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Blues beat Ducks 3-1 to take overall points lead

by Louie Korac
ST. LOUIS -- When the St. Louis Blues were a game under .500 in November at 6-7-0, dreaming about a playoff spot would have been far-fetched. Thinking about being the No. 1 team in the NHL would have been a pipe dream.

But after a coaching change, the Blues have done virtually nothing wrong in four months -- and here they are, atop the of NHL standings.

But even though the Blues are in uncharted territory, they seem to be humbled by the whole scenario.  

David Backes scored twice, David Perron had two assists and the red-hot Blues moved into the top spot in the overall standings by beating the Anaheim Ducks 3-1 Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

Patrik Berglund also scored for the Blues, and Jaroslav Halak won his seventh straight start, a personal best, by stopping 24 shots. The Blues also improved to 35-0-0 when scoring three goals or more and are 8-1-1 in their last 10 home games against Anaheim. St. Louis is 11-1-1 in its last 13 home games, outscoring its opponents 36-15.

The Blues (43-18-7) improved to 28-4-4 at Scottrade Center -- the 28 home wins are most in the NHL. Coupled with the New York Rangers' loss at Ottawa, the Blues have 93 points to the Rangers' 91.

Pretty good for a team that has made the playoffs just once in the last six seasons.

"Five years ago, we were pretty much last in the standings," said Perron, a first-round pick in 2007. "Now we're first. It's a lot of fun. It's mostly for our fans who have been supporting us over the last five years and even when I wasn't here. ... For us, there's much more work to go and our goal is more than just to finish first in the standings. It's to win the Cup."

Berglund added: "It's a great feeling, but we all are on the same page. We're really humble about it. All the teams are really good. You can't take a day off and think you're better than someone else. ... Hopefully we can stay consistent and keep going."

It's quite a story for a team that was in 14th place at the time that management decided to fire Davis Payne and bring in Ken Hitchcock, who is 37-11-7 since taking over on Nov. 6.

But the Blues have come together in all facets of the game: in goal, on defense, special teams, timely goals and discipline in all three zones on the ice.

"Our record's good and we are what we are, but we're not one of these teams that overwhelms you with big shot totals and outplays you and your goalie's got to be the first star. We just find ways to win. That's what a team is," Hitchcock said. "We know we're not the most talented team in the National Hockey League, but we are very much a team. When we play as a team, as the game wears on, we find cracks and we've done it all year. We find cracks in the opposition, but we need our goalie to be good every night, we need our special teams to be good, especially our penalty killing.

"We need every aspect of our game on the mark for us to win. Other teams can do it a different way. They got more depth scoring-wise, they got more power on both units on the power play, more units, whatever. But we have to do it a certain way. We need every aspect of our game on the mark for us to win."

Corey Perry scored for the Ducks (29-29-10), who dropped their fourth in six games after a 17-3-4 run. Jonas Hiller stopped 24 shots.

"It's tough for the opposition to play in this building," Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau said. "Once the crowd gets going, you can see they really get into it.

"Five-on-five, we were just as good as they were -- but the special teams, which have been our Achilles' heel for the last month, snuck up on us again and killed us."

Berglund's first goal since Feb. 9, a span of 15 games, was his 14th of the season and it came off a corner feed from former Duck Andy McDonald. The redirection came with Berglund in tight on Hiller at 4:47 of the third period. It was McDonald's 13th point in nine games against his former mates.

Berglund's goal turned out to be the game-winner.

"We talk about it every day: funnel the puck with traffic in front and find the rebound," Berglund said. "It's always hard for the other team to find the puck when you shoot it a whole lot. I think we did a pretty good job there."

Kevin Shattenkirk's point shot at 6:48 of the third period got through a screen and deflected by Backes past Hiller for a 3-1 lead. It was Blues' second power-play goal of the game; they are 8-for-20 with the extra man in the last six games.

"For the first period, we thought we could play that end-to-end game," Backes said. "We were tilting the odds against us playing that sort of game. When we got back to getting the puck deep and going in there with bodies and staying in the battles, we tilted the odds back in our favor."  

Perry opened the scoring with his team-leading 34th goal of the season 4:18 into the second period when he broke in with Lubomir Visnovsky 2-on-1 and snapped a shot past Halak. Matt Beleskey created the play by making the puck available for an onrushing Perry after absorbing a hit from defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo along the right boards inside the blue line. When Colaiacovo went for the body of Beleskey, it left Alex Pietrangelo to fend off the odd-man rush for himself.

The Blues got the equalizer from Backes on the team's third power play of the game. Perron's wrister from the top of the left circle saw Backes use perfect hand-eye coordination from the slot and he was able to redirect the puck past Hiller at 11:38 of the second period to make it 1-1.

The Blues held the Ducks to five shots in a scoreless first period, but Halak had to be on top of his game on the last three, which came in succession. After making a save on Ducks defenseman Luca Sbisa from the slot, Halak was outstretched at the left post and was able to thwart a pair of Saku Koivu rebound attempts with 9:44 left in the period.

Halak is 7-0-0 with a 1.40 goals-against average and .943 save percentage in his last seven starts.

The Blues extended their penalty-killing streak to 35 dating back to Feb. 14 (or 13 games) by brushing aside all three Ducks power plays and will wake up Friday morning looking down at the rest of the League.

"We can't get caught up in it, though," Backes cautioned. "You think you've accomplished something with 15 games left or whatever we have and you start sliding in a hurry playing teams like this fighting for their playoff lives."

Added Pietrangelo, who had an assist to give him 30 points in 30 games: "It's an accomplishment, it feels pretty good. We've certainly come a long way. ... We can't really take our foot off the pedal here with so many games left."
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