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Steen, Oshie, Backes help Blues defeat Avalanche

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Blues are getting time off during the All-Star break, but with the way they have been playing, it might not be a good thing.

Alexander Steen, T.J. Oshie and David Backes, who account for the Blues' top line, combined for four points against the Colorado Avalanche in a 3-1 victory at Scottrade Center on Monday.

"We finished off the right way for sure," said left wing Jaden Schwartz, who had a goal and an assist. "We're happy with how the homestand went. Everyone's ready for a little time off to refresh the body and recharge for a big second half."

St. Louis (29-13-4), which won't play again until Jan. 29 against the Nashville Predators, is 5-0-1 during their seven-game homestand.

Steen had two assists to extend his point streak to 10 games (seven goals, 11 assists). Oshie scored a goal and has 16 points in his past 12 games, and Backes had an assist to extend his point streak to seven games (seven goals, seven assists).

"We've been rolling and we wanted to keep it going," Steen said. "Tonight, I think was probably our best game this year, from goalie out. Our D I thought were the key to the game, joining the rush and quick plays out of our zone. All six of them were terrific."

The Steen-Backes-Oshie line has 53 points in the past 12 games and the Blues are 7-0-1 in their past eight.

"I think the break's at a good time," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think for us, we have to pour a lot into it. A lot of physical labor has to go into the way we play; we need a break. What we do out of the break is important because we play nine games in 15 days and we play significant opponents. Look at the teams we've got right out of the break; that's a four-point game [against the Predators]. We know that the games are going to be important.

Goalie Brian Elliott made 17 saves and defenseman Carl Gunnarsson scored for the Blues, who finish the season 4-1-0 against Colorado.

The Avalanche (19-18-10), who finished a five-game road trip 1-2-2, got a goal from forward Matt Duchene. Semyon Varlamov made 27 saves.

"I thought we started OK but obviously the second (period) was the difference maker in the game," Avalanche coach Patrick Roy said. "I'd say they were probably the better team at the competitive level. It was the last game of our road trip, five games. It's always tough to win the last one, but at the same time, we knew it would be a good test, a good challenge and I'll give them credit. They played a good game."

With the game tied 1-1, Schwartz put the Blues ahead 32 seconds into the second period with a power play goal. Steen gave Schwartz a drop pass in the slot, and his slap shot was blocked by Avalanche defenseman Erik Johnson, which came back to Schwartz, who put the rebound into an open net.

"It was a great play by [Steen] entering the zone there," Schwartz said. "Just tried to find an open spot in the slot and kind of a lucky bounce came back to me and Varlamov was cheating for the first shot, so it felt good when it went in."

Oshie gave St. Louis a 3-1 lead after the Blues' top line and top defensive pairing [Jay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo] spent a lengthy amount of time in the Colorado zone. Steen passed to Backes, whose slap shot from the slot was stopped by Varlamov, but Oshie was on the doorstep for a goal 10:40 into the second period.

"That goal is every offensive principle that we practice every day, is in that goal," Hitchcock said. "There's five passes with a shot with traffic. We spread them out in the zone; it's exactly what we practice every day."

"I thought the second period was the best we've played all year. Really managed the game well in the first period, played Blues hockey in the second where we just played defense by staying on our toes."

Gunnarsson's second goal of the season and first in 21 games gave the Blues a 1-0 lead after his slap shot from above the blue line deflected off Avalanche forward Alex Tanguay in the slot and past Varlamov 8:06 into the first period.

The Avalanche tied the game 1-1 after a turnover in which Duchene's blind backhand pass in the slot caromed off Blues forward Paul Stastny's stick and past Elliott at 13:02 of the first period.

St. Louis is an NHL-best plus-37 in goal differential, and have pulled within two points of first-place Nashville in the Central Division.

"This is about as good as it gets," Schwartz said. "We're playing really good systems, good team game right now. Everyone's involved. It seems like we've got a new hero every night. They're fun games to play in. We're controlling a lot of the game as well. Definitely a good feeling going into the break."

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