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Ailing Blues hold on to beat slumping Wild

by Dan Myers

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild continued to head in opposite directions Tuesday night.

The Blues overcame the absence of their top two goal-scorers, including their captain, as well as a flu bug ravaging their locker room in a 2-1 win against the Wild. Jaden Schwartz extended his goal-scoring streak to six games and set up one by T.J. Oshie to help the Blues improve to 13-0-1 in Central Division play this season and beat the Wild for the seventh consecutive time.

St. Louis has won three straight and is 5-0-1 in its past six games. They won despite playing without top scorers Alexander Steen and David Backes due to injury, and they lost forward Chris Stewart 8:30 into the game when he was hit in the face by a dump-in by Minnesota forward Jason Pominville.

With Steen, Backes and Stewart out, the Blues were missing 53 goals from their lineup, putting added pressure on the rest of the team to step up.

"Obviously, we miss those guys a lot but it's a chance for more guys to get an opportunity and step up," Schwartz said. "I think we're doing a good job of that, everyone is chipping in and playing hard defensively and it's paying off right now."

The Wild are going the other way. They've lost six in a row and are 5-12-1 in their past 18 games, a stretch that began with a 3-0 loss in St. Louis on Nov. 25.

"It feels a little bit like Groundhog Day right now, the difference is that every game has been a different story," coach Mike Yeo said. "We had a good start, our first [period] was good against a team we knew was going to defend hard and play well, and then unfortunately we broke."

After a scoreless first period, St. Louis took advantage of a Minnesota turnover to grab a 1-0 lead. Wild defensemanKeith Ballard's breakout pass hit teammate Mikael Granlund in the skates. Schwartz poked the puck free to Oshie for a quick breakaway. He deked and beat Wild goaltender Josh Harding's poke-check attempt at 6:49 of the second period for his sixth goal of the season.

"I kind of snuck up on him and pinched right before the blue line," Oshie said. "I had a feeling that Schwartz was going to get it and throw it to me. Once it got to me I just kind of stickhandled until I got it in the net. I couldn't really see [Harding]. I saw his stick coming out to poke check and I kind of panicked and it ended up going in for me."

Schwartz made it 2-0 at 15:59 when he led a 2-on-1 break into the Minnesota zone. Schwartz kept the puck and snuck a shot through Harding's five-hole. It was his 14th of the season, third-most on the team. His plus-19 rating is a team-best.

"I'm getting some bounces right now for sure," Schwartz said. "I'm just working hard and it's nice to see them go in for sure. I'm just trying to do my job and producing is part of it."

St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said it was important for his team, especially with several of its stars out of the lineup, to get an early lead and not "chase the game."

"We did that once [against] Chicago [Saturday, a 6-5 shootout win] and got away with it, and you're not going to get that very often," Hitchcock said. "I thought the second period we played was outstanding. I thought really until we started giving away the puck a little bit at the end of the third period we really managed the game well."

The Blues kept the Wild locked down in the offensive zone all night. Goaltender Brian Elliott made 24 saves but wasn't really tested until a Wild power play midway through the final period, making perhaps his best save of the night on Mikko Koivu from the top of the crease. The Blues also blocked 24 shots, led by Jay Bouwmeester, who blocked five as well as Carlo Colaiacovo and Alex Pietrangelo, who blocked four apiece.

"When guys are doing that, it makes it a lot easier," Elliott said. "They're not shooting through skates and legs where it's hard to pick up. When they're off the stick and into the mesh, it's a good thing for me."

Minnesota spoiled Elliott's shutout bid when a blast from the point by defenseman Ryan Suter found the back of the net with 8.3 seconds remaining in regulation. The goal was Suter's second of the season and second in as many games.

It was also Minnesota's first goal against the Blues since April 2, snapping a shutout streak against St. Louis that had stretched more than three full games and over 200 minutes (212:52).

Harding made 21 saves and dropped to 18-7-3. It was the first time Harding has lost consecutive games in regulation this season; he was in goal Sunday night when the Wild couldn't hold a 3-0 lead in a 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders.

"Got to get a win. That's what it comes down to. We've got to get a win," Yeo said. "There were a lot of things that were much better tonight, but we're not in a position where we can feel good about those things. We'll build off them, look at them, but there's still other things that we're not doing well enough to win hockey games. Every game is different and you got to find a way to win. It's making a play here or there, it's whatever it takes. We've got to find a way."

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