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Morrow, Stewart lead Blues past Sabres

by Louie Korac

BUFFALO -- Chris Stewart saved his energy, and Brenden Morrow was the beneficiary.

After missing the St. Louis Blues' morning skate Tuesday with flu-like symptoms, Stewart was told to stay at the team hotel to rest.

Stewart must have had a good rest; he assisted on both Morrow goals to help the Blues defeat the Buffalo Sabres 4-1 at First Niagara Center.

Without going into detail, it was a rough Monday night for Stewart, but he'd probably admit it was worth it, with the end result being that he played a key role in helping the Blues recover from a 4-1 loss Sunday against the Washington Capitals.

"I've probably been struggling for the last 24 hours," Stewart said after getting his fifth and sixth assists of the season. "I haven't felt like that in a while. ... It hit me hard, probably as soon as we got in here. It started going through the team a little bit and that time of the year. We've got a little time here before the Boston game [Thursday], get some rest, get hydrated and get back after it."

The Blues (14-3-3) also got a power-play goal from Vladimir Tarasenko, and Magnus Paajarvi scored his first goal with St. Louis. The Blues are off to their best start in franchise history after 20 games.

Jaroslav Halak bounced back after allowing three goals on six shots and being pulled in the first period against the Capitals on Sunday. Halak stopped 23 shots in earning his 11th win.

The Blues improved to 13-2-0 against the Sabres dating back to 1999, including 8-1-0 in Buffalo. They also improved to 31-9-5 against Eastern Conference foes since the 2010-11 season, the best inter-conference record in the NHL.

Ken Hitchcock also earned his 619th coaching victory, which is one off eighth place all time behind Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray. He was rewarded for his faith in Halak.

"First, Jaro stepped up and made some big saves," Hitchcock said. "I don't think there was much difference in the scoring chances. They were pretty close or even. I thought we scored on our chances; they didn't on theirs. Getting the third goal was a big benefit for us, but even in saying that, we needed Jaro today. He was good. He was right back to task where he was before."

Tyler Ennis scored and Ryan Miller stopped 27 shots for the Sabres, who fell to 1-2-0 under interim coach Ted Nolan.

"I think our youth really showed tonight," Nolan said. "This is one of the better teams in the National Hockey League that can really expose your flaws. ... We knew it was going to be tough. We've just got to keep teaching, keep learning. You could tell some of the difference between some of the young players we have and some of the mature players they have. It's just part of maturing."

Ennis opened the scoring before the 17,710 spectators could get settled in, as he was able to one-time a centering feed from Ville Leino past Halak 10 seconds into the game. Leino got to a bouncing puck after Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester couldn't handle it. It was the Sabres' fourth goal in the first period in 23 games.

"We learned to have a start. Sometimes we've been starting slow," Ennis said. "This time, we started fast and scored. Then we kind of let off the gas. Those are the things we need to fix."

The Blues applied heavy pressure and struck 59 seconds later when Morrow took Stewart's no-look backhand feed and snapped a shot past Miller to tie the game 1-1.

"They scored a quick one there, 10 seconds in and it kind of caught us by surprise," Stewart said. "We answered back quick there and set the tempo for the game."

The Blues took a 2-1 lead with 35.9 seconds left in the first period when T.J. Oshie's second-effort play following a Mike Weber blocked shot enabled Tarasenko to hammer a shot home from the low slot. It was the 14th time in 20 games the Blues have scored a power-play goal.

Buffalo has been outscored 31-4 in the first period of games this season.

Morrow got his second of the game when Stewart stripped Cody McCormick behind the Buffalo goal and fed Morrow, who made no mistake in beating Miller with 5:51 left in the second period.

Morrow was asked if Stewart should get the flu more often. He laughed it off but praised his linemate.

"It didn't look like he was under the weather at all," Morrow said. "He had some good jump out there, and was turning pucks over and made some good plays tonight."

Halak preserved a 2-1 lead in the second period when the Sabres picked up their play. The Blues goalie made two key stops from close range on Leino.

"It's not the way you want to start [the game], especially me," Halak said. "First shot on net and it went in, but I just needed to refocus after that first goal and tried to stay sharp. After getting pulled last game, you just want to get out there and you want to help the guys.

"I started feeling comfortable as the game went on, especially in the second when I made some saves there. It got my confidence back. ... I gave up a rebound to [Leino], and I just wanted to get there with my pad. Lucky for me that he didn't raise it over my pad and I was able to get there. That was a key save for me. It could have been 2-2, but instead it [became] 3-1, and it was a huge goal for [Morrow]."

Paajarvi's blast from the top of the left circle beat Miller high to the short side 6:10 into the third period to give the Blues a 4-1 lead.

Bouwmeester's assist gave him points in five straight and six of seven games. He has 16 points in 20 games.

The Sabres fell to 0-15-0 when trailing after two periods. The Blues are 8-0-1 with a lead after two.

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