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Blues blank struggling Canucks 3-0

by Kevin Woodley
VANCOUVER -- When Brian Elliott signed a two-way contract with St. Louis this summer, no one imagined he'd be the Blues' top goaltender by October.

Elliott still may not be No.1, but for now he's at least the first option.

Given a third straight start in place of struggling starter Jaroslav Halak, Elliott responded with 32 saves to lead the Blues to a 3-0 win against the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night. And while Elliott wasn't about to start talk of a crease controversy with the incumbent, he at least allowed the 10th shutout of an NHL career some questioned this summer tasted sweeter.

"It's just not getting down on yourself," Elliott said of his approach in the offseason, which followed a season in which he went 15-27-9 with a 3.34 goals-against average with Colorado and Ottawa. "You are doing something right to get to this level so why stray away from your success? Just keep your nose to the grindstone and just keep working and that's what I did this summer and continue to do now."

It's paying off for the Blues, who are feeding off Elliott.

"Els was unreal," said forward Alex Steen, who provided all the offense Elliott needed for his fourth straight win by scoring 8:29 into the second period, then added another one 6:17 into the third.

"Tonight there was a couple times where Vancouver really pushed us down in our own end and he just kind of calmed things down. And you sense that and the team kind of calms down a little bit and gets pucks out."

Patrik Berglund rounded out the scoring with 2:51 left as the Blues won their third straight game -- and the 1,500th in franchise history.

It was the fourth straight win and first shutout of the season for Elliott, who was traded from Ottawa to Colorado last season and barely beat out Ben Bishop for the backup job behind Halak, the unquestioned starter to begin the season. But with Halak off to 1 4-0 start, Payne turned to Elliott, who has responded with a 1.59 goals-against average and a .950 save percentage while going 4-0-0.

It seems hard to imagine Elliott not starting again in Calgary on Friday.

"Obviously the guy is playing well and getting into the forefront of that conversation," coach Davis Payne said. "He had to make some key saves."

So did Cory Schneider, who was given his fourth start ahead of embattled No. 1 Roberto Luongo. He finished with 28 stops, but watched the Canucks get shut out for the third time this season after leading the League in scoring in 2010-11.

"We're getting enough shots to score some goals, but we're putting our goalies in a bad spot when they need to make every save in the game to keep us in it," captain Henrik Sedin said. "So it's up to us in here to get a little grittier in front of their net and get some dirty ones. Right now, we're in a slump."

The Canucks came close to breaking out of it early, with Dan Hamhuis and Ryan Kesler both hitting posts in the first period and forcing Elliott's best stop of the night with a blocker on a 3-on-1 shot by Chris Higgins. But after scoring first 49 times last season, Vancouver fell behind for the eighth time in 10 games in 2011-12 when Steen banged in his own rebound 8:29 into the second period after a nice cross-ice feed from defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who had two assists.

On a night when St. Louis got captain and top center David Backes back after missing the second half of Saturday's win in Philadelphia as the result of a big hit from Chris Pronger, it shouldn't have been surprising Steen provided most of the scoring. He now has nine goals in just 15 games against the Canucks.

"It's always fun playing Canadian teams," shrugged Steen, now tied with linemate Jason Arnott for the team lead with eight points. "You get pumped up."

Steen added his second 6:17 into the third period, on a seeing-eye shot off the boards, through traffic, and under the blocker side arm of Schneider.

"I felt pretty good, but the second goal was a back-breaker for our team and it sucked the wind out of our sails,¨ Schneider said. "I have to keep it at one. That's the mentality. I wasn't able to, and it changed the whole complexity."

So has the first goal, which Vancouver also gave up during a 3-2 loss in Edmonton the night before. That led to a shakeup on defense, with the strong playoff partnership of Kevin Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis reunited, Sami Salo back with Alex Edler, and Andrew Alberts sitting out so Alexander Sulzer could make his Canucks debut alongside Keith Ballard. It didn't seem to help much early, as the Blues outshot the Canucks 14-7 in the first, and 25-15 through 40 minutes.

By the third period Vancouver's forward lines looked like they'd been tossed in a blender.
It paid off with seven-straight shots and their first power play, but that only lasted 37 seconds before Alexander Elder high-sticked T.J. Oshie.

Vancouver's second power play only lasted 43 seconds before Daniel Sedin took a tripping penalty, easing things for the Blues' 28th-ranked penalty killers.

"It's  safe to say we are playing under our level," coach Alain Vigneault said.

That wasn't good enough with Elliott at the other end, a place even he couldn't have imagined going into unrestricted free agency in the summer.

"In an offseason like that you are not really happy with yourself," he said. "I don't think I played terribly last year, but a lot of things went wrong so just coming back and getting an opportunity with these guys and knowing it's a good young team that is definitely on the rise, I wanted to be a part of it."
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