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Red-hot and Blue: St. Louis takes lead in Central

by John Kreiser
The St. Louis Blues are proving they're not just dangerous at home.

The Blues began a six-game trip last week having dominated opponents at home but owning a sub-.500 record on the road. One week later, they own a four-game winning streak on their trip after rolling over the Edmonton Oilers 5-2 at Rexall Place on Wednesday.

Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk had a goal and a pair of assists for the Blues, who are now 14-13-3 away from Scottrade Center and can take over first place in the overall standing with a regulation victory at Vancouver on Thursday.

Jaroslav Halak made 22 saves for his 20th victory of the season -- giving the Blues a pair of 20-win goaltenders for the first time in franchise history. The other one, Brian Elliott, is likely to start Thursday in the second half of the back-to-back.

With nine games on the schedule for the first day of March, here's a look at how the races in each conference shape up after Wednesday's action:

Eastern Conference

Division leaders

New York Rangers (86 points) were off again on Wednesday. They begin a stretch of three games in less than 72 hours with a visit to Carolina on Thursday.

Boston (77 points) welcomed newcomer Greg Zanon to practice on Wednesday, two days after the veteran defenseman was acquired from Minnesota. He's expected to be in the lineup when New Jersey comes to TD Garden on Thursday.

Florida (72 points)
plays its biggest game in years on Thursday night. The Panthers take a three-point lead over Washington and a four-point edge over Winnipeg into their game against the Jets in Manitoba. The Panthers are 30-20-12, their best record through 62 games since they were 34-19-4-5 in 1999-2000.

The next five:

Pittsburgh (79 points after Wednesday's 4-3 shootout win at Dallas) left American Airlines Center with two points when Pascal Dupuis scored in the fourth round of the shootout. But moving within seven points of the Rangers came at a price: The Penguins lost defenseman Kris Letang to an upper-body injury after a first-period hit and saw Steve Sullivan go down in the second with a lower-body injury.

Ottawa (76 points) is off until Chicago comes to Scotiabank Place on Friday night.

Philadelphia (75 points) didn't practice Wednesday after returning from the West Coast following Tuesday's 1-0 loss at San Jose. The Flyers don't have much time to rest -- they host the Islanders on Thursday to start a month that will see them play 16 times in 31 days.

New Jersey (74 points) had a second day off before a tough three-in-four stretch on the road -- the Devils are at Boston on Thursday, at Washington the next night, and visit the Islanders on Sunday afternoon.

Washington (69 points) had the day off to enjoy Tuesday's come-from-behind win against the Islanders. The Caps don't play again until New Jersey comes to the Verizon Center on Friday night.

On the outside looking in:

Winnipeg (68 points) has a big test Thursday when first-place Florida comes to the MTS Centre.

Toronto (65 points after a 5-4 loss at Chicago) continues to see its playoff hopes diminish. One night after a bad start cost them two points against Florida, the Leafs jumped out to a 3-1 lead -- but couldn't hold it. Toronto has won just once in its last 11 games (1-9-1).

Tampa Bay (64 points) had the first of two days off before the Rangers come to the Tampa Bay Times Forum on Friday night.

Buffalo (64 points after Wednesday's 2-0 win at Anaheim) were outplayed for much of the night by the Ducks but got 43 saves from Ryan Miller to win the opener of their three-game swing through the West. Miller made 20 saves in the third period to protect the lead generated by goals from Derek Roy and Brad Boyes. The Sabres won't get much time to enjoy the win -- they're at San Jose on Thursday.

Western Conference

Division leaders

Vancouver (88 points) ended February on top of the overall standings -- and figures to have a chance to build some momentum thanks to the schedule. Thursday's home game against St. Louis is the first of seven in a row for the Canucks at Rogers Arena.

St. Louis (87 points after Wednesday's 5-2 win at Edmonton) did what good teams have to do to lesser teams, especially on the road -- get the jump on them. Andy McDonald scored 59 seconds into the game to give St. Louis an early lead, then scored again in the second period for a 3-0 lead. After Edmonton cut the deficit to 3-2, Shattenkirk scored early in the third period and Chris Stewart added a penalty-shot goal. The win moved the Blues into first place in the Central Division.

Phoenix (75 points) hopes to carry the momentum from its 11-0-1 showing in February into its March opener against Calgary on Thursday night.

The next five:

Detroit (87 points) fell out of first place in the Central Division on the first of two days off before Minnesota comes to Joe Louis Arena on Friday night.

Nashville (81 points) had the first of three days off before visiting Florida on Saturday night.

Chicago (75 points after Wednesday's 5-4 win against Toronto) got some terrific relief goaltending from Ray Emery, who stepped for Corey Crawford after one period and stopped the first 23 shots he faced before allowing Mike Brown's goal with less than four seconds left. Marian Hossa scored twice to help the Hawks rally from a 3-1 deficit and regain sixth place.

San Jose (73 points) had the day off after beating Philadelphia 1-0 on Tuesday. Buffalo comes to the Shark Tank on Thursday for the second of a four-game homestand.

Dallas (71 points after Wednesday 4-3 shootout loss to Pittsburgh) wound up losing out on the extra point in a game that saw the Stars unable to hold 1-0 and 2-1 lead, then come back after falling behind 3-2. The single point did move the Stars into sole possession of the final playoff berth in the West.

On the outside looking in:

Colorado (70 points) had a second day off before Columbus comes to the Pepsi Center on Thursday.

Los Angeles (70 points) is off until hosting Anaheim on Saturday after splitting a quick two-game trip to Nashville and Minnesota.

Calgary (67 points) is hoping for better fortune when it visits Phoenix on Thursday. The Flames are coming off an 0-2-2 homestand, but they're winless in their last five visits to the desert.

Minnesota (65 points) pays a rare visit to Montreal on Thursday. The teams have met just 10 times since the Wild entered the NHL in 2000, and Minnesota is coming to the Bell Centre for just the third time in the last nine years.
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