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Red-hot goalies leading Blues, Wild in West

by Mike Battaglino /

BLUES (22-14-2) at WILD (22-15-2)


Last 10: St. Louis 6-4-0; Minnesota 5-5-0

Season series: This is the third of three meetings. The St. Louis Blues won the first two, 5-4 in overtime at home Jan. 27 and 4-1 on the road April 1.

Big story: You can't get much closer than these teams. Each has 46 points; each has allowed 98 goals; St. Louis has scored 107, the Minnesota Wild have scored 103; Minnesota is 13-5-1 at home, St. Louis is 13-7-1 on the road. Fourth place in the Western Conference, and the resulting home-ice advantage in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, remains within reach.

Team Scope:

Blues: St. Louis is the only team in the NHL with three goalies to each start at least 10 games. Brian Elliott (11 starts) is the latest No. 1, backed up by Jake Allen (12) with Jaroslav Halak (15) injured again.

"It's a weird season and we knew that coming in, things were going to happen that you weren't expecting," Elliott told the St. Louis Post Dispatch this week. "It's just being confident in yourself and knowing you can go back to your form. It's all just a mental battle."

Elliott is coming off back-to-back road shutouts of the Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators. He is 4-0-0 since returning to action April 1 after not playing in the NHL since March 5. He cleared waivers late last month to play for Peoria in the American Hockey League.

"Brian Elliott didn't get discouraged and quit," Blues assistant coach Corey Hirsch told the newspaper. "Brian Elliott went through some tough times and he kept going. There were some dark days for him. But the good thing about [Blues coach Ken Hitchcock] and this organization is that Hitch never forgets about you. You'll always get another opportunity."

Elliott started the season 3-6-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average and an .851 save percentage.

"We had a rough week (in February) and I took the brunt of it as the only guy playing that week," Elliott said. "It looks bad on the stats, but, you know, I don't think that I was ... I wasn't that bad. You can't take all of the burden on yourself."

Wild: Minnesota has ridden goalie Niklas Backstrom almost all season; he has started 32 of its 39 games and is tied for the NHL lead in wins (20) with Marc-Andre Fleury of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Backstrom has allowed one goal in his past two games, a 3-0 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday and a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday.

"This time of year, (goaltending) is probably the No. 1 key," coach Mike Yeo told the team's website Wednesday. "This is two really good games in a row that he's played for us.

"Looking at [Tuesday] night, he was definitely on top of his game, he was in control, stopping the big saves but also controlling rebounds and swallowing up pucks. Usually when you see him playing like that you can tell very quickly that he's sharp."

Backup Josh Harding practiced with the team Wednesday for the first time since going on injured reserve Feb. 12 due to his multiple sclerosis.

"The way I felt today I don't think that it can take too, too long, obviously get in game mode and getting all that figured out," Harding said. "I'm definitely on the right track and anything I can do to help out this team that's what I want to do."

Who's hot: Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has three assists in four games since arriving in a trade from the Calgary Flames. Forward Alexander Steen has four points during the current five-game winning streak. … Wild forward Jason Pominville got his first two points Sunday since arriving in a trade from the Buffalo Sabres.

Injury report: Blues forward Scott Nichol (soreness) is day-to-day. Halak (lower body) likely is out until near the end of the regular season. Forward T.J. Oshie (foot) is on injured reserve but skated two days in a row. … Wild forward Dany Heatley (shoulder) had surgery Tuesday and is out for the season. Forward Matt Cullen (lower body) has missed four games and is questionable. Yeo said "he's coming along," but there is no time frame for his return.

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