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Lehtera's natural hat trick leads Blues past Sabres

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues fans have come up with all sorts of names for the red-hot line combination of Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Jori Lehtera.

There doesn't seem to be a right name or a wrong name. If it's associated with anything St. Louis and anything scoring, it seems to fit the bill.

Lehtera stood front-and-center Tuesday with a natural hat trick, leading the Blues to a 6-1 win against the reeling Buffalo Sabres at Scottrade Center.

Schwartz and Tarasenko combined for five assists; the three have combined for 25 points in the past six games for the Blues (10-4-1), who have won seven of eight games.

Tarasenko extended his point streak to a career-high six games (10 points), Lehtera has points in five straight (eight points) and Schwartz has points in four straight games (seven points).

"Those guys click together, I guess, eh?" joked Blues goalie Brian Elliott.

"They're playing unbelievable for us right now," said Blues right wing Joakim Lindstrom, who scored two late power-play goals. "They're leading us, they're scoring timely goals. They're competing hard. They're great to watch.

"In the long run, we need all of us in here to contribute and not just rely on them. They've been playing great."

Elliott improved to 11-0-2 for his career against the Sabres (3-12-2) with 28 saves. Alexander Steen had three assists, Kevin Shattenkirk had two assists and David Backes scored on the power play.

But the talk was the "STL Line," which seems to be the most popular choice among names for the three.

"They had success because they've got skills but they really played the right way," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "And when you play the right way, you've got that level of skill, it's a good thing. The three goals were all plays that they had forced the opposition into turning and they had to face the goalie so that they lost coverage. They played the right way, that's the part I'm happiest about. The goals come and go but when you play the right way like that it was gratifying for us because they're creating offense."

Lehtera, the Blues' third-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, came to North America this summer after four seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League, was elated with what he called his first-ever hat trick.

"I think I've never scored a hat trick before, but it feels pretty good," Lehtera said.

In any competition?

"I don't remember," Lehtera said with a big grin. "I used to pass it but now I scored three, I don't know what happened. Pretty good passes from the guys."

Lehtera's fourth of the season came off an odd-man rush. Tarasenko dropped a pass to Lehtera, who beat Michal Neuvirth with a quick shot from the high slot with 2:52 remaining in the first period.

Another first period without a goal extended the Sabres' drought to 13 straight games.

Lehera got his fifth of the season 3:21 into the second period, when Tarasenko left another drop pass for his linemate in the left circle. Lehtera beat Neuvirth on the short side for a 2-0 lead.

Lehtera's sixth goal was the Blues' first shorthanded goal of the season after Schwartz beat Sabres defenseman Tyler Myers along the right boards before feeding Lehtera in the slot. He beat Neuvirth stick side with 5:34 left in the second for a 3-0 lead. Sportsnet first reported and the Blues confirmed it was their first natural hat trick since Al MacInnis scored three in a row on Oct. 12, 1998 against the New York Rangers.

"Their defensemen had been out there for a while," Schwartz said. "I tried beating them. I did and saw Jori come with me. I knew he had two goals, so I just waited an extra second and he made a great shot."

Lehtera was equally impressed with Schwartz's effort.

"That was a good pass too," Lehtera said. "I just have to put it in. It's pretty easy."

The Sabres had no answer.

"Obviously they're highly talented and they make plays and we gave them way too much time and space," Sabres captain Brian Gionta said of Lehtera, Schwartz and Tarasenko.

Buffalo, which got 23 saves from Neuvirth, has scored a League-low 19 non-shootout goals in 17 games and has two goals or fewer in 16 of 17 games and one or fewer goals in 11 of 17. The Sabres have been shut out five times.

"The way we started was probably one of the best periods that we played so far this season and then all of a sudden they score that one goal and then the second one," said Sabres coach Ted Nolan, whose team outshot the Blues 15-10 in the first period. "We kind of held our heads down a little bit after [Lehtera's goals]."

Tyler Ennis scored his team-leading fifth goal on the power play 59 seconds into the third period to break Elliott's shutout bid, off a tap-in from Matt Moulson near the right post to make it 3-1.

The Sabres have scored three goals in their past three games against the Blues, all by Ennis.

St. Louis scored three power-play goals in a 1:59 span after Nicolas Deslauriers was given a five-minute major for spearing Tarasenko. Backes scored on a tip at 16:38, and Lindstrom scored twice on slap shots; the first at 17:39 and again at 18:37.

"Any power play we get, that's our mindset," Lindstrom said. "It's not always as easy. For sure, when it's a long one line that, you want to keep grinding them down."

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