WINNIPEG -- The first period has confounded the St. Louis Blues at times this season, but they continue to excel over the final two, and did so again in a 2-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night at MTS Centre.
The Blues, who had lost three of their past four games, overcame a slow start, scored a goal early in the second period, survived a third-period rally and used their second-ranked power play to put away the Jets. The Blues own an NHL-best 10-0-1 divisional record and have won 13 of the 14 games they have led going into the third period.
Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien took a hooking penalty with 3:26 left and the game tied 1-1. Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk scored 24 seconds into the power play, deflecting a shot off Jets center Bryan Little.
"The way we fought for pucks in the third period was really impressive," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We got a lot from a lot of people on the way they need to play, so this is a huge step in the right direction for us."
Alexander Steen scored his 21st goal of the season early in the second period; it gave the Blues a 1-0 lead on their fourth shot. Steen's goal moved him past Corey Perry of the Anaheim Ducks into second place in the NHL. Steen has four goals in three games against Winnipeg this season.
Winnipeg, with the League's 30th-ranked power play, countered with a goal from Little three minutes into the third period that broke an 0-for-18 slump on the man-advantage.
Blues goaltender Brian Elliott made 20 saves. Elliott, who replaced starter Jaroslav Halak in a 5-2 loss against the Anaheim Ducks on Saturday, has surrendered two or fewer goals in seven of his past eight appearances. Elliott liked the resolve that his team showed in attempting to reverse the recent slump.
"I think it takes time," Elliott said of the recovery process. "Once things go the wrong direction, you hang your head a little bit. It takes a lot of work to dig out."
Ondrej Pavelec rebounded from his most recent outing, when he allowed five goals in a loss to the Florida Panthers, and stopped 18 shots for the Jets.
The Blues' plus-30 goal differential led the NHL entering the game, but they ranked in a 14th-place tie for first-period goal differential (0). The teams combined for 10 first-period shots, and the Jets had a 13-10 advantage by the end of the second period.
Hitchcock had stressed a strong start after and put his team through battle drills in practice Monday before the Blues departed for Winnipeg. In the four-game stretch in which the Blues had lost three games (including at home against Anaheim when they allowed three goals in the opening seven minutes), opponents had outscored them 9-1 in the first period.
"I really liked the way we fought," Hitchcock said. "As the game wore on, our confidence came back to fight for pucks and to battle. I thought the debris from what has happened in the last week or so started to eliminate [itself], and we started to get our spirit back and really, really battle."
Meanwhile, the Jets had not played in Winnipeg since Nov. 23. They were 4-2-0 on a six-game trip through the Eastern Conference that allowed them to at least maintain a grip in the Stanley Cup Playoff race. The game with St. Louis started a crucial three-game homestand that will include visits from the Colorado Avalanche and Dallas Stars, and they remain eight points behind Colorado for the nearest available playoff spot in the Western Conference.
But with three losses in their past five games and a pending meeting with Colorado that could put them further back, the Jets are at risk of drifting out of the Western Conference playoff scene.
"We played a pretty good game other than that we didn't finish the game the right way," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "I thought we played a pretty smart game. I thought we did the necessary things to win the game."
The Jets countered early, matching the visitor's physical style and keeping the top line of Steen, David Backes and T.J. Oshie from establishing a consistent forecheck. St. Louis did not record its first shot until 6:08 of the first period, and the Jets held St. Louis to two first-period shots.
But Steen gave the Blues the lead at 4:44 of the second period. Oshie worked the puck down the left boards to Steen in the corner. From behind the goal line, Steen floated a shot toward the Winnipeg net that caught Pavelec cheating off the right post, clipped the goaltender's back and went into the net.
"I try it every once in a while in practice," Steen said. "I've tried it a couple of times in games."
St. Louis forward Vladimir Sobotka's tripping minor early in the third period set up the Jets' second power play that allowed them to finally crack the St. Louis defense. The unit, which has struggled to set up at different points this season, established itself in the St. Louis zone and tested Elliott several times before Little took a feed from Andrew Ladd in the right circle and hammered a low shot past Elliott at 3:00.
"You really have to work for your chances," Little said. "They played us perfectly. They played a tight game, a good defensive game. It was one of those games where we were feeling each other out for most of it and no one really wanted to give up too much.
"We know that's how they like to play, and they're good at it. We didn't want to go out there and try to run-and-gun. We tried to play a similar game."
Then late in the third period, the Blues killed off a Chris Stewart high-sticking minor and went back on the power play 1:32 after Stewart's penalty expired. With the Blues back on the man-advantage, center Derek Roy won a left-circle draw back to Shattenkirk at the left point, and the Blues defenseman converted on his long shot.
"I think we're just very deliberate," Shattenkirk said of the Blues' power play. "We focus on shooting first. We're not a cute team. We're not a cute power play. We shoot pucks and retrieve them very well. It's really simple, and we've stuck to that. We haven't gotten away from it."
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