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Blues are No. 1 after beating Ducks

Friday, 03.09.2012 / 1:52 AM / Drive to the Playoffs

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist

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Blues are No. 1 after beating Ducks
Four months after firing their coach after a poor start, the St. Louis Blues begin Friday as the top team in the NHL.
Four months after firing their coach after a poor start, the St. Louis Blues begin Friday as the top team in the NHL.

The Blues moved into the top spot in the overall standings on Thursday night with a workmanlike 3-1  victory against the Anaheim Ducks at Scottrade Center. David Backes had a pair of goals and Jaroslav Halak made 24 saves as the Blues won for the seventh time in eight games.

The win gives St. Louis 93 points, moving them past the New York Rangers into the top spot in the 30-team standings. The Rangers lost for the second time in three days when they were beaten 4-1 in Ottawa.

With four games on the schedule Friday, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Thursday's 12 games:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

New York Rangers (91 points after Thursday's 4-1 loss at Ottawa) got off to a quick start when Ryan Callahan opened the scoring 4:36 into the game. But Ottawa scored on two of its four first-period shots and took command in the third period, outshooting the Rangers 15-7 and scoring twice to hand the Rangers their second 4-1 loss in three days -- and knock the Blueshirts out of the top spot in the overall standings.

Boston (83 points after Thursday's 3-1 win against Buffalo) won back-to-back games for the first time in nearly two months thanks to third-period goals by Johnny Boychuk and David Krejci. Tim Thomas finished with 19 saves as the Bruins won consecutive games for the first time since Jan. 10-12.

Florida (74 points after Thursday's 5-0 loss at Philadelphia) were routed at the Wells Fargo Center in the front end of a back-to-back. The second half won't be any easier -- the Panthers visit the red-hot Penguins on Friday night.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (85 points)
had Thursday off. The Penguins bring a seven-game winning streak into Friday's home game against Florida. They've won five in a row at home and are 11-1-0 in their last 12 games at Consol Energy Center.

Philadelphia (83 points after Thursday's 5-0 win against Florida) steamrolled the Panthers thanks to contributions from their kids. Three of the five goals were scored by rookies, and the Flyers lead the NHL in goals by first-year players with 49. Ilya Bryzgalov stopped 28 shots for his fourth shutout of the season and second in three games.

New Jersey (81 points after Thursday's 5-1 win against the New York Islanders) got a measure of payback for Sunday's 1-0 loss on Long Island as Ilya Kovalchuk had his 13th career hat trick and second in less than a month. The teams play the rubber match of their three-game week Saturday night at the Nassau Coliseum.

Ottawa (80 points after Thursday's 4-1 win against the New York Rangers) bounced back after allowing an early goal to beat the Rangers for the third time in four tries this season. Zach Smith and Nick Foligno scored on two of Ottawa's four first-period shots -- and after getting just three in the second, the Senators fired 15 shots in the third period while getting goals from Kyle Turris and Jason Spezza.

Washington (72 points after Thursday's 3-2 overtime win against Tampa Bay) were less than four minutes away from losing for the fourth time during its five-game homestand. But Marcus Johansen's goal with 3:52 left sent the game to overtime and Alex Ovechkin got his second OT winner in 10 days to give the Caps two points they had to have.

On the outside looking in:

Winnipeg (72 points after Thursday's 3-2 loss at Vancouver)
got a 42-save effort by Ondrej Pavelec in the first visit by a Jets team to Vancouver in 16 years, but it wasn't enough to survive a third-period blitz by the Canucks after Blake Wheeler gave the Jets a 2-1 lead early in the third period. The Winnipeg gets right back on the ice Friday night in Calgary.

Buffalo (70 points after Thursday's 3-1 loss at Boston) couldn't build on the momentum from Wednesday's 4-3 overtime win against Carolina. Jason Pominville gave the Sabres an early lead, but a misplay late in the second resulted in the tying goal and Jhonas Enroth -- giving Ryan Miller a break after nine straight starts -- was beaten twice in the third.
 
