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Steen scores lone goal as Conklin blanks Devils

by Mike G. Morreale
NEWARK, N.J. -- St. Louis Blues goalie Ty Conklin has had these moments before.

Moments when he seems unbeatable and continually frustrates the opposition with save after save -- he did it with Pittsburgh in 2007-08 and again with the Detroit Red Wings last season. Now, with his team desperate for victories in attempt to make one final gasp at a Stanley Cup Playoff berth, he's proving it again.

Alexander Steen's goal late in the first period was all the support Conklin needed on Saturday en route to a 29-save performance that led the Blues to a 1-0 victory over the New Jersey Devils before 17,625 at Prudential Center.

Conklin, who was signed by the Blues last summer, was particularly sharp in the second, making 13 stops. When he wasn't making the stop, a teammate was doing it for him. The Blues finished with nine blocked shots and 13 takeaways for the game while denying all three power-play chances by the Devils, including a 4-on-3 for 53 seconds in the third.

The Blues entered Saturday's game third in the League with an 85.7 percent penalty-killing efficiency, including a League-leading 86.5 percent success rate on the road.

"We had to weather the storm a couple of times, but that's to be expected," Conklin said. "They're a good team. They can score goals when they have to -- they're talented. I thought our penalty-kill did really good job but we also did a good job of staying out of the box.

"We blocked shots and I saw through lanes. If there was a rebound, there wasn't a second shot. I had an opportunity and that's a good recipe. That's what we have to do every night."

Now in his seventh season, Conklin recorded his first career shutout against the Devils and the 14th of his career. St. Louis used a season-ending 9-1-1 run to finish sixth in the West in 2008-09 and is on a similar roll at this point. The Blues are currently in a fight with five other clubs for the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference and they're playing like it -- winning 9 of their last 12 on the road to improve to 22-11-4 away from Scottrade Center.

The victory for Conklin marked the first time this season he's won consecutive games with the Blues. He made 26 saves in a 4-3 victory over the Rangers on Thursday. St. Louis -- four points behind eighth-seeded Detroit -- returns home on Sunday to battle seventh-seeded Nashville.

"It's amazing what (Conklin) has been able to do," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "He's been on the bench for a while and then gets thrown into the fire and to be able to perform like that. ... It takes a guy with a great focus and a great amount of intensity to be able to snap right back into game mode, step in and see the other guy at the other end of the ice (Martin Brodeur) and find a way to beat him."

The Devils came close to pulling even three minutes into the second when Ilya Kovalchuk attacked the Blues and attempted a wraparound. Conklin sprawled to his left in an attempt to knock the puck away, but Kovalchuk was denied by back-checking center Brad Boyes, who alertly blocked the shot before it even reached his goalie.

Conklin preserved the shutout in the third period with an arm save on Zach Parise's shot from the slot with 12 minutes showing -- perhaps his stop of the nine he made in the third.

Brodeur, who was denied his 40th victory of the season, finished with 19 saves. The loss snapped the Devils' five-game home winning streak. The Devils pulled Brodeur with a minute remaining for the extra attacker, but were unable to generate a quality scoring chance.

Devils coach Jacques Lemaire was disappointed with his team's start to the game.

"The whole crew just didn't have it -- it wasn't just one individual," he said. "I just didn't see that excitement to play, the life. You want to finish as high as possible. We had a chance to win a game here and just play hard. Get excited. I didn't see that."

The Blues got on the board with just 13 seconds left in the first when Steen connected for his 21st of the season off a slap shot from the top of the left circle that beat Brodeur high to the long side. Brodeur slammed his stick on the ice in disgust after yielding the last-minute goal. Steen has 6 goals and 12 points in his last nine games and 6 goals and 14 points over his last 11 road games.

"We know (Steen) can shoot the puck," Payne said. "Certainly, from out there, against certain guys in the League, you'll take them any way you can. Against Marty … would that one go in the second time? Probably not, but we'll take it."

The opening period was also highlighted by the longest fight of the season.

Just 5:58 into the first period, the Devils' Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond and the Blues' Cam Janssen went toe-to-toe in a marathon slugfest that could go down as one of the longest in League history.

Leblond (6-foot-2, 215 pounds) and Janssen (6-0, 215), who spent two seasons with the Devils before being traded to St. Louis in Feb. 2008, rolled up their sleeves right off a draw just outside the Blues blue line and near their players' bench. Leblond was able to land a few right hands that kept Janssen off balance before finally taking him to the ice after nearly three minutes.

The Devils' recent woes on the power-play continued, due in large part to Conklin. New Jersey, which entered the game 0-for-14 in the last five games with the man advantage, had an opportunity to pull even in the second when Paul Kariya was whistled for hooking at 15:18. The Devils did manage some golden scoring opportunities, but Conklin managed four big stops, including two off the stick of Kovalchuk and one each against Parise and Travis Zajac.

The home team would get another opportunity on the power-play 3:36 into the third when Blues defenseman Carlo Calaiacovo was sent to the box for holding. The Devils worked the puck well, throwing three shots on Conklin, but couldn't solve the veteran goalie. They then managed just one shot on an ensuing 4-on-3 advantage for 53 seconds at the 9:53 mark.

"We denied one really good one-timer and they missed on a couple of passes to (Brian) Rolston," Conklin said. "The puck wasn't where he wanted it. He couldn't get that shot off and that happened twice on their 4-on-3."

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