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Blues defeat Wild, will face each other in playoffs

by Louie Korac / NHL.com

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues will head into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with confidence after a 4-2 victory against the Minnesota Wild at Scottrade Center on Saturday, their fifth win in six games.

It's quite the contrast to last season, when St. Louis limped into the playoffs, besieged with injuries, and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in six games in the Western Conference First Round.

The Blues and Wild will meet in the First Round. St. Louis won the Central Division and is the No. 2 seed in the West after the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Arizona Coyotes 2-1. The Wild are the first wild card team from the Western Conference.

"We still don't know what we have; we have two significant players (Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen) coming back from injuries," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This is the team we want to take on the journey. We're healthy, we'll be 100 percent going into the playoffs, which is completely different from last year. We had no idea up until actual game time [last season] who was going to play. Now we know. We have choices, but we're going to have somebody who's just as good as us."

Tarasenko and Steen returned to play in the regular-season finale after each missed time down the stretch because of a lower-body injury. Tarasenko missed four games, and Steen five.

Tarasenko, who missed four games, had a goal and an assist, and Steen, who missed five, had two assists for the Blues (51-24-7).

"We're not comparing anything to any other previous years," Steen said. "It's just focus on what we're doing right now. The one thing I will say about previous years is we take it as experience and move forward. We don't sit and analyze last year and two years ago compared to this. We're just having a good vibe right now. Goaltending has been great. Our D have been extremely quick, patient with the puck, and we were able to bang some home tonight.

"I was a little antsy [to return], wanted to get back in. It was nice to have a game."

Jori Lehtera scored two goals for the Blues, and Brian Elliott made 23 saves in his first game since April 3.

Minnesota (46-28-8), which got goals from Marco Scandella and Zach Parise, failed to break the 2005-06 Detroit Red Wings' NHL record for consecutive road wins (12). Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk made 11 saves on 14 shots before he was replaced by Darcy Kuemper at the start of the third period; Kuemper made eight saves on nine shots.

"It was a little different," said Dubnyk, who started 39 of Minnesota's final 40 games. "You could tell there were a lot of new pairings and combinations. You play so many games that are do-or-die, and then you kind of are looking to both sides to kind of see what happens going forward. Afterwards, I still thought we played pretty well. There's just a couple of lapses that ended up in them making some nice plays, and up until it was 2-0, I thought we were probably playing quite a bit better than they were, so it's a game that you let go and get ready for the important stuff."

Each team played without regulars in its lineup. The Blues were without captain David Backes, forwards T.J. Oshie and Steve Ott and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. The Wild rested captain Mikko Koivu, forward Justin Fontaine and defensemen Ryan Suter and Jared Spurgeon.

After no goals through the first half of the game, the Blues and Wild combined for four in a 6:04 stretch, with the Blues scoring three of them.

Dmitrij Jaskin scored on a 3-on-2 to put the Blues ahead 1-0. Patrik Berglund found Olli Jokinen, who fed Jaskin in the right circle. Jaskin's wrist shot beat Dubnyk to the far side at 13:27.

Tarasenko made it 2-0, getting a pass from Steen in the slot and beating Dubnyk high glove side at 18:00.

Scandella scored 51 seconds later to cut the Blues lead to 2-1 on a shot from the blue line that appeared to deflect over Elliott's glove, but Lehtera restored St. Louis' two-goal lead when he finished Steen's pass into the low slot at 19:31.

Lehtera's second goal of the game, his first multigoal game since scoring a hat trick Nov. 11 against the Buffalo Sabres, came 5:03 into the third period on the power play. Lehtera tried centering a puck and it caromed off the stick of Wild defenseman Nate Prosser past Kuemper's near post for his 14 th goal.

Parise scored on the power play with 37.6 remaining to make it 4-2. It was his 33rd goal.

The Wild, 18-19-5 at one point in the season, finished the regular season on a 28-9-3 run to finish with 100 points.

"It's pretty crazy when you look at it, to have a better season than what we had last year," Wild forward Jason Pominville said. "... We dug ourselves out, found a way. It shows the character, the depth. Everyone stuck together when times weren't good, and it shows that we got what it takes to hopefully make a run."

The Blues finished with 109 points, two fewer than last season.

"It doesn't matter who we play in the first round," Tarasenko said before learning their opponent. "If you want to win a Cup, you've got to win them all. We'll just wait on our opponent and start preparing tomorrow."

Tarasenko led the Blues with 37 goals and 73 points.

"If you want to be the best team in the League, you're supposed to beat everybody, so it doesn't matter."

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