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Allen, Jokinen help Blues past Blackhawks, into first

by Brian Hedger /

CHICAGO -- It was a game reminiscent of the hard-hitting series between the St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Only this time the Blues found a way to win a big game in Chicago.

Led by 38 saves from Jake Allen, St. Louis defeated Chicago 2-1 at United Center on Sunday to move into first place of the Central Division.

The Blues (105 points) have won three in a row; they lead the Nashville Predators by one point and the Blackhawks by three, with three games left for each team. Chicago will host the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday before heading to Scottrade Center for a rematch with St. Louis on Thursday.

It was the first regular-season regulation victory in Chicago since Feb. 3, 2010, for the Blues (49-23-7), who also lost all three games of last season's playoff series here.

"We played extremely hard," said Allen, who made 27 saves in the game's final 40 minutes. "[We] just kept plugging away, plugging away. We got two greasy goals, and I think that's going to be the way we need to score. We're going to obviously get some nice goals, but we have a team that mucks and grinds and finds those ways to put the puck in the net."

The first of those goals, by captain David Backes, tied it 1-1 on a power play at 6:07 of the second period. Jaden Schwartz got the puck in the low slot and feathered a pass to Backes for a tip-in goal at the right side of the net.

The puck traveled through a narrow gap between the skates of Chicago defenseman Duncan Keith and goalie Corey Crawford.

The second goal, scored 9:05 later, was again the result of Blues forwards buzzing the net.

Jori Lehtera won a faceoff back to defenseman Alex Pietrangelo at the right point, and he sent a shot toward the net that hit forward Ty Rattie in front of Crawford. The puck caromed to the low slot, where Jokinen batted it in to give St. Louis the lead.

Rattie's right skate made contact with Crawford's left pad during the play, upsetting the Chicago goaltender, but goalie interference wasn't called.

The Blackhawks (48-25-6) had a number of opportunities to score the equalizing goal, but they couldn't get another shot past Allen and saw their four-game winning streak come to an end as a result.

"It seems like when we play these guys, it's always a one-goal game," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We pushed at the end. I thought we had stretches where it was OK, but at the end of the day, it was a big four-point swing."

Forward Kris Versteeg gave Chicago a 1-0 lead late in the first with his first goal since Feb. 24 against the Florida Panthers, the game right wing Patrick Kane sustained a fractured left clavicle.

Marian Hossa intercepted a backhand pass from T.J. Oshie at the St. Louis blue line, carried the puck into the left faceoff circle and slid a pass to Versteeg in front of the net. Versteeg redirected the puck through Allen's pads at 14:12 for his 14th goal.

Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo was injured trying to check Toews during the play, and he wasn't able to break up the pass. Bortuzzo didn't return because of an upper-body injury and is day-to-day.

Chicago also lost a defenseman in the first period. Kimmo Timonen was driven hard into the boards by St. Louis forward Ryan Reaves midway through the period and did not return. Quenneville said Timonen is day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

"This was a very demanding, physical game for both teams, and both teams looked a little bit spent in the third period because it took so much out of us," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "But this is the way we're going to have to win games."

Chicago's 1-0 lead held up the rest of the first thanks mostly to Crawford, who received a standing ovation after making saves on a couple good scoring chances by Rattie and Jokinen with less than three minutes remaining in the period.

The Blues came out ahead in a second period that featured some hard hits. They then used a strategy that wins games in the postseason, staving off the Blackhawks' push to tie it in the third.

"The part I liked the best was that when we got the lead, we managed the game," Hitchcock said. "We didn't sit back. We managed the game the right way. If you're going to win in the playoffs, you're going to have to play long minutes with a lead or tied and put good quality minutes in, and that's what I was happiest about."

Veteran defenseman Barret Jackman, a healthy scratch Friday at the Dallas Stars, returned to the lineup for St. Louis and played his 800th NHL game. Only Bernie Federko has played more games for the Blues.

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