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Blues shut out struggling Maple Leafs

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues goaltender Brian Elliott was extremely busy in the first period Saturday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Maybe seeing a lot of shots was exactly what he needed, because once the Blues settled in, things eased up for Elliott, and he was on top of his game. Elliott finished with 27 saves for his 28th NHL shutout and the Blues defeated the Maple Leafs 3-0 at Scottrade Center.

Elliott, who leads the NHL with a 1.90 goals-against average and is fourth with a .929 save percentage, made 15 of his 27 saves in the first period.

Elliott missed nearly five weeks after sustaining a knee sprain Nov. 25 against the Ottawa Senators. Since his return, he's played in seven games but looked like the Elliott of old for the first time on Saturday, according to Blues coach Ken Hitchcock.

"I thought he had a lot of work to do," Hitchcock said. "This is, for me, the best he's played; not just because he got a shutout, but this is the best he's played since coming back from the injury, for sure. He had work today because we gave up odd-man rushes. We don't normally do that, but we gave up some. They were interesting odd-man rushes because that's the first time in a long time where we played a team that was able to create turnovers in their own zone that led to odd-man rushes. He had some saves he had to make today."

Elliott challenged shooters, and his rebound control was obvious from the first save.

"I just wanted to kind of take the 'no prisoners' approach," Elliott said. "Just go out there and worry about my own game and everybody else takes care of the rest outside of me, and I was able to do that."

Elliott has 19 shutouts with the Blues, one less than the franchise record held by Jaroslav Halak. He received help from the top line of Alexander Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie, which combined for five points. Steen led the way with a goal and an assist, Backes had two assists and Oshie scored a goal. The line has 49 points in the past 11 games.

"They step up," defensemen Alex Pietrangelo said of the group. "They're the leaders of this team up front for a reason. They step up on big occasions. When we need them to score a goal or make a defensive play, they're always there for us."

Kevin Shattenkirk also scored for the Blues (28-13-4), who are 6-0-1 in their past seven games and moved two points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for second place in the Central Division. The Blues have outscored their opponents 33-13 in the seven games and are 4-0-1 during a seven-game homestand.

Hitchcock moved into sole possession of fifth place on the NHL all-time wins list with 685, passing Pat Quinn.

The Maple Leafs (22-21-3) went 0-4-0 on their four-game trip and were outscored 12-1. They are 1-5-0 since replacing Randy Carlyle with interim coach Peter Horachek.

Toronto has been shut out five times this season and in three of the four games on its road trip. The Maple Leafs have scored one goal in the past 241:13.

Goalie Jonathan Bernier made 30 saves and lost his third straight start and fifth in six games.

"It's frustrating we go back home and we score one goal and no points," Bernier said. "I know I've got to be better to make that extra save that keeps us in the game and it's frustrating right now."

Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf voiced the frustration coming from the locker room.

"The bottom line is we're on a road trip and we're going home 0-4," Phaneuf said. "I don't think there's much more to sugarcoat it. The bottom line is we went on a trip and we are coming home with no points. It's unacceptable. We did a lot of good things, but the bottom line is we didn't win hockey games and we didn't get points, so it's about winning games and getting points.

"A huge trip for our team and we come back with zero so it's disappointing."

Shattenkirk's eighth goal of the season came when he split two players, then backhanded a shot that went off the stick of Toronto forward James van Riemsdyk, off Bernier's glove and inside the near post with 3:20 remaining in the first period to give St. Louis a 1-0 lead.

The goal was Shattenkirk's 39th point. He and Mark Giordano of the Calgary Flames share the scoring led among NHL defensemen with 39 points.

It was a strong finish to the first period by the Blues, who outshot the Maple Leafs 7-1 after being down 14-6 for much of the period.

Steen, a former Maple Leaf, gave the Blues a 2-0 lead 1:38 into the third period when he waited out Bernier before lifting a backhander high into the net.

"He's extremely patient as a goalie, and doesn't really bite on a lot of stuff," Steen said. "I was just trying to wait as long as I could."

Oshie made it 3-0 when he converted Steen's pass on 2-on-1, beating Bernier with a wrist shot from the slot with five minutes remaining.

The Blues tightened up defensively and helped Elliott earn his second shutout of the season and the team's fifth.

"I thought the second half of the second period and then as we ground down the game in the third, I thought we really started to get on top of our game and start to play really well there in the third," Hitchcock said. "[Toronto] poured a lot into it too early. They really wanted these points badly. They poured a lot into it, and it forced us to really compete at a high level.

"I didn't think we were at the level we needed to be at the start of the hockey game on our 1-on-1 puck battles, but as the game went on, I thought we got better and better with it."

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