The Blues are off to their best start in a decade after Wednesday night’s 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks 700K at the United Center. After a 3-2 loss at Phoenix on opening night, St. Louis has reeled off four straight victories – a big turnaround for a team that finished last overall in 2005-06 and missed the playoffs again last season.
Goalie Manny Legace certainly has a lot to do with the team’s resurgence; he put forth another quality performance with a 28-save effort against Chicago. Fourteen of those stops came in the second period, as Legace made a slim lead stand up.
“The boys are playing so great in front of me,” Legace said. “They’re letting me see a lot of shots. I can’t say enough about the way the guys played. The dedication is unbelievable.”
Keith Tkachuk had a goal and assist for the Blues, who went 2-for-3 on the power play after entering the game with only two goals in 21 opportunities. His power-play tally 5:17 into the second period gave St. Louis a two-goal cushion.
“Obviously, it was clicking tonight,” said Tkachuk, now in his second stint with the Blues, said of the power play. “We changed a few things and we got some bounces. The power play was something we were concerned about, but it came through.”
In the end, though, Tkachuk attributed the Blues’ quick start in 2007-08 to the play of Legace, who entered the game with a 1.99 goals-against average and a .926 save percentage.
“He’s been our best player, by far,” Tkachuk said of Legace, who won 37 games for the Detroit Red Wings in 2005-06 before joining the Blues as a free agent. “He gives us a chance to win. You need goaltending in this League.”
Paul Kariya opened the scoring with his first goal in a Blues’ sweater just 2:14 into the game. With St. Louis on a power play, Kariya – the team’s marquee free-agent signing during the offseason – took a cross-ice feed from Brad Boyes and beat Blackhawks netminder Nikolai Khabibulin high on the glove side for a 1-0 lead. Kariya had entered the game with six assists in the first four games – but no goals.
''I think we moved the puck well on the power play,'' Kariya said. ''It's something we have to build on. We're off to a good start and that's important.''
Bryce Salvador gave the Blues their first two-goal lead of the night at 6:31. The stay-at-home defenseman – who had just two goals in 64 games last season – fired a shot from the left circle that went over Khabibulin’s right shoulder.
''In this league, when you have a poor start, it's tough to come back every night,'' Blackhawks coach Denis Savard said. ''There was effort and a lot of good things happened, but once you get down 2-0, it's tough to come back.''
Justin Williams got Chicago (3-3-0) on the board with a power-play goal at 13:40 of the first. His initial shot deflected off the end boards and landed on top of the net, but the puck rolled off the crossbar and deflected over the line before Legace could swipe it away. The goal stood following a video replay.
But Legace stood tall the rest of the night, and Tkachuk rounded out the scoring with his power-play goal in the second. The power forward was left alone in front of the net, where he stuffed a pass from Boyes through Khabibulin’s pads to make it 3-1.
“We like the enthusiasm and energy of our hockey team,” Blues coach Andy Murray said. “We were going after things. I like the effort of our team. We’re pushing our opponents. (But) we’ve got 77 of these left.”
But needing a goal to prolong a shootout, the Blue Jackets’ top forward – who already had a goal and an assist – was denied by Mike Smith, giving the Stars a victory at Nationwide Arena.
Jussi Jokinen, who tied the game at 1-1 in the first period, was the lone scorer in the breakaway session. The Stars’ forward – who improved to 16-for-26 lifetime in the shootout – said he has been working on that particular part of his game.
"I have added a couple of moves the last couple of years,” Jokinen said after the Stars improved to 22-5 in shootouts since 2005. “That move was pretty new. I have one more new move, so I think I have four or five moves now. I pick the right one based on whatever goalie there is. Confidence is still the biggest thing right now."
The Stars forced overtime on Brendan Morrow’s one-timer with 1:21 remaining in regulation after Smith was pulled for an extra attacker. Jiri Novotny had given the Blue Jackets a 2-1 lead 8:24 into the third period, poking a loose puck past Smith. "We didn't put the hammer down and we paid for it in the end," Hitchcock said. "We had a chance numerous times in the first half of the game. When you have a 2-1 lead and are given odd-man rushes, you have to score and that's what we didn't do. It came back to haunt us."
Nash opened the scoring with his third goal of the season just 1:42 into the contest, when he was left all alone in front of the net and beat Smith up high. But Jokinen tied the game just 1:35 later when he took a pass from Stu Barnes and stuffed it past Fredrik Norrena to make it 1-1.
"We were going through some struggles," said Smith, who made 33 saves through 65 minutes before stopping all three shots he faced in the shootout. "Tonight was a big one for our team. It was nice to come from behind and get two points."
"Our guys stayed with it," Dallas coach Dave Tippett said. "They wanted to find a way to win. They found a way to win."
Playing in his second game since returning from sports hernia surgery, Giguere made 28 saves, pacing Anaheim to a victory over Nashville at the Honda Center.
Giguere was tested early and often, but kept the reigning champions in the game until Corey Perry got the Ducks on the board with 20 seconds remaining in the opening period. Giguere stopped all 11 shots he faced as Anaheim went into the first intermission with a 1-0 lead.
“I felt pretty good tonight,” Giguere said. “My legs were great. It seems like every day, my timing’s getting better. I’m glad with how things went.”
After a scoreless middle period, Nashville tied the game 2:24 into the third on Ryan Suter’s first goal of the season. The Predators’ defenseman took a pass from behind the net by Alexander Radulov and fired a shot past Giguere to make it 1-1.
“He played very solid tonight,” Suter said of Giguere. “We worked hard tonight, but we didn’t get many bounces. We’ve got to take some positives out of this game. If we keep working the way we did, we’ll be alright.”
But Anaheim (4-4-1) went ahead to stay just 2:23 later, when Petteri Wirtanen found the back of the net in his first NHL game. Recalled from Portland of the AHL on Monday, the 21-year-old neatly tipped the puck to himself in the slot off a blind pass from George Parros. Wirtanen then faked a shot and finally wristed the puck past a helpless Mason to give the Ducks a 2-1 lead. Not bad for a guy who was Anaheim’s final cut in training camp.
“My first thought was to shoot right away, but the puck was bouncing a bit,” Wirtanen said. “I couldn’t have imagined this when I woke up this morning. It’s amazing.”
Drew Miller gave the Ducks a two-goal cushion with his first NHL goal at the 12:23 mark of the third. The brother of Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, playing in only his third NHL game, beat Mason on a breakaway.
“Nashville came out with a lot of energy, and we matched it,” Miller said. “We were lucky to get out of the first with a 1-0 lead, but we picked things up.”
The Predators (2-4-0) have dropped four in a row after winning their first two games. They’ve also lost 10 of their last 12 in Anaheim.
“I thought we got off to a better start tonight, got some early pressure on their net and forced Giguere to make some good saves,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “We played smarter and more responsible in our own zone, but it isn’t always how you start, but how you finish.” Meanwhile, the Ducks, who have won three of four at the Honda Center, visit Dallas on Saturday and St. Louis on Tuesday.
“It’s important to win here at home,” Giguere said. “The fans here are great. It’s always fun to get some big points here. We’re going to go on the road with some confidence now.”
Material from wire services and team Web sites was used in this report.