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Blues rout Panthers with Halak's record shutout

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- As Jaroslav Halak was setting a St. Louis Blues franchise record for most shutouts, all the goaltender could think about was how well his teammates have played in front of him.

Halak wasn't all that busy Saturday night, but his 19 saves were good enough for his 17th shutout, which passed Glenn Hall for the Blues' franchise record in a 7-0 thumping of the Florida Panthers at Scottrade Center.

Halak, who has played 121 games with the Blues, has 26 NHL shutouts, nine with the Montreal Canadiens.

"I know he was a great goaltender ... Hall of Fame," Halak said of Hall, who established his record with the Blues from 1967-71 in 140 games. "He was in the League for many years and he was great. I'm glad I passed him in shutouts, but I wouldn't be able to do it without my teammates. They've been great again tonight, especially on the [penalty kill]. They did a great job even though we took a few penalties, but we stuck with the game plan.

"It's a special feeling, but it's only the start of the season. We got two wins, I got one shutout, but I wouldn't be able to do it without my teammates ... none of them."

For the Blues, it was a matter of time until the veteran line of Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow and Chris Stewart would begin to click. Then the line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Patrik Berglund wanted in on the fun.

Roy, Morrow and Stewart combined for six points, with Morrow and Roy getting a goal and assist each.

"The chemistry's starting to click there," said Stewart, who had two assists. "We're starting to get better reads on each other, where each other will be on the ice. I think you saw it (on the ice). That's what we can bring to the table.

"When we can get in on the forecheck and throw the body around, win races to pucks and come out clean in the corner, those are going to be our strengths. We can make the plays off the rush, but doing the dirty things and little things is what's really going to make this line click."

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock agreed.

"Derek's line was really good tonight," Hitchcock said. "They had energy, [Stewart] really skated, handled the puck well. Brenden's starting to really get the tempo now, Derek's had two good games. Once he got acclimated after the first period of the first game, he's had two really sound games.

"It's hard getting that line out there when you're killing as many penalties as we've been killing the first two games, but I think as the season settles in, if that line keeps moving forward, it's going to really help us."

Tarasenko, Schwartz and Berglund combined for six points, with Schwartz getting a goal and two assists, and Tarasenko scoring a goal and an assist. Schwartz earned a Gordie Howe Hat Trick after getting into a fight late in the third with Florida's Kris Versteeg.

"I wasn't really expecting it," Schwartz said. "[Versteeg] was tied up and then he just started dropping them. He caught me a little off guard, but I tried to recover."

Asked when he last fought, Schwartz said, "It's been a while. I think I was 17."

The Blues improved to 26-6-5 against Eastern Conference opponents since the 2010-11 season, best in the NHL. St. Louis is 10-3-1 on home ice against Florida.

The Panthers got 23 saves from Tim Thomas, who was lifted after the second period in favor of backup Jacob Markstrom. It marked the second game in succession the Blues have chased a starting goalie. The Nashville Predators pulled Pekka Rinne, who allowed three goals in the first 10 minutes of the Blues' 4-2 win Thursday.

"There were no surprises," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "We knew how they play and how the game was going to play out. It was going to be a man's game out there and we didn't rise to the occasion tonight."

After an opening-night 4-2 win against the Dallas Stars, when Thomas was able to stop 25 shots after taking a season off, the 39-year-old and his teammates were humbled.

"When it started to go downhill, it snowballed quick," Thomas said. "That's a lesson. That can happen in this League. As a team you have to find a way to break that momentum and we didn't do it for quite a long time. They were able to carry the moment for a long period of time, not just for a couple of minutes.

"They're a good team. They play hard. They finish their checks. They do a lot of good things. But it wasn't necessarily anything special they were doing. It was that we weren't reacting in an appropriate manner. We didn't raise our game to match their level."

Special teams was the story again in the first period, when the Blues power play was able to put one past Thomas and the penalty kill was 3-for-3.

Morrow crashed the net and roofed a backhand over Thomas after the Panthers goaltender made a pad stop on Roy in tight after being sprung free on a Stewart backhand saucer feed. In typical Morrow fashion, he collected the rebound and beat Thomas with 6:02 remaining for a 1-0 Blues lead. It was Morrow's 250th NHL goal.

The Blues blitzed the Panthers with four second-period goals, by Tarasenko, Schwartz, Roy and Alexander Steen (penalty shot) in a 6:32 span.

Tarasenko scored his ninth career goal at 12:31 when he converted Schwartz's shot from the right boards for a 2-0 Blues lead. Schwartz took a feed in the right circle from Vladimir Sobotka and snapped it past Thomas at 15:07 for a 3-0 lead. Stewart fed Roy in the slot from behind the net, and he beat Thomas at 16:12, then Steen was awarded a penalty shot with 56.8 seconds left in the period, and he dragged the puck to his backhand and slid it past Thomas for a 5-0 edge.

Ryan Reeves beat Markstrom short side off a 2-on-1 at 2:44 of the third, and Berglund got his first of the season on a tic-tac-toe passing play from Schwartz and Tarasenko at 4:09 to make it 7-0.

St. Louis finished the game killing all seven Florida power plays, and the Blues haven't allowed a Panthers power-play goal on home ice since March 27, 2003, a stretch of 28 straight kills. The Blues have killed all 11 opposing power plays this season and 21 straight over five games dating to last season.

"We played the right way. We got settled in," Hitchcock said. "We were a little bit all over the map at the start of the track meet, but once we settled in in the second period, I thought we played the right way and played the way we had to play to beat this team."

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