HOCKEY: Blues hand Wild sixth loss in a row, 2-1
ST. PAUL — With two key players missing from their lineup, the St. Louis Blues devised a simple plan to keep winning: get the puck to Jaden Schwartz.
On Tuesday, the Blues forward had a goal and an assist as St. Louis earned its fifth win in six games, beating the reeling Minnesota Wild 2-1. Schwartz missed two games in mid-December with an upper-body injury, but he now has goals in six consecutive games since returning to the lineup.
Center T.J. Oshie also scored for the Blues (27-7-5), who have not lost a regulation game in three weeks. St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott improved to 10-1-2 and just missed his third shutout of the season. The Blues are playing without their leading scorer, center David Backes, and left winger Alexander Steen. That pair has combined for 57 points this season.
“Our lineup is what it is right now and we’ve just got to find a way,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “Nobody’s feeling sorry for us. We’ve got to find ways to get points and this is good.”
Minnesota (20-17-5) lost its sixth game in a row, a franchise record.
“We had a better start today. The other way wasn’t working either, so we’ll try something,” said Wild coach Mike Yeo, whose team had given up 11 goals in its previous two games but held the Blues to a pair. “They’re the players. You can be positive, you can be negative, you can get mad, whatever you got to do, but the bottom line is we need guys to be gamers, guys to step up. That’s the only way out of it.”
The Wild got a goal from defenseman Ryan Suter with 8.3 seconds left in the game but could not generate much offense, prompting boos from the home fans on more than one occasion. Minnesota got 21 saves from goalie Josh Harding,
After a scoreless first period, Oshie netted his second goal in as many games. Schwartz forced Wild center Mikael Granlund to cough up the puck in front of the Minnesota net, then flipped a pass to Oshie, who skated in alone on Harding, scoring on a deft stickhandling move at 6:49.
At 15:59 of the second period, Schwartz capped off a 4-on-2 rush into the Wild zone with a low shot that Harding slowed with his pad but could not stop from trickling over the goal line.
“He deserves all the ice time he gets,” said Oshie, praising Schwartz for stepping up with others out of the lineup. “He’s a heart and soul guy and he’s got a quick little release that it’s hard for goalies to read.”
Suter scored his second goal of the season, blasting a shot through a crowd in front of Elliott with the Wild’s goalie pulled. The Blues blocked 24 shots in the game.
“They probably had more saves than I did,” Elliott joked. “It just speaks of the commitment we have of winning games like this, when you’re on the road and it’s three tough ones in a row. Good commitment by the whole crew and when the forwards are coming back for the (defensemen), they can step in and feel comfortable.”
The Wild, who last won a game Dec. 17, are playing without star left winger Zach Parise, who is on injured reserve after suffering a foot injury in a loss at St. Louis on Nov. 25.
“A couple mistakes cost us and that’s how it’s been lately,” said Suter, who has two goals in two games after scoring against his former University of Wisconsin teammate. “We did a lot of good things. We played a solid defensive game like we wanted to focus on playing. Like I said, a couple of mistakes and it cost us. When things go bad, usually you have to hit the bottom before you can start going and we’re as close to the bottom as we can get.”
The Blues are 13-0-1 against Central Division rivals this season.
NOTES: Blues RW Chris Stewart left the game in the first period after being struck in the face by a shot from Wild RW Jason Pominville. Stewart was helped to the locker room, and a notable blood stain was scraped off the ice where he fell. He did not return and was officially listed as out due to an upper-body injury. ... St. Louis RW David Backes was scratched for the second consecutive game. He is dealing with an upper-body injury he suffered in the Blues’ 6-5 shootout win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday. ... Wild rookie D Matt Dumba is currently on loan to Hockey Canada, where he is an alternate captain for his home country in the IIHF World Junior Hockey Championships, being played in Sweden. The Canadians defeated Team USA 3-2 on Tuesday. ... The Blues play to the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. The Wild also begin 2014 at home, when the Buffalo Sabres visit Minnesota on Thursday.