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Elliott, Blues Set for Divisional Showdown

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS - Brian Elliott will set a new career high with his 15th consecutive start tonight as the Blues host the Dallas Stars at Scottrade Center (7 p.m., NBCSN, KMOX).

Since Jake Allen sustained a lower-body injury on Jan. 8, Elliott has been outstanding, going 9-3-3 with a 1.78 goals-against average, a .945 save-percentage and one shutout.

“He’s been our best player probably for that whole stretch,” Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. “At the start of the year, he wasn’t playing a whole lot but he was practicing hard and hanging in there. You never want to see anyone get hurt, but when Jake went down, he got an opportunity and he’s done what everyone in here knows he can do. Everybody is happy to see him to do it.”

On Sunday, Elliott turned in one of his better performances in that stretch, stopping 37 shots against a potent Tampa Bay Lightning offense. He was only 52 seconds away from a shutout, too, before Nikita Kucherov got the Lightning on the board.

Elliott has allowed a goal or less in six of his last nine starts.

“He’s been spectacular. He’s really taken the reins as far as us needing a guy to step up,” Blues forward Scottie Upshall added. “This time of year, you need guys to elevate their game and it starts with Elliott. He’s been nothing but awesome every game. He makes great saves, keeps us in the matches, he’s professional, he’s doing the right things… He goes about his business. He’s a good pro.”

Allen joined the Blues for the morning skate on Tuesday and shared the net with backup Pheonix Copley, who has been with the club since the All-Star break ended. Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said he wasn’t sure how long it would be before Allen is ready, saying he'll worry about that when Allen joins the team for a complete practice.

For now, the Blues are enjoying the fact that they know they have two No. 1 goaltenders.

“It’s crazy. I don’t think any other team in the League has the luxury we have,” defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said. “Jake was playing tremendous but now that ‘Moose’ taking over, he’s been saving us in games. It’s just a confidence booster having him back there.”

CLOSING THE GAP

With 24 games remaining in the regular season, the Blues find themselves six points behind the Dallas Stars for first place in the Central Division.

That’s one reason why tonight’s game is so important.

“It’s huge,” Bouwmeester said. “This time of year, it feels like you play your division a lot. There have been lots of overtimes, everyone getting points. These (games) are your chance to move up and separate yourself. We want to close that gap tonight because you want to finish as high as you can.”

The Blues have won four of their last five games against Dallas, including two straight at Scottrade Center. The teams last met in a home-and-home series on Dec. 26 and 27 - the Blues won 3-2 at home, while the Stars won 3-0 at American Airlines Center the next day.

Hitchcock said Sunday’s game against Tampa Bay will be great preparation for tonight.

“We’re coming off the same element: a lot of speed up front, a lot of tenacity, a lot of guys that are willing to work for the puck. Puck management becomes critical. Never taking shift off becomes even more important. When you win against top teams, you can’t have many shifts off. That’s what (Dallas) is doing and that’s why they’re having a good season.”

600 GAMES FOR UPSHALL

Scottie Upshall, who signed a one-year contract after being invited to training camp on a professional tryout, is expected to play in his 600th game tonight.

Despite the Blues’ forward group being almost entirely healthy, Upshall has played himself into a regular role with the club. He’s played seven consecutive games and has appeared in 46 overall this season.

“Playing one game would have been pretty special,” Upshall said of reaching 600 career games. “There are a lot of good NHL players, and guys who have had long careers. Six hundred has given me a lot of bumps and bruises along the way, but a lot of good times and good memories.”

The 32-year-old forward has proven he’s very versatile. Hitchcock has plugged him into a top-six role at times, and he’s fared well.

“When coach needs a guy up front, I’m fortunate enough to get a chance to do that and mesh well and contribute. And (I can be) an energy guy where you’re counted on to go out and kill penalties and be dependent defensively. Just being a good teammate is something I’ve taken pride in my whole career.”

PROJECTED LINES

After two consecutive wins, we’re expecting the same lineup tonight.

Forwards

Patrik Berglund - Alexander Steen - David Backes

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer

Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves

Defense

Jay Bouwmeester - Kevin Shattenkirk

Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson - Robert Bortuzzo

Goalie

Brian Elliott

BLUE NOTES

Paul Stastny has 34 points (17 goals, 17 assists) in 34 career games against the Dallas Stars. Currently, he has five points in his last five games overall.

The Blues rank third amongst Western Conference teams with a .643 win-percentage against the Central Divison (12-6-3). Overall, the Blues average 2.41 goals per game, allow 2.31 goals per game and convert on the power play 20.5 percent of the time. But, against the Central, the club averages 2.42 goals per game, gives up 2.14 and converts on 29.7 percent of the power plays.

Vladimir Tarasenko is second among players in the West with 21 points (13 goals, eight assists) against the Central.

The first 12,500 fans at tonight’s game will get a David Backes bobblehead.

H.E.R.O.E.S. Care will be collecting care package donation items for the troops at each entrance tonight. Fans can also make a monetary donation. All fans that donate will receive raffle tickets for a chance to win autographed Blues prizes. For a list of items needed, click here.

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