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Steen, Elliott help Blues defeat Jets

by Patrick Williams

WINNIPEG -- The St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets laid the groundwork for their next three games on Thursday

Alexander Steen scored the deciding goal in the shootout to give the Blues a 2-1 win at MTS Centre. The Blues have won their past six shootouts, and their eight wins in the tiebreaker are tied for the NHL lead.

"It was a playoff game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Patrik Berglund's eighth goal with 1:49 remaining in the second period gave St. Louis a 1-0 lead. Mark Scheifele tied it 3:14 into the third period to set up the Jets' League-leading 22nd overtime game.

"It was a battle right to the end," said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who had an assist and led all players with 10 hits. "I thought we played a really strong game."

Blues goaltender Brian Elliott made 30 saves. Michael Hutchinson started for the fifth time in the Jets' past six games and made 28 saves.

The win ended a two-game losing streak for the Blues, who completed a 1-3-0 homestand Tuesday. Ten of their next 13 games will be on the road, including another visit to Winnipeg on March 19.

"It felt a little bit like a playoff game," Blues captain David Backes said. "Everybody was getting hit. It felt any little play could be the difference. Everything was magnified. It's good to get that in and start playing at that level, but it's taxing, and we're going to need to rest [Friday] to play back-to-back [starting Saturday against the Edmonton Oilers].

Winnipeg (31-20-12) holds the first wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Western Conference. Its four-game homestand continues Sunday against the Los Angeles Kings. The Jets visit the Blues on March 10 and April 7.

"It was a game that I think we've been building to," Jets coach Paul Maurice said. "It was a well-played game, hard-fought game. Good pace, good intensity. Disciplined, but hard."

"[St. Louis is] very structured in the way they're going to play, and they're going to try to beat that way, and that way only, and that's what we're trying to get to."

St. Louis (39-18-4), ranked ninth in the NHL with 2.48 goals allowed per game, had surrendered nine in its past two games. After switching the forward lines in a 5-2 home loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday, Hitchcock returned to his tried-and-true combinations in an attempt to re-establish defensive structure.

"We took a step today," Hitchcock said. "We took a step, but we're going to need to take some more steps here."

St. Louis and Winnipeg combined for 56 hits. Backes said that the Jets' style drew the Blues into a better, more structured defensive mindset.

"They play hard," Backes said. "They play the right way. They play in-your-face and finish checks, and kind of woke us up into playing our style. I think that in the end it was one heck of a hockey game tonight."

Winnipeg has attempted to model its game after St. Louis. Ladd concurred that the tight-checking game suited the Jets, who have struggled recently to solidify the defensively structured game that was so effective in the first half of the season.

"That's more of the game that we need to play," Ladd said. "It seems like those types of teams bring out the best of us in terms of playing structurally sound and strong defensive hockey, and it turn it leads to better things in [the offensive] zone too."

Left wing Jiri Tlusty made his debut for the Jets, who acquired him from the Carolina Hurricanes in a trade Wednesday. Forwards Mathieu Perreault and Blake Wheeler are out of the lineup, each with a lower-body injury.

Berglund and Paul Stastny combined to set up the first goal late in the second period. Stastny split Winnipeg's Chris Thorburn and Dustin Byfuglien with a pass inside the Jets' zone that Berglund took to the net and snapped past Hutchinson.

Winnipeg answered when Scheifele one-timed Ladd's pass from behind the net past Elliott for his 10th goal.

From there, Winnipeg battled to hold St. Louis scoreless in the third period and overtime. The Jets managed to survive shorthanded in overtime against the League's third-best power play.

"For the most part, we got back to our game," Scheifele said. "We were hard, we were fast. We worked our hardest, and it was a good game."

The Blues have won eight of their past nine road games and move on to Edmonton. After the just-completed homestand, Elliott said the Blues needed a strong response in Winnipeg.

"[The road trip] starts another part of the season for us, another chapter," said Elliott, who has won six of his past seven road starts. "We didn't close the last one like we wanted to. To win one here in a tough building is big for us."

For the Jets, the Blues represent what they are trying to build toward in their second season in the Western Conference.

"I think it's just the way these guys are wired in this room," Scheifele said of Winnipeg's response to St. Louis. "Guys want the challenge. Guys want to test themselves against the best in the League. It's another stepping stone. We know we can play this way against the best teams in the League, and we've just got to continue doing it."

Scheifele is one of the players that Backes said represents Winnipeg's growth in what could become a strong Central Division rivalry.

"They've got a few really good young players," Backes said. "You've seen the progression already this [season]. Maybe [they were] a little bit wet behind the ears, and now they're playing big roles and being relied on in all situations. They've built something the right way here, you can tell."

This game set up what could be three critical games in the final month of the season.

"I think the fans got their money's worth tonight," Backes said. "We feel like we had a good game, they feel like they had a good game and we'll split the three points. We'll take the two [points] and get out of here."

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