ST. PAUL, Minn. -- When Andy McDonald scored with 10:30 remaining in regulation, it seemed the only question remaining was whether St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott would post his third straight shutout.
Elliott stopped 23 shots and stretched his shutout streak to 189:31 as the Blues defeated the Minnesota Wild 2-0 on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.
"Don't wanna jinx him," Blues captain David Backes said of Elliott, who was demoted to the minors briefly after a midseason slump but is now the hottest goaltender in the NHL. "We want to knock on wood after every interview, but he's been a battler for us, lays it on the line and has worked his butt off to get back into the shape he's in, as far as having that confidence, and knowing that every time he's in the net, we're going to have a great performance."
Just 10 days ago, the Blues and Wild met in this building. The teams were heading in different directions -- Minnesota had won seven of eight and was comfortably above water in the Western Conference playoff race. St. Louis was desperate; out of the playoffs and badly in need of a win.
Perhaps in a bit of irony, both teams suffered injuries in that game that have seemingly changed the direction of their seasons.
The Blues lost goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a groin injury and were forced to play Elliott, who hadn't seen game action in two months. The Wild lost Matt Cullen, the straw that stirred Minnesota's secondary scoring mix.
Since that time, Elliott has become the hottest goalie in the NHL and Minnesota's offense has gone into the deep freeze. The Wild have been shut out in back-to-back games and in three of four since acquiring forward Jason Pominville at the trade deadline.
Since that game against the Blues on April 1, Minnesota is 1-5-0; St. Louis is 6-0-0.
"We've finally gotten on that same page we were on for most of last year," Backes said. "Take care of the defensive zone, work hard, don't give them anything and make them earn it all."
"Chemistry is that elusive animal that you try and catch up to," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When you got it, it feels like you're never going to lose."
Roman Polak's first goal of the season 10:37 into the first period was all the offense Elliott needed. McDonald's goal kept the Blues from being the first team in NHL history to win three consecutive 1-0 games on the road.
"To come and play well twice in a row in this building is a good feeling for us," Hitchcock said. "I thought we really managed the game well in the third [period]. It was a hard game, both teams poured a lot into this."
What should be a rare feat, shutting out teams in three straight games, actually isn't for the Blues: They did it just 13 months ago.
The Wild, almost a shoe-in to make the playoffs at the start of the month, now finds themselves just four points up on the surging ninth-place Phoenix Coyotes ( winners of four of five) and five up on the 10th-place Dallas Stars (winners of three straight) and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blues visit Columbus on Friday before the Wild host the Blue Jackets on Saturday night.
"My message to the team, and the way that we feel, is that we have nothing to apologize for and nothing to feel sorry about," Wild coach Mike Yeo said. "We played a strong team and we played a good game. I'm not saying we can't be better in a couple of areas, but obviously the completion of the game changes if we score first."
The Wild nearly did just that, getting their best scoring chance just one minute into the game when Pominville led a 3-on-1 break into the Blues zone. But his heavy snap shot rang off the right post.
Perhaps of more immediate concern is the status of defenseman Ryan Suter, who was injured late in the first period. He was late to the bench to start the second, played a few shifts then missed the entire third period.
Yeo refused to discuss the issue but said he doesn't believe the injury is serious.
What the coach did indicate, however, is that changes are likely coming to the lineup. The Wild have allowed just three goals in their past three games but are only 1-2-0 in that span.
"That's something we're going to talk about, probably tonight," Yeo said.
Despite his shutout streak, Elliott can look forward to having Friday night off -- Hitchcock said rookie Jake Allen will get the nod in goal against the Blue Jackets.
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|Justin Falk Cross checking against Alexander Steen|
|Jay Bouwmeester Cross checking against Zach Parise|