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Blues use dominant first period to top Maple Leafs

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- First-period dominance has been a missing ingredient from the St. Louis Blues' arsenal lately. Thursday night was an exception, as the Blues scored three times en route to a 6-3 win against the Toronto Maple Leafs at Scottrade Center.

The Blues entered the night No. 1 in the NHL in second-period goal differential at plus-16 -- and in third-period goal differential at plus-17. But they were even in the first period through 29 games after being outscored 9-1 in the opening period in their past five.

Now they're plus-3. The Blues (21-6-3) scored three times in the first period against Toronto, getting goals from David Backes, Jaden Schwartz and Derek Roy.

The Blues, who pride themselves on puck pursuit and being able to keep possession of the puck based off their forecheck, were just too much for the Maple Leafs to handle in their second game in as many nights.

"I would say [puck pursuit] was the same in Winnipeg [Tuesday]," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought we pursued it a little bit harder in Winnipeg, but it's very similar.

"We created turnovers, got [the Maple Leafs] standing still. We gave them tired legs early because of it and took advantage of it."

Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle was a bit more stern with his critique of his team's play.

"For our hockey club, tonight looked like we were totally brain-dead in a lot of areas," Carlyle said. "I don't know any other way to describe it. We didn't win enough of the down-low confrontations, they had a lot of freedom ... look where they scored the goals from."

Schwartz had a goal and two assists for his second career three-point game. Linemate Chris Stewart had a goal and an assist, and center Vladimir Sobotka had two assists as the Blues' second line finished with seven points.

Schwartz, the 14th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, has 12 points in 11 games.

"We jumped on them early," Schwartz said. "We threw a lot of pucks on net. We got a lot of second-chance opportunities tonight. Everyone played well. With me, I think our line just worked hard. My linemates made some great plays. Nice to see some goals go in."

Backes scored twice, including an empty-netter, giving him 15 goals this season. Alexander Steen also had a goal, his 22nd, and an assist.

"The first two periods are how you really draw it up," Backes said. "We played a good game. The third, we get a little over zealous and start leaning on the offense and they make us pay for two. ... Having four lines going, we were all on the same page, making their defensemen go pick it off the end wall and go forecheck them and check the puck back. We did a really good job for two periods."

The win was the Blues' 13th on home ice (13-2-2), which ties them for most in the League with the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Minnesota Wild. The Blues are 47-0-1 on home ice when scoring three or more goals dating back to March 12, 2011, when they lost 5-3 to the Detroit Red Wings.

The Maple Leafs (16-14-3), who got goals from Nazem Kadri, Nikolai Kulemin and James van Riemsdyk, fell to 2-6-2 in their past 10 games. They haven't won in regulation in 12 straight games dating back to Nov. 19.

"[Wednesday] night looked like we had something to build on and tonight, it was all gone," Maple Leafs defenseman Carl Gunnarsson said of the Maple Leafs' 3-1 home loss to Los Angeles Kings. "Coming in from the game [Wednesday] night, we know legs were probably not going to be there, going to be tired, but what we did looked like we were more mentally tired.

"We can always deal with the body being tired, shorter shifts or whatever, but it looked like we weren't there mentally at the start."

The Blues' three-goal outburst in the first period chased starting goalie James Reimer after 16:10 and 12 saves on 15 shots. It marked the seventh time this season a starting goaltender was pulled from a game against the Blues.

St. Louis outshot Toronto 16-7 in the first.

"We just weren't our sharpest, including me," Reimer said. "We didn't have too much life. Not quite sure the reason."

Backes took a pass from Steen, who spent the first three-plus seasons of his career with Toronto, and one-timed a shot from the right circle over Reimer's left shoulder 4:48 into the game to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.

Reimer lost his stick attempting to play a puck headed to the corner and Schwartz made him pay when he scored on a second-chance attempt at 12:59 to make it 2-0. Reimer made an initial save with his left pad, but without a stick, he was helpless on the rebound.

Stewart beat Mark Fraser behind the Toronto net and fed Roy in the left circle, and Roy ripped a one-timer into the top short-side corner at 16:10. That was it for Reimer, who was replaced by Jonathan Bernier, the starter against the Kings. Bernier stopped 18 of 20 shots in relief.

The teams traded goals in the second period. Stewart put the Blues up 4-0 at 29 seconds when Sobotka found Stewart in the left circle for a one-timer that beat Bernier. Kadri got one back when his shot from the left circle got past a screened Brian Elliott (19 saves) at 1:45.

Steen's snap shot from the slot off a feed by T.J. Oshie beat Bernier 7:04 into the third period to give the Blues a 5-1 lead. It was Oshie's fifth assist in the past four games. Steen has nine points in nine games.

Kulemin's third of the season came off a shot from the high slot that beat Elliott high to the glove side with 5:30 remaining in the third and made it 5-2.

The Leafs made it a bit interesting late when van Riemsdyk got credit for a goal after Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo kicked the puck into his own goal with 3:08 remaining to make it 5-3. Backes' empty-netter with 29.2 seconds remaining sealed the game.

"We did a really good job for two periods and then tried to find a different way to play," Backes said. "It's a little bit of a less satisfying giving up a couple at the end but two points nonetheless and we've got to move onto our next task."

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