in the last six games.
The Blues offered something less than staunch support. They have topped the Wild seven consecutive times. The lead story in the Sports section of the St. Paul Pioneer Press on Tuesday suggested Wild coach Mike Yeo might not survive the current home stand.
At the same time, for the second consecutive game, the Blues were without David Backes, who participated in the morning skate but was held out with an "upper body" issue. Backes suffered the injury late in the Blues' 6-5 shootout victory over Chicago on Saturday.
"He's feeling better and better, but he's not able to play," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We're not prepared to risk it right now."
Moreover, the Blues aren't prepared to risk a whole lot with their fractured roster. They are still missing leading goal-scorer Alexander Steen, and then lost 13-goal scorer Chris Stewart less than nine minutes into first period at Minnesota.
Stewart was hit in the face by a Jason Pominville wrist shot, lay on the ice bleeding, then went straight to the dressing room and did not return.
Thus, the blueprint was to keep things from getting Wild, if you will. Literally, the plan was plain and simple.
"For us right now, simple is better," Hitchcock said.
Neither team was adventurous during a first period that featured limited offensive zone play and no penalties. The Blues' best chance came when Magnus Paajarvi caught goaltender Josh Harding behind the net. But Paajarvi couldn't complete the wraparound with just over six minutes remaining.
The Wild fired nine shots at Brian Elliott. But the Blues were credited with 11 blocks and pucks that got through were mainly fired from the perimeter.
Just over five minutes into the second, the Blues' ad hoc top line -- now featuring Vladimir Sobotka at center, Jaden Schwartz and T.J. Oshie on wings -- worked some inspiration. Things started with Oshie deflecting a clearing pass from Mikael Granlund's stick at the top of Wild zone. Schwartz was heading out when he corralled the puck and sent a no-look pass back towards Oshie.
The Blues' shootout shaman went into Michael Jackson mode, put some moves on Harding and stuffed the puck in. The Blues led 1-0 and Oshie had his sixth goal, second in as many games after 16 games without.
"I had a feeling Schwartzie was going to be able to get it to me," said Oshie, who broke for the net. "And then once he got it to me, I just stick-handled until it shoveled into the net. I saw (Harding's) stick come out to poke-check and just kind of panicked. It wound up going in the corner."
Asked if it was one of his classic shootout moves, Oshie added: "I think it's a new one."
First goals bode well for the Blues, who are 22-1-3 when scoring first.
"Getting the lead for us was really important," Hitchcock added. "We can't afford to chase the game. I thought the second period we played was outstanding."
With 4:01 remaining in the period, Schwartz made it 2-0. This time, the Blues interrupted a play in the defensive end and Vladimir Tarasenko sent Schwartz and Sobotka up ice on a 2-on-1. Schwartz waited, kept the puck and fired a shot that trickled under Harding's pad.
The goal was No. 14 for Schwartz, who has 20 points in his last 18 games and 30 points on the season, With Tarasenko, Elliott received a helper on the play, his second career assist. The Blues out-shot the Wild 9-5 in the second and carried over the 2-0 edge.
No one is expecting assists from goaltenders, but the contributions of players like Schwartz, Tarasenko, Sobotka, etc. have become common place in the wake of all the injuries.
"This has afforded us new people to step up and play prominent roles," Hitchcock said. "Any of these guys who have stepped up, whether it's Tarasenko or Schwartz or whoever, they've added time into their play and have really shown they can handle it. And I think it's really helped us."
Two-goal leads have been precarious properties in recent games. The Blues had one in the third period at Calgary, but the Flames rallied for a 4-3 shootout win. Chicago had two of them before losing to St. Louis in a shootout last Saturday. The Blues relinquished a two-goal advantage in Dallas on Sunday before recovering for a 3-2 overtime win.
This time, the drama was limited. Deep into the third period, Elliott was clutch on an effective Wild power play. But with just eight seconds remaining, Ryan Suter -- a teammate of Elliott's at Wisconsin -- blasted through traffic for his second goal.
The final score was narrowed to 2-1, but the outcome was not threatened. The goal ended a shutout streak against Minnesota that had exceeded 200 minutes for Elliott, who turned aside 24 shots.
"It hurt losing it to Suts," Elliott said, smiling. "Every goalie wants a shutout, but 'W' is good for me. As long as we get the win, that's all I care about."
Elliott is 10-1-2 overall and 4-1-2 on the road.
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