Lesson learned, at least on Saturday night as the NHL-leading Blues continued their winning ways by beating the last-place Jackets 4-1 at Scottrade Center.
The Blues have the best record in the NHL (44-18-7) and most points (95). The Blue Jackets have the NHL's worst record (22-39-7) and fewest points (51). It's easy to overlook an opponent in that situation.
"Sometimes they can be, but I think we're fortunate they're a division rival," said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who added an assist and has 10 points in seven games and 14 in his last 13. "We know we're going to get a chippy game and a gritty game and it kind of forces you to get involved and forces you to stay on your toes. It's easy to underestimate them and kind of sit back a little bit, but eventually, we got a little wake-up call tonight."
Said goalie Brian Elliott, who picked up his 21st win: "It was a little bit of a tough game to play knowing that they came in winning four straight. We know teams are gonna gun for us. We kind of have a target on our backs, but we showed up and everybody played a good team game for the most part."
Elliott stopped 21 shots and picked up his first win since Feb. 18, improving to 21-8-2 on the season, as St. Louis won for the eighth time in nine games. The Blues also stayed perfect when scoring three goals or more this season -- they're now 36-0-0 and 38-0-1 since their last regulation loss at San Jose on March 19, 2011.
"This was like three different hockey games," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who is 38-11-7 since taking over the coaching reigns on Nov. 6. "The first period we were good. We did the things we needed to do, got lots of shots, it's 1-0. Second period ... they worked. They're fast, their forwards are fast. They've got a lot of young, hungry guys. They really dialed it up. They were all over us, and then we recovered nicely in the third. I thought the third period, we played a very sound, controlled third period and didn't give up much. I thought the third period from a team standpoint was by far our best period."
The Blues are 21-1-3 in their last 25 home games, a big reason they're on top of the overall standings with 95 points as they head into a seven-game road trip that begins with a rematch Sunday in Columbus. The last time the Blues went to Nationwide Arena, they left with a 2-1 loss on Feb. 14.
"They're pretty much out of the playoffs, so they don't have that much pressure on their backs and they can just go out there and play," Elliott said of the Jackets. "We have to know that the hockey that we're playing now is what we're going to carry into the postseason. They're important games and we really have to take advantage of these situations."
The Jackets, who saw their season-high four-game winning streak snapped, got a goal from Cam Atkinson. Former Blue Curtis Sanford stopped 25 shots.
"They play fast, they play big," coach Todd Richards said. "I think the depth on their team is one factor. I don’t think Hitch is concerned with any matchups. He’s kind of just rolling his lines. The defense they have, they do a great job of moving the puck up the ice and at key times, they’re getting the saves they need from their goalies."
The Blues, despite going 0-for-3 on the power play in the opening 20 minutes, did get on the board first when Perron snapped his 13th of the season past Sanford 6:01 into the game. The Blues were able to break out with numbers, allowing the speedy McDonald to race to the left corner, feed the puck towards the goal and get a carom right to Perron, who wasted no time putting it on goal for a 1-0 lead.
The Jackets got the equalizer when Atkinson was able to pounce on a loose puck in the slot, poking a shot past Elliott at 2:24 of the second, just after the Jackets' first power play of the game expired.
After some lethargic stretches, Stewart showed his skills after Barret Jackman blocked a shot at one end; the puck caromed to Stewart, who flew down the left side before deftly lifting a backhand into the roof of the net, perhaps catching Sanford off guard, 9:17 into the second for a 2-1 lead on only their second shot of the period.
"I don't think he was ready for it," Stewart said of Sanford. "Go short side and I got a little bounce there, so it was good.
"They came out and got that goal there, and then (B.J. Crombeen) gave us a big fight there and sparked the boys and we came back and got back-to-back goals from me and Osh. It was definitely a boost."
It was a goal the Blues really benefited from -- and very reminiscent of one Stewart scored last season in overtime that gave the Blues a 4-3 win in Columbus.
"Yeah, kind of. It played out the same way for sure," Stewart said when asked about the similarities. "We got hung in our zone and I think I was out there with (David Perron) and Backes. I was fresh. It was a pretty long shift. I had a chance there with a little speed and they gave me the outside. I got off a backhand and it happened to go in and I'll take it."
Oshie picked up his 18th of the season, matching a career-high set in 2009-10 when he took a David Backes feed on the power play in the high slot and one-timed a shot over Sanford at 14:38 for a 3-1 lead. It was the Blues' 2,700th power-play goal in franchise history.
"They just come at you. They come at you in waves. They're a hard-working team," Sanford said of his former club. "They work hard from the first drop of the puck until the last buzzer. You always have to be paying attention because they have some skilled guys as well that can make some really quality plays."
The Blues added another power-play goal, making them 10-for-26 in the last seven games, when Pietrangelo picked up his 31st point in 31 games on a one-timer from the lower left circle that went in off former Blue Nikita Nikitin at 7:11 of the third. McDonald fed cross-ice to Pietrangelo for the shot.
The Blues were perfect again on the penalty kill, turning Columbus away on all four chances and giving them 39 straight kills dating back to Feb. 14 against the Jackets. The Blues also swept the three-game homestand against Chicago, Anaheim and the Blue Jackets, outscoring them 12-3.
"I think right now we're just playing," Hitchcock said. "There's lots of things that we can work on, but I think we're playing. I think we dial up the sense of urgency when we have to. I think there's a whole other level we're going to have to play at. I think mentally we're capable of doing it, but we're kind of just playing good enough to win right now.
"I know we can play a lot better than we're playing right now. I think we will when we get pushed here, whether it's a road game or even if it's tomorrow night. I think we have another gear we can play at.
"We're playing nice right now. I think we can go a lot higher than this."
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