ST. LOUIS -- Funny thing. The Blues welcomed back two primary players when they faced Columbus on Saturday night -- David Backes and Jordan Leopold.
Now, one would think they would be desperate to get such players back, look upon their return as advantageous. But as it is, the Blues are just hoping the returnees don't mess up a good thing. Sure enough, reinforcements notwithstanding, the Blues got off to a rough start.
But in keeping with their recent resilience, they rallied to beat the Blue Jackets, 6-2, at Scottrade Center.
The victory allowed the surging Note to finish the first half of their schedule with a 29-7-5 mark, good for 63 points. It is the best 41-game mark in franchise history.
The Blues have peeled off five consecutive wins and nine in 12 games. Most of the success has come while adapting to the absence of standouts like Backes, Leopold and Alexander Steen. In effect, less has been more. And while it seems silly to say, they don't want more to be less.
"The players that are coming back in ... we don't need saving,"' Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We don't need David Backes or Alexander Steen to come in and save us. They just need to fit in. Our guys are bought into this way of playing and hopefully we can go on a long run with it."
Nothing fit initially against Columbus, which made no sense. Besides getting players back, the Blues have owned the Blue Jackets, beating them 12 of the last 15 meetings, six of the last seven at Scottrade. They have 23 more points in the standings than Columbus. They have a goaltender, Brian Elliott, who has a 13-game winning streak at home.
With 19,611 in the house, this was supposed to be money. But ... "We didn't have the greatest body language in the first period," Hitchcock said.
The Blues have thrived when scoring first this season, circumstances that have led to a 24-1-3 mark. But they gave up the privilege three minutes 58 seconds into the game when Columbus got a sloppy goal.
The puck wound up on the stick of Columbus forward Artem Anisimov 37 feet from the net. He wheeled and fired and, with defender Kevin Shattenkirk screening Elliott, the shot zipped past for a 1-0 Columbus lead. If you thought that was a strange one, read on.
With 8:38 remaining in the period, Mark Letestu fired a wrister toward the net that caromed off Ian Cole's skate. With Elliott unaware of the flight pattern, the disc fluttered over his head and landed behind him. Letestu got credit for his second goal of the season and the visitors led 2-0 at intermission.
"It was a sub-optimal bounce," Backes said. "But it's not like we didn't have chances to get the puck out of the zone before that. We get hemmed in and things like that happen."
But in retrospect, the returning players did affect things positively. Leopold played a solid 16 minutes 44 seconds, while Backes had two assists and plus-2 in 18:10 of action. Moreover, the adaptation to their return proved to be a hit.
Making room for Backes, Vladimir Sobotka went from centering the top line to playing with Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Tarasenko. As Berglund moved to wing after the first period, the line accounted for three goals and six points.
With that threesome sparking, things changed dramatically in the second stanza. Slightly more than seven minutes in, Tarasenko worked the puck high to Shattenkirk, who sent it to Barret Jackman. The shot from Jackman nicked Berglund then caromed off the post and in. The Blues were back in it, trailing 2-1.
With 4:05 remaining, Sobotka barged in to get his own rebound and jam a backhander past McElhinney, tying the score 2-2. It was the sixth goal for Sobotka, while Shattenkirk picked up his second assist of the evening. The comeback was in full stride.
With 2:31 remaining in the second, the Blues landed a bonus blow. Maxim Lapierre came across the blue line and blasted a shot in to give the home team a 3-2 lead. The goal was Lapierre's fifth. Just like that, a two-goal deficit was a one-goal lead.
"I think it's character," said Lapierre, who had a team-high five shots. "It's really important, because it happens in the playoffs. You need to win, and sometimes you have to come back to do it."
In the end, the Blues out-shot the Blue Jackets by a whopping 17-6 in the second period. They are 19-0-3 when leading after two.
The lead swelled right away in the third, as the re-shaped "Bergie Bunch" struck again. A crashing Berglund directed Tarasenko's feed past McElhinney for his second goal of the night and sixth of the season -- 14 seconds after the puck was dropped.
"It's two great players, so I was excited to play with them," Berglund said of his linemates. "We got off to kind of a rocky start in the first, but the whole team really grabbed it in the second and third."
With 11:13 to play, Backes made his return official, setting up Jaden Schwartz for a goal. Backes swooped in and fired to Schwartz on the doorstep and the sensational sophomore poked it in. Schwartz has 15 goals, seven in his last eight games. He was plus-3 for the night and is tied for tops in the NHL at plus-23.
Defenseman Alex Pietrangelo joined the fun late in the third, getting his first goal in 29 games. Pietrangelo's fifth goal was his first since Nov. 2.
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