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Blues' Elliott outduels Pens' Fleury in shutout win

by Wes Crosby

PITTSBURGH -- David Backes scored the lone goal to give the St. Louis Blues a 1-0 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in a defensive-minded game that felt like a worthy preview of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin had just exited the penalty box after taking a high-sticking penalty when Alexander Steen launched a slap shot over Brandon Sutter, who slid to stop a potential pass. The shot deflected off of Backes behind goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to give the Blues the lead with 8:40 remaining in the third period.

Fleury made 26 saves but failed to earn his 35th win of the season for his fourth consecutive start since shutting out the Washington Capitals on March 11. Blues goalie Brian Elliott more than matched Fleury's performance by stopping 33 shots in his fourth shutout of the season.

"I saw a lot [of shots]. Obviously, the ones I didn't, the guys were blocking and made big sacrifices in front of me," Elliott said. "When you're in a tight game like that against a good team, the guys kind of rose up to the challenge and I tried to make a couple saves and get the rebounds out of the zone and they did the rest."

Each of the teams are chasing the Boston Bruins in the NHL standings. St. Louis pulled even with Boston at 103 points, though the Bruins hold the tiebreaker for first place in the standings with more non-shootout wins. Pittsburgh remains six points back of Boston for the top spot in the Eastern Conference.

Fleury kept the game tied by steering a wrist shot from Patrik Beglund to the right corner with a pad save 5:09 into the third. Elliott answered a little more than a minute later by making a glove save on an Olli Maatta slap shot while falling backward with 13:45 left.

Fleury called the game exciting but said he was frustrated by taking another loss.

"We're going out there to win games and we're just one goal away from tying it up," Fleury said. "But I think we played a good team tonight and we played well. We battled hard with them. So, that's a good thing."

St. Louis faced a two-man disadvantage for 1:32 to start the second period after Jaden Schwartz was called for tripping Malkin with T.J. Oshie in the penalty box and 6.3 seconds left in the first.

The Blues' Western Conference-leading penalty kill erased both penalties allowing three shots. St. Louis smothered Pittsburgh's forwards following the kills by not allowing a Penguins shot during the next 12:15.

"It was huge. There's so much firepower there," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought we did a god job of checking all night and obviously guys blocked shots at the right time. I thought between the goalie and the PK, I thought we got in lanes and made them play little bit more static than they wanted to today."

Pittsburgh failed to score on five power plays after scoring on three of their six chances against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday.

"I think you look at this game, the team we're playing, the best in the West, and you expect it to be a playoff type of game," Penguins coach Dan Bylsma said. "And it was. I thought it was a hard game. There wasn't a ton of room out there for either team. At the end of this one, we have the power-play opportunities in this game."

The Penguins did finish with 13 second-period shots and several scoring chances late in the period. Lee Stempniak had possibly the best chance when he dove at a loose puck in front of the St. Louis crease and tipped it on net, but Elliott was able to slide over to make the save.

Elliott was tested late in the first period but made three key saves to keep the Penguins off of the board.

Defenseman Matt Niskanen fired a slap shot toward the right side of the St. Louis net with Elliott leaning the other direction. Elliott quickly adjusted to make a glove save, but decided to keep the play alive, which resulted in the Penguins getting another chance 21 seconds later.

Malkin, who scored four points a day earlier against the Tampa Bay Lightning, received a pass at the blue line and carried the puck to the Blues crease. He attempted to wrap the puck around Elliott's left pad but was denied his fifth point of the weekend.

Stempniak had a similar chance with 3:33 remaining in the first, but Elliott made another pad save and covered the puck before Chris Kunitz could poke it past the goal line.

Malkin and Sidney Crosby combined for 12 shots but could not get the Penguins on the scoreboard after combining for seven points Saturday in a 4-3 overtime win. Backes played primarily against Malkin and Crosby's lines, but said he didn't try to play any differently than he would against any other team.

"I don't want to give you all of my secrets, but if I was in a skill competition with those two guys I'm going to lose 100 times out of 100," Backes said. "Physical, hard, make them earn their ice. That's the way I play most nights, I'd like to think."

The Blues, who lead the Central Division by six points, are 20-5-1 against the Eastern Conference this season.

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