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Hitchcock, Blues keep rolling with 4-1 win over Florida

by Louie Korac
ST. LOUIS -- Faced with adversity all night, the St. Louis Blues once again found a way to win.

Ken Hitchcock improved to 4-0-1, the best start of any coach in franchise history, as the Blues downed the Florida Panthers 4-1 Thursday night at Scottrade Center.

They won despite losing veteran center Scott Nichol late in the first period, when he was given a five-minute major for spearing and a game misconduct. On the same play, defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo suffered a lower-body injury after seemingly getting caught in a rut on the ice. He did not return.

"That's when you know other guys step up and they get to play bigger minutes," said defenseman Kris Russell, who scored his second goal since being acquired by the Blues four games ago. "I thought we did a great job with that.

"When (Colaiacovo) goes down and Scotty gets an unfortunate call like that ... other guys have got to step up. In my case, I had to play a little bit more."

Russell stepped up and contributed 19:03 of ice time and had four of the Blues' 17 blocked shots in the game.

"It was a great job throughout the whole lineup," Russell said. "Guys stepped into roles that they had to play and I thought everyone handled it as well as can be."

The Blues also got two goals from David Backes and another from Chris Porter, his first of the season. Jaroslav Halak stopped 20 shots to earn his third win of the season.

"We're sticking to the game plan," said Halak, who is 2-1-1 with a 1.23 goals-against average and .950 save percentage in his last four outings. "Our PK (3-for-3) was great again tonight.

"Some nights it won't be easy when we face more adversity, but tonight we were able to get it done and grab those two points."


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The Panthers, who lead the League in road wins with seven, had their four-game road winning streak snapped. They got a goal from Mike Santorelli and 27 saves by Jose Theodore, but the Blues shut down Florida's red-hot top line of Stephen Weiss, Kris Versteeg and Tomas Fleischmann. The trio came in with 52 points in 17 games, including an eight-point performance Wednesday in a 6-0 win at Dallas.

"We just weren't good tonight that's pretty much what it comes down to," said Versteeg, who leads the team with 20 points.

"We just seemed to never get going here tonight for whatever reason," Panthers defenseman Ed Jovanovski said. "Just one of those nights where you feel like you're on your heels for the majority of the night."

The Blues helped Hitchcock get off to the best start in franchise history for a coach to begin his career. Leo Boivin (1976) and Jacques Demers (1984) each started 4-1 to begin their Blues coaching careers.

Since Hitchcock's arrival, the Blues have not allowed a goal in the second and third periods of their five games.

"I thought we really grabbed the game in the third period, played really well and played with a sense of discipline," Hitchcock said. "It was a hard game. ... We did our number and the job we're supposed to do at home. Now we've got to take it on the road. I think it's whether we can take this same type of intensity and effort on the road. That's the next challenge facing us."

A pair of veteran mistakes wound up in the net during the first period. Florida defenseman Brian Campbell's bad outlet pass was picked off by Backes, whose quick snap shot beat Theodore upstairs to the glove side lead 6:04 into the game. Florida tied it when Jason Arnott's bad outlet pass was picked off by Santorelli, who beat Halak with a quick wrister from the left circle at 13:07.

The Blues' penalty killers were solid once again in that second period, killing off the remaining three minutes of Nichol's major, then a couple more minors.

Halak was the last line of defense, coming up with some key stops when the Blues' penalty killing unit seemed to tire in the second period.

"I was able to make some saves for the guys," Halak said. "In the third period, they were great for me. They didn't give up anything against. They were blocking the shots. They were there for me."

St. Louis grabbed a 2-1 lead on Porter's first of the season after the Blues picked off a puck that was rimmed around the boards and fell right on his stick. The Blues' winger whirled and surprised Theodore with his shot, beating the goalie between his pads 5:48 into the second period.

"It was a fortunate bounce. It bounced through a few of their defensemen," Porter said. "I was just trying to get it on net. Nothing fancy. My game's not fancy. I just caught (Theodore) off-guard, I guess."

The Blues thought they had grabbed a 3-1 lead on T.J. Oshie shot but the goal was waved off for goaltender interference when Oshie and Florida's Jason Garrison got their skated tangled up on a Barret Jackman shot. Falling down, Oshie beat Theodore but the goal was waved off, much to the displeasure of the crowd.

"That's a tough one for Osh," Russell said. "That's an unbelievable individual effort to get that. When that gets called back, it's tough. On the bench, we kind of thought it was a goal."

The Blues did in fact make it 3-1 when Russell finished off Vladimir Sobotka's saucer feed from in tight, beating Theodore at the left post 9:46 into the third period. Backes added an empty-netter with 1:50 to play after the Panthers pulled Theodore with 2:17 remaining.

"We've had numerous times this year were we've settled down after bad stretches and we didn't do that tonight," Panthers coach Kevin Dineen said. "In the third period, I think they were a very hungry team. They smelled that we were trying to find an easier way to win than we've shown this year and that doesn't happen for a team."
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