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Blues top Oilers for sixth straight win

by Derek Van Diest

EDMONTON -- The St. Louis Blues had a lot on their minds heading into their game against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday night at Rexall Place. But amid all the hype surrounding Olympic team selections, they were still able to focus enough attention on the task at hand.

Maxim Lapierre, David Backes and Vladimir Tarasenko scored second-period goals, and Brian Elliott made 16 saves to lead the Blues to 5-2 win. Chris Stewart scored in the first, and Patrik Berglund added an empty-netter late in the third.

"We didn't play well [Tuesday]," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think it had to do with a lot of the drama that goes on [Tuesday with the Olympic roster announcements]. It really affected our players. We didn't have the focus that we have had, and we will need to get it back on this road trip. I think the drama with all of the Olympic stuff, you could tell it was draining on people."

The Blues have 10 players who will represent their countries at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, most in the NHL. In addition, Hitchcock is an assistant coach and general manager Doug Armstrong is on the management team for Canada.

"It wasn't a picture-perfect win," Backes said. "They played us pretty hard for the first half of the game before we got a power-play goal that allowed us to lock down the hatches after that. [Elliott] made some big saves when he had to on shorthanded chances. If he hadn't stopped [Ryan Nugent-Hopkins] on a breakaway, the game could have gone another way."

Nail Yakupov and Mark Arcobello scored for the Oilers, who got 25 saves from goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.

Stewart opened the scoring on the power play at 12:46 of the first on a long shot from the point that found its way through Bryzgalov.

Moments earlier, the Blues right wing, who has 14 goals, had skated around three Oilers defenders and got off a shot from in tight. Bryzgalov turned away the shot, but the puck found its way back to Stewart as he was circling back to the blue line, and he fired a shot through traffic past the Oilers goalie.

The Blues outshot the Oilers 14-7 in the opening period.

"I didn't love our start," Oilers coach Dallas Eakins said. "I thought we were watching them play, especially in our own zone. We weren't initiating contact. Finally, we figured that out and got it going, and we ended up with some offensive-zone time.

"I thought we were playing with them. I know they had the upper hand in shots, but I thought that came from their power plays and our lack of. But then the game fell away. It's hard when you have [Jay Bouwmeester] and [Alex Pietrangelo] out there half the game. I thought once they got the lead, it was extremely hard to get anything to their net. I thought we had a couple of chances late maybe to do something with it, but we just couldn't get it in there. That's a good hockey team."

Yakupov tied the game at 1:36 of the second, taking a pass from David Perron following a turnover at the St. Louis blue line and snapping a shot through Elliott's pads.

Less than a minute into the period, Elliott had stopped Nugent-Hopkins on a breakaway to preserve the Blues' lead.

Lapierre restored the St. Louis lead at 2:18, outmuscling Oilers defenseman Brad Hunt in the corner, taking the puck to the net and stuffing it past Bryzgalov.

One replay seemed to show the puck go in through the side of the net, but it was later confirmed the puck went in for a legitimate goal after officials checked the net for a possible hole.

"We didn't really know what happened on that goal until they stopped the game and were looking at the side of the net," Backes said. "That was the first we heard that there may be an issue. Sometimes, luck can play a part. If it went under the net, sometimes things like that can happen. If it had been a one-goal game, there may have been talks of some kind of protest, but in the end, we did enough to secure a good win."

Arcobello tied the game 2-2 at 5:10, getting to a loose puck in front of the Blues net and flipping it over Elliott.

Backes put the Blues up 3-2 at 10:56 when he scored on the power play, ripping a shot over Bryzgalov's shoulder from the top of the faceoff circle.

Tarasenko gave the Blues a two-goal lead heading into the intermission with a long-range blast of his own past Bryzgalov.

"We needed to get more pucks on net," Arcobello said. "I think we gave them too many opportunities, and they took advantage of their chances. At the same time, we didn't get enough chances and we didn't capitalize on as many as we should have.

"I thought we competed pretty hard. At certain points of the game, we got away from what was working, for whatever reason. The penalties and the penalty kill hurt us a little bit. If we take those power-play goals away from them, it's a different game."

In the third, Nugent-Hopkins came close to cutting into the lead, but his shot from the wing bounced off the post.

Late in the game, Blues right wing T.J. Oshie had to be helped off the ice after a knee-on-knee hit with Taylor Hall.

"We'll know [Wednesday]," Hitchcock said of Oshie's status.

Oshie was named to the U.S. Olympic Team last week.

"I knew he was coming. As a team, they're always going to come at you," Hall said. "When you have the puck, you know you're going to get hit. I don't know what he caught there. It didn't really feel like much."

Oilers right wing Ales Hemsky also left in the third for precautionary reasons after taking a hit from Ryan Reaves in the first period. He will be evaluated Wednesday as well.

Berglund iced the contest with an empty-net goal at 19:27.

The Oilers conclude their three-game homestand Friday when they host the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Blues continue their three-game road trip against the Calgary Flames on Thursday.

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