ST. LOUIS -- The Blues are quickly climbing out of a large hole they created against the Pacific Division, and on Tuesday night the credit belonged to their goaltending.
In the first season of the NHL's new realignment, the Blues celebrated victory after just one of their first eight games against the Pacific. But with Tuesday night's 2-1 win over Phoenix, the club improved to 6-6-3 versus the division.
Goalie Jaroslav Halak made 20 saves -- some spectacular -- as the Blues opened a three-game homestand with their fifth consecutive win at Scottrade Center in front of a crowd of 16,571.
Apparently, the team expected to handle Phoenix with relative ease. The Coyotes came to town losers of five of their last six games, including a 5-1 defeat at Winnipeg on Monday. But after arriving in St. Louis after 2 a.m., they played the Blues to a one-goal finish and had the upper hand in the third period.
"This is a game where our goalie saved us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We wanted to play a different game than was out there and our goalie saved us. (Halak) was terrific from the start to the finish.
"This was a game probably, if you look at it, we didn't deserve to win. Probably deserved a better fate in Vancouver (a 2-1 loss Friday), and we probably deserved a worst fate today, so hopefully it equals out."
In the midst of six consecutive games against Pacific clubs, the Blues will end the stretch by hosting Los Angeles on
Thursday and Anaheim on Saturday. The club will need to show better than Tuesday's performance to continue a trend of 5-1-1 in its last seven games against the division.
On a night when the Blues had to rely heavily on their top players, T.J. Oshie netted both goals, David Backes had two assists and the defensive duo of Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester logged 24-plus minutes of ice time to assure the win.
"We had some people that really came through for us, people that had to absorb a lot of ice time really came through for us, both offensively and defensively," Hitchcock said. "We didn't get the quality of play from our group that we're normally used to."
The Blues opened the scoring midway through the first period on Oshie's ninth goal of the season on a whirling feed from Pietrangelo.
Pietrangelo looked like he might take aim himself, but then circled around and dished to Oshie, who released a wrist shot that beat Phoenix goalie Mike Smith for a 1-0 advantage.
"I was yelling from about the red line," Oshie said. "I saw (Pietrangelo) look back once and couldn't find me and then he turned around and laid it there for me, kind of put it on a tee."
The assist for Pietrangelo extended his point-streak to six games (two goals, seven assists).
There were no penalties called before the first intermission, but that changed with five minor penalties in the second period.
The Blues capitalized on their second power play of the game, after Phoenix's Michael Stone was whistled for cross-checking Vladimir Tarasenko.
Oshie, playing at the point on the power play Tuesday, put a shot on net that eluded Smith. The puck may have grazed Jaden Schwartz, who was screening in front, but Oshie was credited with his 10th goal of the season.
"Schwartzie got the second one, for the record," Oshie admitted. "All of us on the ice heard it hit his pants."
The Blues led 2-0 and nearly put another one under their belt, but with 31/2 minutes left, Chris Stewart was stoned by Smith on a breakaway.
The Coyotes' Rostislev Klesa cross-checked Stewart after the play, putting the Blues back on the man-advantage. Backes, however, negated it with a boarding penalty.
"I know (the Phoenix player) got his back to me, and I'm just too fat, I guess, a lot of momentum going in there," Backes joked.
The Blues' penalty-killing unit had erased 19 consecutive opponent power plays, including the Coyotes' first on Tuesday, but with 47 seconds remaining in the middle frame, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson put a wrist shot over Halak's right shoulder.
Ekman-Larsson's sixth goal of the season ended Halak's shutout streak just before he would have turned in his fifth consecutive scoreless period.
But more pressing, Phoenix's power-play goal turned Tuesday's matchup into a one-goal game at 2-1.
Halak, though, made it stand up, turning in an incredible stick save on a backside attempt by David Moss early in the third period.
"I knew (Moss) was backdoor, so I tried to get there," Halak said. "I didn't know what I was doing. I just tried to put a stick on it and it hit me and stayed out."
Said Moss: "I tried to settle it down and get it up. Probably should have shot it quicker, but he got across and got a block on it. Made a good save."
The Coyotes outshot the Blues 8-2 in the third period and 21-18 for the game. An attempt by Radim Vrbata with 4:13 left in regulation nearly tied the score, but the puck rang off the crossbar and after a few tense moments, the Blues rang up another victory.
"We knew they were a tired team," Halak said. "They came out really hard in the third, they played their game. I'm glad we got two points, but we all know that we can play better."
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