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Blues clinch playoff berth with win against Flames

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues knew they eventually would clinch a berth into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the way they did it, with a 4-1 win against the Calgary Flames at Scottrade Center on Thursday, had them feeling good.

"That was impressive to watch from my end," St. Louis goalie Jake Allen said. "It could have been a lot higher score, but their goaltender (Jonas Hiller) played great. What an effort from the guys. Coming down to the wire, clinching a playoff spot, a couple of our key players (Alexander Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko) out, guys stepped up tonight. It was impressive."

Tarasenko and Steen are first and second in points for St. Louis. Each is day-to-day with a lower-body injury.

St. Louis (47-23-7) is one of four Western Conference teams to clinch a playoff berth; the Nashville Predators, Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks are the others.

The Blues trail the Predators by two points for first place in the Central Division and are one point ahead of the Blackhawks, who are third. St. Louis and Chicago each has a game in hand on Nashville.

Playing without their top scorers, the Blues' new top line of Jaden Schwartz, Paul Stastny and T.J. Oshie combined for five points. Schwartz, Stastny, Patrik Berglund and Jori Lehtera each had a goal and an assist; Oshie had an assist.

"It's nice [clinching] on home ice," said Stastny, who has 51 points in 43 games against the Flames. "Now the next step for us is get better until April 15, or whenever the playoffs start, but our focus is trying to get home ice.

"We worked hard at both ends. I know it's cliche-ish, but we held on to the puck a little more. We tried making some plays throughout all four lines, and I think as a team we played pretty sound hockey, and then even when it was a one-goal game, just kept going."

Allen made 17 saves for his 20th win. He and Brian Elliott (24) joined the New York Rangers' Cam Talbot (20) and Henrik Lundqvist (27) as the only NHL tandems with each goalie having 20 victories.

The Flames (42-29-7), who got a goal from Sean Monahan and 39 saves from Hiller, are in third place in the Pacific Division. They lead the Los Angeles Kings, who defeated the Edmonton Oilers 8-2, by one point.

It was Calgary's sixth straight loss in St. Louis, dating to April 1, 2011. The Blues are 9-1-1 against the Flames in the past 11, and they've outscored Calgary 17-2 in the past four. St. Louis swept the three-game season series for its first sweep of Calgary since 2002-03, when it went 4-0-0.

"I think St. Louis has the number of many teams," Flames coach Bob Hartley said. "Looking at the size and the strength of that team, they're not easy to play against. They were better than us. They fully deserved the victory."

When Schwartz beat Hiller for his 25th goal, it ended the Blues' first-period goal drought at 10 games and 206:56. St. Louis had not scored in the first period since Schwartz did against the Winnipeg Jets on March 10.

Schwartz came out of the corner with the puck after Oshie won a board battle with Flames defenseman TJ Brodie and flipped a backhand past Hiller 1:16 into the game.

St. Louis began the second period with 2:48 of power-play time after Brandon Bollig's major for boarding Barret Jackman late in the first period, and it went ahead 2-0 on Stastny's 15th goal.

David Backes patiently waited out a sliding Mikael Backlund before sending a pass to Stastny in front. Stastny redirected the puck through Hiller from in tight 24 seconds into the period.

Monahan's 30th of the season made it 2-1. He redirected Jiri Hudler's centering feed into the high slot, beating Allen high over his left shoulder 3:35 into the second.

Monahan, in his second season, is the first Calgary player to score 30 goals since Jarome Iginla in 2011-12.

"Obviously, it doesn't mean much right now after a game like that, but I guess putting the puck in the net in this League is tough, so it's pretty cool to get 30," Monahan said. "But it doesn't mean much after a game like that."

Allen preserved the 2-1 lead with two saves with St. Louis shorthanded in the third period. He stopped Dennis Wideman from the slot at 8:12, then denied Hudler from the side of the goal on the rebound.

Lehtera gave the Blues a 3-1 lead after taking a wraparound pass from Berglund and beating Hiller with a backhand with 3:15 remaining. Berglund scored an empty-net goal with 2:05 left.

The Blues had some key penalty kills in the third period, continued to press with a one-goal lead, and were rewarded in the end. They outshot the Flames 43-18 and won for the second time in their past seven games (2-3-2).

"We were the much better team in the first two periods; their goalie kept them in it, and then we needed our goalie in the third," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Calgary just hangs around and Calgary had some great chances in the third, and our goalie held us in that first 10-12 minutes."

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