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Blues cool off red-hot Thrashers with 4-2 win

by John Manasso /

ATLANTA - In the hallway adjoining the home and visiting locker rooms at Philips Arena after Tuesday's game between the Thrashers and Blues, St. Louis right wing Brad Boyes was sharing a few friendly words with Thrashers goalie Chris Mason, his teammate for the previous two seasons.

Mason, who backstopped the Blues to a playoff appearance in 2009 as their No. 1 goalie, was on the verge of re-signing with St. Louis last summer before the Blues acquired Jaroslav Halak to be No. 1. Instead, St. Louis allowed Mason to depart via free agency and he landed in Atlanta, where he has mostly backed up since Ondrej Pavelec became one of the League's hottest goalies.

Mason has been a well-liked teammate wherever he's been, but on Tuesday his former teammates used their knowledge of him to their advantage in a 4-2 victory , only the injury-ravaged Blues' second win in their last six games.

Boyes' goal, the game's first on a 2-on-1 at 5:07 of the first, and the two others - excepting an empty-netter - all went high to Mason's glove side.

"I've had some luck with Mase when he wasn't with us and had some luck again," Boyes said of Mason's days in Nashville before he arrived in St. Louis. "Obviously, I got lucky on him."

Asked if he were aiming for high glove, Boyes responded, "Oh, yeah, and he probably knew it, too, so that's why I got a little lucky on him. I'm sure he probably cheated out there on me."

Mason was looking for his third straight win during the Thrashers' last seven games and Thrashers coach Craig Ramsay said he made some good stops among his 23 saves, but Atlanta, which lost for only the third time in regulation in its last 17 games, looked a step slow after Monday's 6-3 win at Toronto. The Blues had a shorter trip to Atlanta after a 3-1 home loss to Vancouver on Monday.

"You play a lot of games without the optimal amount of rest," Mason said, "but every team has to do it. I thought the last seven or eight minutes, we picked it up. We can't get away from what makes you successful."

True, the Thrashers did pick it up in those final minutes after they fell behind 3-1. But as Ramsay likes to say, it's a lot easier to play when you're down by two goals because the pressure is off.

With 7:23 left in regulation, Dustin Byfuglien pulled Atlanta within 3-2 with his League-leading 12th goal by a defenseman, banking the puck off the back of the leg of Blues goalie Ty Conklin from behind the net. The point tied Byfuglien for his career-high of 36 with 46 games remaining.

From there, the Blues fought desperately to hold onto their lead. With 1:58 left in regulation, B.J. Crombeen was sent to the penalty box for slashing the stick out of the hands of Tobias Enstrom, who was skating free down the left boards in the Blues' zone with a chance to make a play with a number of Thrashers in front of the net.

David Backes made a big play during that penalty kill with just more than a minute left in regulation, deflecting a pass back from the right circle to Byfuglien at the point out of the zone with the Thrashers having pulled Mason for a 6-on-4 advantage. The Thrashers had to regroup and on their next entry attempt, Vladimir Sobotka won control of the puck along the right boards, skated the puck all the way down and scored on the empty net with 48 seconds left to seal it.

The Blues, who had one of the League's best records after the month of October, have been decimated by injury. On Monday, they got defenseman Roman Polak (lacerated wrist tendon) back for the first time since Oct. 23. Others who are still out are center T.J. Oshie (ankle), who is not expected back until March; left wing David Perron (concussion), who has played only 10 games; center Andy McDonald (concussion), out since Dec. 4; and veteran center Dave Scatchard, who went down for 4-6 weeks with a recent knee injury.

Conklin was asked about having Polak back in the lineup.

"Good, really good, the last two games, he's a big part of our team, especially a 3-2 game with a couple minutes left in the game," Conklin said. "He's one of the guys who's out there almost all the time. You can't have too many of those kinds of guys."

Boyes got the game's first goal when Chris Porter intercepted a clearing pass in Atlanta's zone along the left boards, creating a 2-on-1 with Boyes against the Thrashers' Brent Sopel. Porter found Boyes, whose quick wrist shot past Mason produced his seventh goal.

Bryan Little evened the score just 1:36 later. Evander Kane led a 3-on-2 down the left wing as Anthony Stewart drove the net. Kane almost seemed to purposely pass the puck off the pads of Conklin and the rebound came out to the trailing Little in the slot, allowing Little to easily score his 10th of the season.

Alex Steen put the Blues ahead to stay at 18:39 of the second period, scoring his 11th of the season on a one-timer from below the right faceoff dot past Mason's glove after a slick pass by Barret Jackman from the left point.

"Alex Steen's goal, it doesn't matter where that was going," Boyes said. "You're not going to stop that. That was a heck of a shot."

St. Louis made it 3-1 just 2:13 into the third period. Sobotka won an offensive zone faceoff, kicking the puck back to Alex Pietrangelo who fired a slap shot from just inside the blue line that found the net high to Mason's glove side.

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