-- After jumping out to what seemed like an insurmountable lead, the St. Louis Blues
somehow found a way of playing in a tight, one-goal game.
But they're used to this. It came as no surprise.
It didn't end in a one-goal game this time for the Blues, but after a third-period hiccup that nearly saw a three-goal lead evaporate, the Blues had to find another gear to hold off the surging Dallas Stars
"We keep talking about one-goal games. We have a way of making it a one-goal game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said after Monday night's 5-3 victory against the Stars at Scottrade Center. "We played really hard tonight. "We did a lot of really good things and probably got a little too revved up towards the end there ... When it's 4-1, we're trying to make it 5-1 or when it's 4-2, we're trying to make it 5-2."
The NHL's 30th-ranked power play and a pair of unlikely heroes helped keep the Blues tough to beat on home ice. St. Louis also improved to 16-0-0 when scoring 3 or more goals.
The Blues got a pair of power-play goals from Chris Stewart
and Jason Arnott
. Stewart scored twice and Adam Cracknell
, recalled from Peoria (American Hockey League) earlier in the day to replace the injured T.J. Oshie
, also scored. Evgeny Grachev
tallied his first NHL goal, while Jaroslav Halak
stopped 20 shots to improve to 6-1-4 in his past 11 starts.
The Blues won for the sixth straight time at home, and they did it again missing a couple key pieces in Oshie (wrist) and Jamie Langenbrunner
, who sat out with the flu.
"We had some guys that needed to step up, and I think we did a good job of that," said winger David Perron
, who had two assists in the game that gives him 10 points in 10 games after a 13-month absence due to a concussion. "Grach was one of them that stepped up and got a big goal for us. "We've just got to keep going. It's only one game for us. It's another win and we've got to keep it going."
Halak also beat the Stars for the first time in his career. He was 0-4 with a 3.05 goals-against average and .875 save percentage in four previous starts.
The Blues (21-10-4) improved to 15-3-4 under Hitchcock and remained in fourth place in the Western Conference while also snapping a five-game winless skid (0-4-1) against the Stars (20-14-1). The Blues' previous win against Dallas was a 2-1 win here on April 3, 2010.
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"We were playing well," defenseman Barret Jackman
said. "We were moving the puck, we were keeping things simple, especially coming off a two-day break. We wanted to get the puck in deep and make their d-men make mistakes."
The Stars got goals from Mike Ribeiro
, Eric Nystrom
and Michael Ryder
stopped 22 shots after starting in goal. Bachman was replaced to start the third period by veteran Andrew Raycroft
, who fell to 2-8 on the season after stopping 11 shots.
Stars rookie coach Glen Gulutzan replaced his young goaltender after a couple iffy goals.
"There's no question a couple of those goals, he wishes he had back," Gulutzan said of Bachman. "We don't want to let anyone off the hook. Everybody's got a job to do."
Stewart, who may have caught Bachman by surprise with his sharp-angle shot speeding in from the bottom of the right circle. Stewart got a pass from David Backes
and snapped a shot as he caught Bachman off the near post at 8:24 of the first for a 1-0 Blues lead.
It was the Blues' first power-play goal in four games, breaking an 0-for-8 stretch.
"Shooting the puck is something we talked about before the game," Perron said. "Some games we maybe try to get too fancy trying to get the seams and stuff like that. Tonight, we just shot at the net and we got some chances. I wouldn't count them as great goals, but they were really good goals for our night tonight."
St. Louis' forecheck in the Stars' zone during the first period was relentless against a team that didn't get into St. Louis until Monday afternoon because of a League-mandated travel moratorium on Christmas Day.
Ribeiro got the Stars even 1-1 4:22 into the second period, beating Halak from the half wall by using Brenden Morrow
as a screen, but Cracknell quickly restored the Blues' lead to 2-1 by snapping a shot that Bachman would also like to have had back just 1:47 after Ribeiro's goal.
"(Bachman) might have been screened a little bit," said Cracknell, who got the call on Christmas Eve that he was coming up to the NHL. "I was moving my feet and trying to catch him off-guard. It worked. I'm happy with it."
Arnott gave the Blues a 3-1 lead when he beat the clock and threw a one-timer into an open side of the goal on a scramble play with 2.1 seconds left in the second period. It was the veteran center's fourth goal in five games after scoring just four goals in 29 games.
Grachev beat Raycroft after following up Perron's shot 6:45 into the third period for a 4-1 lead. Raycroft made a pad stop on Perron's shot and Grachev fired home the rebound into an empty side.
"I was just driving to the net," said Grachev, acquired by the Blues from the New York Rangers for a third-round pick at last summer's draft. "Momentum brought me there and I got the bounce. ... It's a great feeling."
Nystrom's goal came at 7:57 on a shot from between the circles that appeared to also catch Halak by surprise, dipping into the lower part of the net. Ryder's team-leading 14th of the season came after a center-ice turnover that led to a 2-on-1. Ryder wristed a shot into the near corner with 5:13 to play to cut the Blues' lead to 4-3 and made things interesting.
"We were coming back," said Nystrom, who scored his 12th goal this season in 30 games after 23 goals in 286 career games coming into the season. "We just fell short. The Blues played hard. They had that extra edge to them."
Stewart, who has three goals in three games after scoring four in 29, added his second of the game with an empty-netter with 50.6 seconds remaining. It was Stewart's first two-goal effort in the last 37 games. The last came on March 29, 2011.
"We loved our effort tonight, loved our compete," Hitchcock said. "It's little things that we can pick up as we move forward, it'll really help us down the line."