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Blues edge Jackets in 2-1 win

by Louie Korac
COLUMBUS -- There's a reason why the Blues are at the top of the NHL standings. Look no further than their goaltending.

It doesn't matter whether it's Jaroslav Halak or Brian Elliott -- pucks are tough to get past the duo.
The Blues completed the home-and-home series with the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets with a 2-1 victory Sunday night at Nationwide Arena after winning 4-1 Saturday in St. Louis.

Halak stopped 33 shots, including a pair of easy tap-ins in the third period and another near the end of the game at the goal line that needed video review.

Halak set a personal best by winning his eighth straight start that includes a 1.45 goals-against average and a .945 save percentage.

With the win, the Blues improved to 45-18-7, which is good for 97 points to lead the NHL. They have won seven of eight from the Jackets (22-40-7).

"The way Jaro's playing games right now, he's capable of stealing games like that," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "There's no doubt about it that we did not play our best. He rose to the occasion and helped us out."

Added fellow defenseman Barret Jackman of Halak: "He's stopping two-on-oh's, two-on-one's, he's stopping breakaways. Tonight if it weren't for him, we would have been sitting there wondering a lot of the things that we did wrong."

David Perron scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, his second goal in as many games, and Patrik Berglund also scored for the Blues as they are now five points clear of Vancouver for second overall in the NHL.

"He was our best player. We had no energy. The goalie found a way," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said of Halak. "It's five games in nine nights with cross country travel and we hit the wall. We hit the wall mentally, we hit the wall physically. Our goalie stole the game, he was the best player. Some days you need that. That's what happened."

Jackets interim coach Todd Richards has seen both ends of the best goalie tandem on the NHL, along with Brian Elliott. It's safe to say he's envious.

"You have two guys that ... it looks like they're at the top of their games," Richards said. "It's a credit to the team, though, too. They did a good job in front of him.

"Tonight I thought we created a lot of chances. Halak was very very good. Going back to (Saturday) night's game, Elliott made some key saves for them, but it was how the team was playing in front of him. I think they feed off of each other."

The Jackets got a goal from Mark Letestu, his third in three games and fifth point in four, and Curtis Sanford stopped 24 shots in the loss. They were 0-for-8 on the power play and had three near-misses in the third period that could have easily tied the game.

"Tonight, I thought we played well five-on-five," Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson said. "They got a goal that we'd like to have back, but we definitely had our chances. When you only score one goal, you're not going to win many hockey games. We've got to capitalize on those chances that we had, and we had plenty of chances.

"Obviously you've got to give the goalie credit. He played well, the team plays well. They don't give up a whole lot, but I thought our team played well."

Perron netted his 14th goal of the season, taking a Jackman feed, skating into the Columbus zone and ripping one past Sanford 3:46 into the third period to snap a 1-1 tie.

"Short side, low glove," Perron said describing his goal. "It was probably one that I don't expect to go in, but I had a lot of power behind it. I went high glove a couple times, three or four times over the weekend and (Sanford) saved all those. I got two low glove on him. It's good to score. It doesn't matter how it goes in. I'll definitely take it."

Halak preserved the Blues' one-goal lead, robbing R.J. Umberger's redirection in tight after getting a short pass from Rick Nash with 9:25 remaining. Timely saves is what the Blues have gotten from their No. 1 goaltending tandem all season long.

Halak did it again, robbing Dane Byers' attempt at the left post, kicking out the right pad on a virtual 2-on-none after Roman Polak fell down on the play with 8:02 to play.

"I was just trying to extend my pad on the first one and on the second one, too," Halak said. "I was trying to get there as fast as I could. Luckily I did. The puck wasn't faster than I was. I'll take it. On the first one, I was lucky, too, because (Umberger) didn't lift it up. He didn't shoot it high. He just shot it on the ice. I was able to be there."

The Jackets thought they tied it, as a shot trickled towards the goal line by Nash after a Halak save with 2:32 left in the game but video review was conclusive that no goal was the right call, which was the call on the ice.

"Jaro reached back and he got a piece of it," Jackman said of Nash's shot. "I knocked that first stick away and then I just dove in behind and kept it on the goal line while Jaro reached back a second time and got his glove on it."

Richards added: "Our video coach couldn't see anything clearly if it did go in. It looked like (referee) Brian Pochmara was in pretty good position to make the call on the ice. Obviously there was nothing Toronto saw that could overrule that."

The game featured what many thought would take place early on, plenty of physicality and fisticuffs. The Blues took some undisciplined penalties but their penalty kill was a perfect 8-for-8, now giving them 47 straight kills dating back to Feb. 14 right here in this arena. They are only six shy of the NHL record of 53 set by the 1999-2000 Washington Capitals.

Jackets winger Jared Boll, activated in time after missing 14 games, laid a hip check on Ian Cole behind the Blues' goal, and Chris Stewart came to the rescue and tussled with Boll.

Also, Columbus' Darryl Boyce took out Alex Pietrangelo near the Blues' blue line, upsetting teammate Kevin Shattenkirk and those two didn't fight but were engaged.

"I think they do a great job of making you make plays quicker than you'd want to," Letestu said of the Blues' penalty kill. "Obviously they do a great job blocking shots, making it an easy thing on their goaltender."

Berglund gave the Blues a 1-0 lead when he was on the spot and whacked in a rebound on the near side of Pietrangelo's shot from straightaway just 1:09 into the second period. It was Pietrangelo's 32nd point in 32 games.

Letestu tied the game at 11:20 of the second, as his slap shot beat Halak to the far side, with defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo sliding through trying to block the shot.

The Blues have allowed only one goal in give straight games and have not allowed more than two goals in 10 straight games. Halak and Elliott have a big role in those numbers.

"We're riding the flow," Halak said. "Look at the beginning. I couldn't make the saves, but then things turned around for me and I was starting to make more and more saves at the right time. That's what I'm trying to do."
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