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At the Rink: Blues at Jets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The St. Louis Blues can take over first place in the NHL standings with a win against the Winnipeg Jets on Thursday at MTS Centre.

St. Louis has 95 points and is two points behind the Anaheim Ducks. The Blues will have played one fewer game than Anaheim after Thursday.

The Blues continue their season-high six-game road trip having won five of their past six. Each of the Blues' past three wins have been shutouts, and they have a shutout streak of 126:16.

Winnipeg continues its three-game homestand holding the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the Western Conference, one point ahead of the Calgary Flames.

St. Louis has won the first three games in the season series against Winnipeg, including two at MTS Centre. However, the Jets have tested the Blues in each of the three games.

"It's a battle," Blues captain David Backes said of the season series. "It's two heavy teams that are like two rams on a mountainside just butting heads, butting heads, butting heads."

In the most recent game, March 10, the Jets' three-goal third period erased the Blues' 4-1 lead. St. Louis won the game on Barret Jackman's goal from the neutral zone with 63 seconds left in the regulation.

"I think it was a lesson for us that you've got to play a full 60 minutes," Backes said. "You let your foot off the gas for five minutes against a good team and the score is tied [after] a three-goal lead. It was a lesson … to bury a team when you get the chance."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock will start goaltender Brian Elliott, who shut out Calgary 4-0 on Tuesday. Elliott established a record with his 21st shutout as a member of the Blues.

St. Louis could be a potential first-round opponent for the Jets.

"I think St. Louis is the best team in the League," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "So we have to be at our very best shift-to-shift. They have been tight games because for the most part we have done that. But we're going to need a little bit better in everything that we do."

The Jets will be without two key pieces in their lineup. Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien and center Bryan Little each will miss a sixth consecutive game. Each player has a lingering upper-body injury.

Little could play Saturday at home against the Washington Capitals. Maurice said Byfuglien is more likely to wait until a two-game road trip that begins next week.

"[Byfuglien] is probably right where we originally [expected]," Maurice said of the initial prognosis of 2-4 weeks. "He made some really good improvements earlier in the week and then it just plateaued a little bit."

Without Byfuglien and Little, the Jets will need all four lines contributing to match the Blues' depth.

"[The Blues] are so balanced," said Jets right wing Blake Wheeler, who has five goals and four assists in his past five games. "They have four lines that can hurt you. So I think that is the biggest key, matching up, getting all four lines against all four [lines] of theirs. I think we match up well."

Maurice will start goaltender Ondrej Pavelec for the third consecutive game. Pavelec has not started three games in a row since Nov. 6-11, 2014.

Here are the projected lineups:

BLUES

Alexander Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin - Paul Stastny - Patrik Berglund

Chris Porter - Steve Ott - Ryan Reaves

Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester - Zbynek Michalek

Barret Jackman - Robert Bortuzzo

Brian Elliott

Jake Allen

Scratched: Chris Butler, Marcel Goc, Petteri Lindbohm

Injured: Olli Jokinen (upper body), Kevin Shattenkirk (abdominal surgery)

JETS

Andrew Ladd - Adam Lowry - Michael Frolik

Drew Stafford - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler

Jiri Tlusty - Jim Slater - Lee Stempniak

Chris Thorburn - Eric O'Dell - Matt Halischuk

Toby Enstrom - Tyler Myers

Mark Stuart - Jacob Trouba

Adam Pardy - Jay Harrison

Ondrej Pavelec

Michael Hutchinson

Scratched: Keaton Ellerby, TJ Galiardi, Anthony Peluso

Injured: Dustin Byfuglien (upper body), Ben Chiarot (upper body) Grant Clitsome (back), Bryan Little (upper body), Mathieu Perreault (lower body), Paul Postma (lower body)

Status report: Michalek will play his 700th NHL game. … Ladd did not participate in the morning skate, but Maurice said he will dress.

Who's hot: Backes (two goals, three assists) and Steen (three goals, two assists) each have a three-game point streak. … St. Louis has a 7-1-1 record in its past nine road games. … The Blues' 11th-ranked penalty kill has not allowed a goal in the past 13 chances it has faced. … Winnipeg's power play has four goals in the past four games. … The Jets are 9-2-2 in their past 13 home games.

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