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Halak, Blues edge Canadiens in shootout

by Arpon Basu

MONTREAL - Jaroslav Halak got the better of his former team once again.

Halak stopped Tomas Plekanec's penalty shot with 48.9 seconds to play in regulation, then didn't allow a goal in the shootout to lead the St. Louis Blues to a 3-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens at Bell Centre on Tuesday night.

"It's always great to come back to the Bell Centre and play here," said Halak, who played for the Canadiens from 2006-10. "It's more fun when we win."

Alexander Steen scored his League-leading 13th goal in 13 games and Chris Stewart also scored for the Blues (9-2-2), who won for the fourth time in five games. T.J. Oshie was the lone shooter to score in the shootout.

Carey Price made 30 saves and got a lot of help from his teammates, who blocked 38 shots.

But that blocked shot total was indicative of how thoroughly the Blues controlled large portions of the game, particularly the first half of the first period and the second half of the third when the puck rarely left the Montreal end.

The Blues attempted 79 shots in the game compared to 43 for the Canadiens.

"I know one thing: When you're blocking a lot of shots, the puck's in your end a lot. You don't block shots in the offensive zone or the neutral zone," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When you're blocking that many shots it wears on you after a while. You end up hemmed in and stuff like that."

Halak was playing his second game in Montreal and his third against the Canadiens since his trade to the Blues in the summer of 2010 that immediately followed him leading the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Final.

Halak led the Blues to a 4-1 win at home against Price and the Canadiens on March 10, 2011, and he shut out the Canadiens 3-0 at Bell Centre on Jan. 10, 2012, getting a standing ovation from the crowd after he was named the game's first star.

Halak made 25 saves Tuesday, but the postgame reaction was quite different with groans coming from the crowd instead of cheers. He stopped all 11 shots the Canadiens took in the third period to allow his team to erase a 2-1 deficit and come away with a win.

"Going into the third being down is not easy on the road, especially in the Bell Centre," Halak said. "But we got it done and we got two points."

Steen failed to score a goal in the Blues' 4-2 road loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, just the second time that's happened this season. But he quickly rectified the situation by putting the Blues ahead at 2:38 of the first on a one-timer of a David Backes feed after Backes forced Douglas Murray into a turnover behind the Canadiens net.

"I saw [Steen] with his eyes as big as softballs," Backes said. "He's the guy you want to pass the puck to, and he made no mistake about it."

Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin scored his 11th and 12th goals in his 13th game of the season on Tuesday to sit one behind Steen for the NHL lead.

Rene Bourque and rookie Michael Bournival scored for the Canadiens (8-7-1).

Down 2-1 entering the third in spite of clearly controlling the play for the vast majority of the game, the Blues tied it up midway through the period when Kevin Shattenkirk's bouncing shot from the point was tipped into the net by Stewart at 10:31 for his second goal of the season.

"[Stewart] was one of our best forwards," Hitchcock said. "He was competitive, hard on the puck, dangerous offensively. It didn't matter where we played him, he was good with [Vladimir] Sobotka and helped that line along, then he was really good with Backes.

"If this is the level he's going to play at, this is a good level."

Backes nearly allowed the Canadiens to win the game with 48.9 seconds to play in regulation when he was called for intentionally dislodging the Blues net, resulting in a penalty shot. Plekanec came in on Halak down the middle of the ice, but his wrist shot grazed his former teammate's arm and went wide, sending the game to overtime.

Backes didn't agree with the call by referee Eric Furlatt and admitted watching the penalty shot attempt was difficult.

"There was smoke coming out of my ears and I was saying a few prayers, no question," he said.

After Steen gave St. Louis the early lead the Blues dominated much of the first period, but were unable to build on that lead, thanks to Price.

The Canadiens took advantage in the second when Bourque scored his fifth of the season at 5:38, picking up a rebound off defenseman Andrei Markov's hard-driving move into Halak's crease to tie the game.

St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester helped the Canadiens take the lead 2-1 at 14:49 of the second when he was pressured by Brian Gionta into a giveaway in the slot to Bournival, who beat Halak between the legs for his fourth goal in 10 games.

"I think we got frustrated," Hitchcock said. "We couldn't extend the lead, got frustrated and they built on that frustration. They started to come at us in the second period.

"They got great energy from the Plekanec line and that started to take the game away from us a little bit."

But the Blues took it back in the end, with a big hand from the Canadiens' former goalie.

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