Tampa Bay (69 points after Thursday's 3-2 overtime loss at Washington) nearly stole a game in Washington thanks to rookie Dustin Tokarski, who made 29 saves. But he allowed a late goal in regulation before Alex Ovechkin's OT winner cost the Bolts the extra point.

Toronto (67 points) had the first of two off-days before Philadelphia comes to the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Division leaders:

St. Louis (93 points after Thursday's 3-1 win against Anaheim) has never finished first overall, but the Blues wake up on top of the standings today after grinding their way past Anaheim. Halak improved to 7-0-0 in his last seven starts, during which he has a 1.40 goals-against average and a save percentage of .943. St. Louis will look for its League-best 29th home win on Saturday against the Blue Jackets before beginning a seven-game trip Sunday in Columbus.

Vancouver (92 points after Thursday's 3-2 win against Winnipeg) avoided losing a third straight home game in regulation thanks to third-period goals by Alex Edler and Sami Pahlsson, who got the game-winner with less than six minutes to play. The win kept the Canucks one point behind St. Louis in the West.

Dallas (79 points after Thursday's 4-3 shootout win against San Jose) got the game-tying and shootout-deciding goals from an unlikely source -- fourth-liner Tomas Vincour, who sent the game to overtime by scoring with 1:15 left in regulation, then scored in the fifth round of the tiebreaker. Kari Lehtonen stopped 45 shots through 65 minutes and five more in the shootout as the Stars improved to 8-0-1 in their last nine.

The next five:

Detroit (89 points)
had another night off. The Wings host Los Angeles on Friday.

Nashville (85 points after Thursday's 4-2 win against Colorado) shook things up after Tuesday's loss to L.A.., and the changes helped the Predators hold off the Avs. Coach Barry Trotz inserted forwards Brendan Yip and Matt Halischuk into the lineup, and both came up with big plays -- Yip scored the go-ahead goal against his old team and Halischuk set up what proved to be the game-winner by Sergei Kostitsyn.

Chicago (79 points) had a second day off before the Rangers come to the United Center on Friday night (8:30 p.m. ET; NHLN-US). Hawks captain Jonathan Toews (concussion) will miss his ninth straight game, but he was back on the ice at Thursday's practice, though there's no timetable for his return.

Phoenix (76 points after Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to Minnesota) got its first point in March but lost its fifth in a row. The Coyotes fell behind 2-0 for the fifth game in a row, but scored twice in the third period; however, they were unable to win the shootout despite twice taking the lead. The single point was enough to keep them in seventh.

San Jose (75 points after a 4-3 shootout loss at Dallas) fired 48 shots in Dallas and grabbed the lead with less than four minutes left in regulation when Joe Pavelski scored, but were unable to hold off the Stars. The Sharks are 1-2-2 in their last five and play their next three on the road.

On the outside looking in:

Los Angeles (74 points after Thursday's 3-1 loss at Columbus)
lost a game it really needed to win when the last-place Blue Jackets beat them in the first meeting between the teams since their blockbuster trade on Feb. 23. Jack Johnson, traded from the Kings to Columbus for Jeff Carter, got the game-winner against his old team. The Kings are at Detroit on Friday.

Colorado (74 points after Thursday's 4-2 loss at Nashville) led 1:14 into the game on a goal by Jamie McGinn, but allowed the next three and Paul Stastny's third-period goal wasn't enough. Colorado managed only 17 shots.

Calgary (72 points) had Thursday off before Winnipeg comes to the Scotiabank Saddledome on Saturday night. The game will mark the NHL debut of Swiss rookie Sven Baertschi, who was recalled on an emergency basis this week. The Flames' top pick in the 2011 NHL Draft has 94 points in 47 games in juniors with Portland of the WHL.
Quote of the Day

Unless he really collapses, I don't see him going anywhere. I've been very impressed with his composure and maturity. Once the regular season started, he was a different guy; it was like game on and almost as if he's been around for a long time.

— Florida Panthers general manager Dale Tallon on rookie defenseman Aaron Ekblad
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