ST. LOUIS -- After winning five of six games on a trip that was more than successful, the St. Louis Blues proclaimed they're confidently going after not only the top seed in the Western Conference, but the NHL's top spot.
They mean it. Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks.
Andy McDonald scored twice, the Blues' penalty killers were perfect for the 11th straight game and Vladimir Sobotka added a shorthanded goal in St. Louis' 5-1 win against the Blackhawks on Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
T.J. Oshie also scored for the Blues, who are now 34-0-0 when scoring three goals or more on the season, tied Detroit for most home wins in the NHL with 27. St. Louis is 27-4-4 on home ice. Jaroslav Halak stopped 19 shots for his sixth win in a row.
Now that the Blues are at the top -- or near the top -- it's natural to think big. Or is it?
"It's going to feel good, but we've been there once before ... almost twice," Oshie said. "I think more so we've got to stay focused on the next game. We want to be up there after April 7th.
"It's nice to be there now, but we want to be there later."
The way the Blues are playing now, they will most definitely be there later.
"We expect to work to win. I think there's a difference," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think we get really angry at ourselves and at times, flat pissed off when we don't work to win.
"For us, we work and we feel like if we work, we're going to win, and when we don't work, we get angry. It's not just coaches mad at players, it's players pushing players, it's everybody pushing each other. We want to be proud of our work ethic. We feel like if our work ethic is at the top of the heap, we have a chance to beat anybody."
Chicago (36-25-7), which got a goal from Andrew Brunette, saw its three-game winning streak snapped on the last leg of a three-game trip. Ray Emery stopped 26 shots, falling to St. Louis for the first time in his career in four starts.
"First shift they took over, they played really well, especially defensively," Blackhawks winger Marian Hossa said of the Blues. "(Our) power play wasn't good. We clicked three games but tonight, we couldn't settle the puck down, couldn’t make a pass. We didn’t deserve to win tonight."
The win for the Blues (42-18-7) gives them 91 points and momentarily vaulted them into the top spot in the Western Conference (they also tied the New York Rangers with 91 points for tops overall) pending Vancouver's late game with Dallas on Tuesday night. The Canucks had 90 points heading into their game with the Stars.
"We know we've got to play extra hard against a team like that," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said of the Blackhawks. "They're certainly skilled, they're certainly a pretty strong team. We know that. I thought we dominated pretty much the whole game. That's a good start, especially coming off the road and having a week here at home."
There was no road hangover for the Blues coming out in the first period, outshooting the Hawks 14-4 and getting the first two goals for a 2-0 lead. The Blues came off a six-game trip in which they took 10 of 12 points. There's always that first-game-back-from-a-long-trip syndrome teams have to worry about.
Not in this case.
Oshie's 17th of the season and eighth point in six games came off a redirection from the left circle on Carlo Colaiacovo's point shot. David Backes' screen in front of Emery provided the lack of vision for the Chicago goalie, who couldn't squeeze his pads quick enough as the puck squirted in 5:13 into the game for a 1-0 lead.
After the Blues shut down Chicago's initial power play, they got one of their own and converted as McDonald was able to blaze a trail along the right corner, beating Johnny Oduya around the corner and throwing one into the slot off the skate of defenseman Dylan Olsen and into the net with 37.6 seconds left in the period for a 2-0 Blues lead.
"We want to be known around the league as a tough team to play (against), especially in our building and especially after a long road trip," Blues center Scott Nichol said. "We didn't want to just drop our sticks and show up tonight. We wanted to compete and push the level tonight and I think we did the first period there."
The Blues continued to pour it on early in the second period when Nichol stripped Hossa of the puck near the right boards, broke in with Sobotka on a 2-on-1, fed Sobotka a saucer pass breaking in. Sobotka did the rest, as he deked Emery and slipped a backhand into the open net for a shorthanded goal and a 3-0 lead 1:46 into the period.
"That's just penalty killing," Nichol said. "Our penalty kill has been real solid the last thirty-something times now. We're all on the same page and it's just about time and space and not giving them much space. You look at our penalty kill, we change pretty quick so we stay fresh and we can out-compete and outwork their power play."
The Blues not only got a goal from their penalty killers, but the group also killed off three more Chicago power plays. They killed off another one in the third period for good measure, making them 32-for-32 over the last 12 games.
"We take pride in that. that's kind of our baby," Nichol said. "We want to see it keep climbing. We put a lot of effort, blood, sweat and tears. We have a ton of meetings on it. It doesn't give you a lot of accolades but it makes you win hockey games."
Chicago was 0-for-5 on the power play in the game, generating only three shots, while the Blues were 1-for-2 with five shots.
"Certain guys tonight didn’t have that pace on the power play or the intensity that you need," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "You have to work harder when you’re on the power play. It’s not a given. They were competitive and we weren’t."
Quenneville called the Blues' shorthanded goal a real difference-maker.
"We didn't push back in certain areas but I thought we had a chance to get ourselves back in the power play," he said. "That's where we lost the momentum to either get it down to either get it down to 1, next thing you know it's 3-0."
Brunette broke Halak's shutout streak 1:58 into the third period when he redirected Brent Seabrook's point shot. Halak had a shutout streak against Chicago in this building at 101:58.
McDonald added his second of the game and third in two games off Pietrangelo's pass sending the Blues' speedster in alone, beating Emery with 4:44 remaining for a 4-1 Blues lead. Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, who also assisted on the goal, had two helpers each. It gives Pietrangelo 29 points in 29 games. Shattenkirk now has eight points in five games and 12 in 11 after going pointless in 14 of the previous 15 games.
Jason Arnott made it 5-1 with 14.7 seconds left on the Blues' 31st shot of the game that evened the season series between the teams 2-2.
"We certainly get up to play against them," McDonald said of the Blackhawks. "It was a good atmosphere in the building and also what happened last time we played them in their building (A 3-1 Chicago win on Feb. 19). There's a lot of motivation tonight and that probably helped."