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Blues edge Sabres, set team record for wins

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- They set a franchise record for wins in a season and caught the Boston Bruins for the most points in the overall standings. But despite a 2-1 victory against the League-worst Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night, the mood in the St. Louis Blues' dressing room was far from festive.

"We can play way better," said center Maxim Lapierre, who scored the game's first goal. "There's no way we're happy with our effort. We're going to have to fix it."

St. Louis, in need of points as it tries to hang onto first place in the Western Conference and overtake the Bruins in the race for the Presidents' Trophy, had a tough go of it against the last-place Sabres. So when the Blues needed a pick-me-up, they turned to the guys asked to grind and produce energy -- Lapierre and Ryan Reaves, whose chief function is to forecheck and grind down the opposition. When they can chip in goals, it's a bonus.

Lapierre's goal early in the second period got the Blues going, and Brian Elliott made 24 saves to earn his second straight win. The Blues needed Elliott to be sharp on a night when their overall team game was not up to par.

"We're trying to get through the game without putting much investment into it, and you end up in games like this," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "This is when you need your goalie.

"I've been around Brian for three years, this is the best I've ever seen him play. He's playing terrific. I'm really happy for him. He's a great example of what happens when you work and compete and focus and you value every day. He's the goalie he is now because he looks like Ryan [Miller] to be honest with you. It's a good feeling to have a 1-2 punch like that."

Miller, who came to the Blues from Buffalo on Feb. 28, served as Elliott's backup against his old team.

St. Louis and Boston are even with 111 points, though the Bruins are leading the race for the Presidents' Trophy because they have six more non-shootout wins. The Blues moved three points ahead of the Anaheim Ducks in the race for first place in the Western Conference.

The Blues (52-17-7, 111 points) broke the team record of 51 wins set in 1999-2000, the franchise's only Presidents' Trophy-winning season. But Hitchcock cautioned against too much celebrating.

"The teams that had 51 [wins], there also were ties, so I think you've got to be realistic there," Hitchcock said. "It's a different era now because you're getting those extra points in shootouts and overtimes and stuff like that.

"I coached against those teams that got the big points and they were awesome teams here ... awesome. It's a nice record, but it's an improper evaluation. I don't think it's fair to that group that got that 51 wins because I know about that group. They were not fun to play against ... not fun at all."

Elliott, who stopped 33 shots in a 1-0 victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins in his last start on March 23, improved to 10-0-2 lifetime against the Sabres.

"I don't think anybody thought it was going to be easy," said Elliott, who improved to 18-5-2 with a 1.93 goals-against average and .922 save percentage. "I think it's just probably human instinct to kind of let your guard down a little bit when you know they're at the bottom of the League. But we knew what we were in for. We knew they're playing teams hard. A lot of their wins have come against some of the top teams in the league. ... We've got a lot of good teams coming up here that we can't do that against."

Brenden Morrow also scored for the Blues, knocking in a rebound with 1:52 left in regulation after Nathan Lieuwen made a sprawling save on Vladimir Sobotka in the slot to make it 2-0. That goal proved to be the winner when the Sabres (21-46-9) got a power-play goal from Cody Hodgson with 55.1 seconds remaining to end Elliott's shutout and snap his scoreless string at 169:03.

"We had a number of chances, and good teams don't rely on just one goaltender," Sabres coach Ted Nolan said. "They have a couple and Elliott stood tall when he needed to be there and he made some key saves when he needed to. He was very good."

Lieuwen finished with 26 saves in his sixth NHL start.

"Considering that's the best team in the League right there, that's a heck of an effort," Lieuwen said. "I thought we were right there with them and I thought we definitely could have taken this game to overtime."

Lapierre gave the Blues a 1-0 lead with his first goal in 23 games since Jan. 28 against the New Jersey Devils. He converted a feed from Reaves, who got his first point in 26 games. Reaves fed Lapierre in the slot and his wrister beat Lieuwen five-hole 1:59 into the second period.

"I wouldn't say I ever see anybody the whole way, but I saw him in time to get it to him, so that was good enough," Reaves said of Lapierre. "Our first line's been doing a lot of the scoring the last couple weeks. We've talked about it as a group that we need to start helping them out a little bit, especially our line. It's been a while putting the puck in the net. Good to help the boys there."

The goal was the Blues' first in 106:10 going back to a goal by Alexander Steen 49 seconds into the third period Saturday against the Dallas Stars.

The Sabres, already decimated with injuries, lost left wing Marcus Foligno 1:58 into the game when he fell awkwardly on his right leg in the slot by the Blues' goal. He lay on the ice in pain, had to be helped off and did not return.

"It's not as bad as we think," Nolan said, "but he's going to be out for probably the rest of the year."

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