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With Porter goal, Elliott, Blues blank Red Wings

by Dan Rosen

DETROIT -- St. Louis Blues goalie Brian Elliott hit the restart button late last month with a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League.

In hindsight, the Blues may have wished they sent him back to Peoria much earlier in the season, because Elliott has been splendid since returning to the big club.

Chris Porter scored his second goal of the season in the second period and Elliott made 28 saves for his first shutout of the season in a 1-0 win over the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday.

Elliott, who had nine shutouts last season and shared the William M. Jennings Trophy with Jaroslav Halak, is 3-0 with only four goals allowed since returning from Peoria. He has gotten a chance to reconnect with the Blues because Halak is out with a groin injury.

"I think it was almost a reset and just get back to basics, play your game," Elliott said of his quick trip to the AHL. "You never want to see a teammate get hurt, but you've gotta be ready to jump in and try to be the rock for the guys back there."

With Elliott's hot hand and rookie goalie Jake Allen contributing with a 26-save win Friday over the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Blues have won four in a row since a three-game losing streak. The two points they earned Sunday moved them ahead of the Red Wings in the Western Conference standings.

Depending on the outcome of the game between the Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets later Sunday, St. Louis could finish the day in sixth-place after starting it in eighth.

"We've played a good past couple of games and we didn't see any movement in the standings because other teams were doing their jobs, too," Elliott said. "Obviously getting a win against these guys bumps us up and we have to keep building on that. We don't have much time left."

The Red Wings have lost four of their past six games and are now in eighth place, three points ahead of the Phoenix Coyotes. Their NHL record streak of 21 straight appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is on the line with just nine games left in the regular season.

Detroit doesn't play again until Thursday.

"I think we all know what's at stake here and we have to do a better job," Detroit defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "We didn't do enough."

Elliott, though, was a big reason why the Red Wings came up with nothing on the scoreboard or in the points column.

That's a big change from what the Blues were getting from him earlier in the season.

Elliott was 3-5-1 with a bloated 3.57 goals-against average and paltry .849 save percentage in his first nine appearances of the season. St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock simply couldn't use him regularly anymore, and over the following 20 games, from Feb. 13-March 26, Elliott played just 72 minutes and got one start.

Late last month, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong decided it would be best to send Elliott back to Peoria for a conditioning stint so he could get some games in.

He played in two games and allowed only three goals on 56 shots for a 1.51 goals-against average and .946 save percentage.

The stint clearly helped him refocus.

"I didn't play for a while, so going down there and seeing some pucks was a good idea, I think," he said. "Just feeling confident and playing with guys in front of you during a game, that's where you get your practice from. So it was good to get out there and it translates into these games."

With Elliott returning to his 2011-12 form and Allen serving as a capable backup, the Blues have started to resemble the team that put up 109 points last season.

They've allowed only five goals during their current four-game winning streak and their penalty kill is perfect on 18 chances dating back to seven games ago. They've outscored the Wild, Chicago Blackhawks, Blue Jackets and Red Wings by a combined 12-5.

"We're getting the goaltending now that you need to win games, and I think we're more consistent, way more now with how we play," Blues forward Patrik Berglund said. "Those small things we did last year, I think we're coming back to that. We've won four games against some of the best teams in the League, so we're on a good role now. We feel better and better."

But it's not as if the Red Wings are feeling terrible about the way they played Sunday. In fact, coach Mike Babcock said he enjoyed coaching the game and enjoyed watching his team compete because he felt the effort was there and the difference between the streaking Blues and the Red Wings was marginal at best.

"I liked our game," Babcock said. "If we just keep doing the things we did today and keep working hard, things will go our way."

Babcock, though, didn't necessarily like the Red Wings' power play. They were 0-for-3 with just two shots on goal.

The Wings were 4-for-12 on the power play in the three previous games.

"Our power play could have been more dangerous, but their penalty kill was good," he said. "They kept us outside, blocked some shots. Our power play has been real good of late, but we didn't score."

Porter did at even strength with 3:32 left in the second period, and it was all the Blues needed to leap the Red Wings in the standings and pick up their first shutout win at Joe Louis Arena since Dec. 9, 2009.

"Obviously all the games are important, but to win a game like this here is huge for the team and everybody's confidence," Berglund said. "We showed like last year we can be in the game, a close game, and keep our poise and our composure. We did that [Sunday]."


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