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Blues top Jets in shootout, take Central Division lead

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- Vladimir Tarasenko wanted to head to Russia in style. So did teammate T.J. Oshie.

With the 2014 Sochi Olympics in his home country, Tarasenko helped his team enter the break on top of the Central Division by scoring the game-ending goal in the third round of the shootout of a 4-3 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday afternoon at Scottrade Center.

Oshie scored in the second round of the shootout for the Blues, giving him seven goals in 10 tries this season and 25 in 46 career attempts. Brian Elliott stopped attempts by Bryan Little and Andrew Ladd.

The Blues are 7-3 in shootouts this season, and the trio of Oshie, Tarasenko and Alexander Steen is a combined 14-for-23.

"It's kind of the fun part of the game where you do it at the end of practice with goalies since you were a kid," said Oshie, who will depart for Russia as a member of the United States Olympic team. "It's something I've always had fun doing. You just try to switch it up. I know [goalies] watch video just like we do. I just try to be unpredictable out there."

St. Louis won in a shootout for the second time during its concluded four-game homestand. The Blues finished 3-0-1, with three of the games ending in shootouts and one ending in overtime.

The Blues, who were 0-for-8 on the power play against Winnipeg and mired in an 0-for-20 drought, used Steen in the first round and Montoya made a stop. After Elliott grabbed Little's wrister, Oshie deked backhand-forehand before roofing the puck over Montoya.

Ladd's attempt went off Elliott and the post. Tarasenko ended the game when he jetted in and slapped a shot to Montoya's right.

"We know that we have some good shooters in the shootout and if we make a save or two on the backend, it works out," Elliott said. "Before the third period, Tarasenko was next to me in the urinal. He was saying, 'Keep going.' I said, 'Go get one for me,' and he did in the end, so it's pretty cool going into the break here."

Brenden Morrow and Derek Roy each had a goal and an assist, Jaden Schwartz scored and Elliott stopped 28 shots. The Blues (39-12-6) and Chicago Blackhawks each have 84 points, but St. Louis leads the division because it has played three fewer games.

The Blues set a goal to get to the break by being in first place. Mission accomplished.

"Everybody's excited," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think today's game was typical of what this last 10 days has been like. [We were] really good in the first, poor in the second and then good again in the third with much better control.

"It's been a very difficult challenge for the players to maintain a hard focus, and they deserve a lot of credit for every time we got pushed and shoved, we answered the bell."

St. Louis improved to 15-0-1 against divisional opponents. Hitchcock passed Scotty Bowman into sole possession of fourth place for all-time franchise victories with 111.

Mark Scheifele scored twice, Dustin Byfuglien scored a power-play goal, Blake Wheeler had two assists and Montoya made 23 saves for the Jets (28-26-6), who dropped their second in a row despite battling back from three one-goal deficits. Winnipeg is now 9-3-1 under coach Paul Maurice, who replaced Claude Noel on Jan. 12.

"We played a hell of a game, down three times and battled back," Maurice said. "... We played a real solid game.

"I don't put any stock into a shootout deciding how we play. We played a great game."

Scheifele agreed.

"We know we played a good game and for it to come down to a shootout is a tough way to end it," he said. "We know we can play with every team in this League and to lose in a shootout to a team like that is obviously good but we know we could have won that game.

"Tough way to lose but we fought hard and that's a big thing. We have to continue this over the break and come back as hard as we were going before and have the same attitude. We've been on a bit of a role and have to keep the same mindset the rest of the season."

Schwartz broke a 2-2 tie by scoring 34 seconds into the third period after an offensive-zone faceoff win by Patrik Berglund and a feed from Barret Jackman, who picked up the 139th assist of his career in his 700th regular-season game. The Jets tied the game for the third time when Byfuglien took a drop pass from Wheeler and fired a slap shot from the right point that got through Elliott with 6:17 remaining.

Scheifele's second of the game came after a failed clear by the Blues. Wheeler sent Scheifele in on Elliott, and the rookie curled to the net before flipping home a backhander at 10:22 of the second to tie the game 2-2.

Morrow's second goal in three games got the scoring started 7:39 into the game. He took a drop pass from Tarasenko and fired a wrister from the right circle past Montoya.

The Jets got even at 12:33 when Scheifele set up in the low slot and fired Devin Setoguchi's pass from behind the net behind Elliott as a power play expired. The Blues were serving a bench minor for too many men.

Roy's first goal since Dec. 12 against the Toronto Maple Leafs came after the Blues got a break, when Alex Pietrangelo fired a puck into the Winnipeg zone and the puck hit referee Jon McIsaac. Morrow picked up the loose puck and made a cross-ice feed to Roy for a one-timer from the low left circle with 2:22 left in the first to give the Blues a 2-1 lead.

Morrow and Roy gave the Blues a much-needed early lift.

"We're fortunate with a couple good bounces," Morrow said. "... It felt early in an afternoon game to get out and get a couple under your belt. We were able to get a big two points.

"The last couple weeks have been real strange hockey for us. There's parts of our game we're going to have to clean up down the stretch, but this is the point of the season where there's some sloppy things that are happening and you've just got to grind it out and find ways to collect points."

The Blues played the final 45 minutes without defenseman Jordan Leopold, who collided awkwardly with Jets defenseman Zach Bogosian behind the Winnipeg net and had to be helped off the ice. He was favoring his right leg. Hitchcock said afterwards Leopold is "not good."

Both goalies made key saves in the third, with Montoya gloving Schwartz's shorthanded effort to keep it a 3-2 game, and Elliott thwarting Scheifele's hat trick bid with a stop on a one-timer from the slot with 2:18 left of a 3-3 game.

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