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Lehtera's goal gives Blues shootout win vs. Panthers

by Alain Poupart

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Brian Elliott fell short in his bid to tie the St. Louis Blues record for career shutouts, but he still was the biggest reason they got another victory Sunday.

Elliott made 40 saves in regulation and overtime and Jori Lehtera scored in the fifth round of the shootout to lead the Blues to a 2-1 win against the Florida Panthers at BB&T???Center.

"The (Panthers) did a great job of throwing the puck on net,"???Blues defenseman Barret Jackman said. "A lot of them were from outside. We did give a couple from the middle that we weren't happy with, but they played hard, they came at us. If it wasn't for (Elliott), we'd be going home with our tail between our legs."

Elliott came within 1:13 of tying Jaroslav Halak's record of 20 shutouts in a Blues uniform. Before Nick Bjugstad beat him, he had made 20 saves in the third period.

"Tip your cap to that one and try to move on and take it into overtime and win it,"???Elliott said. "They got one obviously to tie it up. They had a few opportunities. ... We'll take that win every time."

The Blues (37-15-4) won for the 15th time in 18 games and moved within four points of the Nashville Predators atop the Western Conference standings.

Coach Ken Hitchcock had very little to say after the game, but managed in his 15 words to praise Elliott's effort.

"Our goalie was our best player, our fourth-liner was one of our best players,"???Hitchcock said. "See you tomorrow."

Exactly one year after he scored four times in the shootout to help the United States defeat Russia in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, T.J. Oshie failed to score when he opened the shootout Sunday.

Vladimir Tarasenko scored for St. Louis in the first half of the second round of the shootout, but was quickly matched by Brad Boyes.

After two unsuccessful shots by each team, Lehtera scored on his first NHL???shootout attempt. The two-time KHL all-star beat Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo when he skated across from the right side and slid a forehand between Luongo's legs.

"I tried (that move)???a couple of times with Elliott in practice, but it doesn't go in,"???Lehtera said. "It never worked, never, so I have to try it again on him."

The game ended when Jussi Jokinen's shot in the bottom of the fifth round bounced off the left post.

Luongo made 32 saves for the Panthers (24-19-12), who moved within three points of the Boston Bruins for the second wild-card berth in the Eastern Conference.

"We battled hard, tied it up there at the end,"???Luongo said. "That was huge for our team, but we've got to find a way to get two points. It's nice to get the point, but it's not going to cut it in the long run if we don't win games."

Jaden Schwartz scored in regulation for St. Louis, which defeated Florida for the sixth consecutive time. The Panthers have scored a total of five goals during the streak, which began after a 4-0 Florida victory on Oct. 31, 2009.

The Blues swept the season series; they won 4-2 at home Dec. 8.

Schwartz, who has 20 points in his past 20 games, scored at 11:48 of the second period after taking a feed from behind the net from Lehtera. Schwartz took his time before his shot from the right circle got past Luongo high on the glove side.

Bjugstad scored from behind the net after Aleksander Barkov tipped rookie Aaron Ekblad's slap shot from the point with Luongo pulled for an extra attacker. Bjugstad's shot bounced in off the pad of Elliott as he was sliding across the crease.

"I don't know, just shooting the puck from weird angles and it goes in sometimes,"?????????said Bjugstad, who leads the Panthers with 20 goals. "Usually I never really score those kind of goals, but in this League you've got to find ways to score. Just throwing it at the net sometimes does the job."

"It was a tough one,"?????????Jackman said. "They kind of got lucky, a deflected puck caroms off the boards and they get a shot from the goal line and it sneaks in. We should be able to close out games in the last minute and get him the shutout, but Elliott picked us up and gave us a chance to win."

In a scoreless first period, it was Luongo who came up with the big saves when the Blues outshot the Panthers 13-7.

Luongo's best save came in the final minute when he made a pad save on St. Louis' leading goal scorer, Vladimir Tarasenko.

"There were a lot of positives,"?????????Panthers coach Gerard Gallant said. "I didn't like our first period. They outplayed us pretty good. But after that I thought we took the game to them and played real hard and well. The goalies seem to be first stars against us a lot of night. Both goaltenders tonight were outstanding. They were both stars in my mind. We get 40 shots against the St. Louis team, we're pretty happy."

The Panthers start a five-game road trip against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday that will end seven days later with the first of a home-and-home set against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Florida was shorthanded on defense without captain Willie Mitchell, who missed a sixth consecutive game because of an upper-body injury, and Dmitry Kulikov, who was suspended because of his hit on Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin on Friday. Kulikov's phone hearing with the League office is scheduled for Monday after the defenseman waived his right to an in-person hearing.

Jackman tied Brian Sutter for second place on the Blues' all-time games played list with 779. Bernie Federko holds the record with 927.

"At the end of my career I'll sit down and really appreciate it, but I don't take it lightly passing a guy like Brian Sutter and what he meant to the franchise and what he meant to the NHL is amazing,"?????????Jackman said. "I'm just humbled to be in a group with Brett Hull, the Plager brothers, Garry Unger and Mr. Sutter."

The Panthers held a moment of silence before the game for former NHL defenseman Steve Montador, who died at the age of the 35 on Sunday. Montador played more games (196)?????????with the Panthers than with any other team during his 10-year career.

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