BLUES EXTRAS

Blues enjoy view from the top

2012-01-17T00:35:00Z 2012-01-28T22:43:12Z Blues enjoy view from the topBY DAN O'NEILL • doneill@post-dispatch.com > 314-340-8186 stltoday.com

One must be careful when attaching special significance to the 45th game of an 82-game schedule. But if you will, indulge a franchise that has never won a Stanley Cup, a Blues team that has not touched first place overall this late in a season for 12 years, an audience that has not witnessed a playoff win since April 12, 2004. Indulge them, if only for a day.

By defeating the Dallas Stars 1-0 on Monday at Scottrade Center, the Blues jumped into a tie for the overall points lead in the NHL. Repeat, that's not a tie for the lead in the division, not a share of the lead in the Western Conference.

No sir, that's your big boy. That's your overall points lead in the National Hockey League.

"It feels good," said T.J. Oshie, whose third-period goal was the winning margin. "It's been a hard-fought battle to get here. We have to keep our heads and feet on the ground still. There's still a lot of season left and the standings have been changing every day. We have to stay on top of our game, have a couple of good days in practice and get back at it."

True enough. The Blues share space with the New York Rangers and Chicago Blackhawks in the penthouse. And the Rangers, Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins all play this evening, with a chance to move ahead of the 60-point pace currently leading the league. But ...

"It's something for all of us to see compared to where we were at five years ago," said David Perron, who assisted on the game-winning goal.

In summation, if he were here to officially put the situation in perspective, the late Blues executive Ron Caron might say, "The meat is on the burner, my friend." Now it's up to the Blues to keep it cooking.

"It's a real positive, obviously, but we're working toward the next game every time," Perron added. "Yeah, it's good to be up there but the key is to be up there at the end of the 82-game season. We just have to keep going that way."

Certainly, a friendly January schedule, which has included five home dates out of six games thus far, has fueled the surge. But the Blues deserve full marks for taking advantage, going 5-0-1 in the series.

By beating Dallas, the team set a franchise record for the most consecutive home games - 13 - with at least a point. With the league's best home record (19-3-3), the Blues have not suffered a regulation loss at the "Scotty" since Dec. 3.

To no small extent, they had netminder Jaroslav Halak to thank for keeping the streak alive. Halak stopped two clear breakaways, among 22 shots. The shutout was the second in three starts and third of the season for Halak. He is the only goaltender in the NHL (with at least 10 starts) who is unbeaten (9-0-3) in regulation since Nov. 29.

"Breakaways are a 50-50 chance," said Halak, who also stopped three shootout attempts by Minnesota on Saturday night. "But when a goalie feels great, he has that momentum on his side. I felt great tonight and for the most part, the guys kept everything on the outside."

The symbolic value of the evening notwithstanding, there have been basement waterproofing jobs with more entertaining starts. The Blues got an early power play but blasted some promising opportunities wide of the Dallas net. More than 12 minutes into the first period, they had a grand total of three shots on Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

Given that six of the last eight outcomes between these teams have featured one-goal separations, perhaps the taut texture of the evening was no surprise. The Stars kept things clogged and close to the vest most of the evening, with public sessions at Steinberg offering more open ice.

"It was a gritty game by both teams," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought we really gutted it out and played a hell of a third period. We really did some good things in the third period, found a little bit of different energy and started to ramp up the shots on goal.

After two periods, the Blues held a slight 18-16 edge in shots. But "Towel Man" was still in his seat and the aspiring NHL leaders were still looking for a spark. With 16:25 to go in the third, they came close to finding it, as David Backes nearly crammed in a loose puck. But Toby Petersen's skate kept the puck out.

Some seven minutes into the final segment, the Blues got their third power play of the game and pushed pucks to the front of the net. But they could not pierce Lehtonen, who turned aside 31 shots. Then with 12 minutes to play, Jason Arnott couldn't corral a bouncing puck and Eric Nystrom skated off with a breakaway. Halak closed his pads to make the save.

Finally, with 8:34 to play, the Blues got an odd-man rush, as Alex Pietrangleo sent Perron and Oshie on their way. Perron handled and passed to Oshie, who stuffed in his 14th goal. Pietrangelo got an assist, giving him points in seven consecutive games (two goals, eight assists).

Halak and Company, now 21-5-6 under Hitchcock, made the 1-0 cushion stand. The Blues have not allowed a third-period goal in nine games.

"It's nice to get these," Hitchcock said. "These wins the last two nights, they feel good. They're hard, they're difficult, they're not pretty at times, but they feel good. They feel good when you have to compete at this level to win hockey games."

This level being first place that is, even if only for a day.

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