SUNRISE, FLA. • There was sun, there was fun, but what the Blues will savor most about their four-day trip to Florida were the four points they brought home.
“The weather back home is going to be a little colder,” goalie Brian Elliott said. “We were able to enjoy it for a couple days, and now we go back to hockey weather.”
The Blues weren’t exactly dazzling on Sunday, as they had to survive a third-period onslaught from the Panthers, who had 21 shots on Elliott in the third period alone. But Elliott was dazzling, making 40 saves in regulation and overtime and then stopping four of five shots in a shootout as the Blues won 2-1 for their third straight win and headed home with the second best record in the league.
“If it weren’t for Els we’d be going home with our tail between our legs,” defenseman Barret Jackman said.
Jaden Schwartz put the Blues ahead in the second period with his 20th goal of the season, and then Jori Lehtera scored the winning goal in the shootout (where the Blues are 7-2 this season) as they improved to 14-2-1 in their past 17 games overall. The Blues have won seven of their past eight road games, and now come home for four, starting with a game against Dallas on Tuesday at Scottrade Center.
Elliott came within 73 seconds of matching the franchise record for career shutouts at 20, but Florida’s Nick Bjugstad banked a shot in off his pad from behind the goal line to send the game to overtime.
“Our goalie was our best player, the fourth line was the best player, see you tomorrow,” said coach Ken Hitchcock in postgame comments that lasted two seconds.
"It was a goalie's game today," said Lehtera. "We got the two points, which is most important."
The shootout went five rounds, with Vladimir Tarasenko scoring to put the Blues ahead before Brad Boyes scored to tie it. The Blues were shooting first, which meant Elliott had to make two shootout saves with the game on the line before getting Jussi Jokinen to put his final shot off the post to clinch it and have everyone give a sigh of relief.
“I didn’t know Boysie was going to get that hard a shot,” Elliott said. “When you get two guys scoring on your own end, you should take care of business on yours.”
It was the first time Lehtera had been put on the ice for an NHL shootout. T.J. Oshie, on the one-year anniversary of his shootout-fest at the Sochi Olympics, was denied on the first try, and the Blues are without Kevin Shattenkirk, another of their best shootout takers.
Lehtera described his move as “shaking water from his ears,” going back and forth before beating Roberto Luongo. He said he tried the move on Elliott in practice without success.
“I’m pretty sure it’s worked a couple times,” Elliott said. “Sometimes those are the ones you’re going to score on. Guys know everybody’s move. If you do something a little different, it might work.”
Elliott didn’t get his milestone, but Jackman did. He appeared in his 779th game with the Blues, tying Brian Sutter for the second-most in franchise history.
The Blues had a tough time beating Luongo, who stopped 32 of 33 shots he faced and finally broke through on their 20th shot. Tarasenko started the play by taking the puck away from Florida’s Shawn Thornton as he tried to skate into the Blues zone. He then skated right past Alex Petrovic as he tried to deny him entry into the Florida zone. Schwartz’s first shot went wide, but Lehtera tracked it down behind the goal and fed it out in the right faceoff circle to Schwartz, who beat Luongo.
“He stole the puck and he’s got a great step,” Jackman said. “He accelerated and was able to beat the D man out wide. And Schwartzie’s got an amazing shot.”
For Lehtera, it was an end to an expensive weekend. As the only first-year player on the team, he had to spring for the annual rookie dinner for his teammates.
It was Lehtera’s 22nd assist, and his first point since having two assists on Jan. 13, a run of 12 games, six of which he missed with a concussion.
Meanwhile, Elliott was getting some work in front of his goal in the second period. He blocked a shot by Jimmy Hayes with his stick, then somehow prevented a goal when Brad Boyes got the puck right in front of the net. With 2:04 to go in the period, Ian Cole passed a puck from deep in his own end right to Florida’s Dave Bolland, but with a couple of passing options, he chose to shoot into traffic and Elliott blocked it.
And the third period was even worse, as the Panthers seemed to spend the whole 20 minutes in front of his goal. Several saves were outstanding. On the tying goal, with Florida’s net empty, Schwartz couldn’t clear the puck out of the zone and then Chris Butler iced it, setting up the chance.
“As a goalie, you’re trying to stay as calm as possible,” Elliott said. “I was just watching some clips and a lot of guys were sacrificing their bodies, blocking shots, trying to keep everything away from the scoring area. They got one to tie it up.”