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game recap

Panthers hang on for win against Blues, gain in playoff races

Connolly goal gets Florida within one point of third in Atlantic, second wild card in East

by Louie Korac / NHL.com Independent Correspondent

Saarela sets up Connolly

FLA@STL: Connolly buries feed from Saarela

Aleksi Saarela sends a pass through the crease to Brett Connolly, who scores on a one-timer to put the Panthers ahead in the 3rd period

  • 00:39 •

ST. LOUIS -- The Florida Panthers moved within one point of two Stanley Cup Playoff spots with a 2-1 win against the St. Louis Blues at Enterprise Center on Monday.

Brett Connolly scored the go-ahead goal in the third period for the Panthers (35-26-8), who are one point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third in the Atlantic Division and one point behind the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders in the race for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference.

"This obviously was a huge win for our team," Connolly said. "This is the best time of the year. There's lots of pressure now. You work hard to put yourself in position to get into the postseason. This is the time when guys are giving it a little extra. You've got to have guts. We've got to keep building. We're almost there. Just block out all the noise from everybody and play our best and see what happens."

 

[WATCH: All Panthers vs. Blues highlights]

 

Aleksi Saarela had his first two NHL assists, and Chris Driedger made 26 saves in his third straight start for Florida, which is 2-2-2 in its past six games.

"He earned his opportunity," Panthers coach Joel Quenneville said of Saarela, who played his ninth NHL game. "He made two nice plays. A great play on the second goal. He made a counter hit to free himself up and made a hard pass there to Brett."

The Blues (41-19-10), who were coming off a 2-0 win at the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, failed to get separation from the Colorado Avalanche in the race for first place in the Central Division. They remain two points ahead of Colorado, which lost 3-1 at the Los Angeles Kings.

Video: FLA@STL: Binnington robs Weegar on breakaway

Jordan Binnington made 32 saves for St. Louis, which has lost two of three following an eight-game winning streak.

"These are games we can win, and we're better than that," Binnington said. "So we're not happy about this one.

"We want to win, obviously. And losing to these teams that I think ... we can win these games. They're winnable games. It's the time of year where you can't make excuses and you've got to find ways to win, and we didn't do that tonight."

Colton Parayko gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 11:20 of the second period with a slap shot off a pass from Robert Thomas. He matched his NHL career high with his 10th goal.

Mike Hoffman tied it 1-1 when he scored on the power play at 16:12 after St. Louis failed to get the puck out of its zone. It was his Panthers-leading 29th goal.

Video: FLA@STL: Hoffman rifles home power-play goal

Connolly scored at 4:23 of the third to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. Saarela ran Blues defenseman Vince Dunn into the back of the net, which came forward and knocked down Binnington, and Saarela found Connolly below the left face-off circle for a sharp-angled shot with the St. Louis goalie on his knees.

The Panthers killed a Blues power play after Anton Stralman was called for tripping Jaden Schwartz with 4:34 remaining.

Florida had 23 blocked shots, including nine in the final 4:48.

"I don't know if I've ever seen shot-blocking as good as it was tonight," Driedger said. "We have the same guys every night laying their bodies on the line. It was pretty incredible. It was fun to watch."

 

They said it

"Our last three games have been a lot of fun to be a part of. It seems like we've got our spark back." -- Panthers goalie Chris Driedger

"Back-to-back games, I didn't think we had a ton of jump. I thought our first period was pretty good, second period just OK, and third period was kind of an even period for me. But you know, we just didn't execute on some plays offensively. It's tough to win only scoring one goal." -- Blues coach Craig Berube

 

Need to know

Driedger is 2-0-1 with a 1.31 goals-against average and .955 save percentage filling in for Sergei Bobrovsky, who missed his third straight game with a lower-body injury. ... Florida and St. Louis initially were scheduled to play Tuesday, but the game was moved up so the Blues can play their rescheduled game at the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday. The Feb. 11 game was postponed after St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester had a cardiac episode on the bench in the first period. ... Blues defenseman Justin Faulk returned after missing the past two games with an upper-body injury. He was minus-1 with three shots on goal in 18:28 ... St. Louis center Brayden Schenn had his point streak end at seven games (five goals, four assists). ... It was the second regulation loss for the Blues when scoring first (29-2-8).

 

What's next

Panthers: At the Dallas Stars on Thursday (8:30 p.m. ET; SNE360, SNE [joined in progress], SNO [joined in progress], FS-SW, FS-F, NHL.TV)

Blues: At the Anaheim Ducks on Wednesday (10 p.m. ET; PRIME, FS-MW, NHL.TV)

Video: Connolly, Driedger help Panthers edge Blues

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