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Pietrangelo, Halak boost Blues

Pietrangelo, Halak boost Blues

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A well-known travel and leisure magazine recently polled readers who ranked New York as "America's Rudest City." St. Louis was nowhere to be found on the list, which suggests professional hockey wasn't among the categories given consideration.

Because when it comes to mistreating visitors, no one is more ungracious than the St. Louis Blues. The team reinforced its rude reputation with a precarious 1-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday at Scottrade Center.

The result was a league-leading 20th home victory for the 'Note (20-3-3) and kept them loitering around the penthouse of the NHL points race. With the Red Wings winning at Phoenix, the Blues finished the night one point removed from the overall lead. With three games remaining until the All-Star break, the Blues (28-12-6) have 62 points. They are 12-0-2 in their past 14 home dates.

But it never seems to come easy. The scenario this time was nearly a carbon copy of the outcome Monday, when the Blues scored in the third period to win 1-0. This time, they waited even longer to hit a vein, getting Alex Pietrangelo's goal with 5:14 remaining in regulation. All the nice home records aside, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock realizes his team is skating a fine line.

"What happens is you start, and it's a little loose, and you're flying around the ice and then you don't score," Hitchcock said. "And it ends up being frustration and you start cheating a little bit.

"We've been lucky in the last few games, well, not lucky but players have been able to grab this thing in the third period and play well. But it's slipped and slid a little bit, and we got to get our edge back."

The Oilers should have played right into the Blues' wheelhouse, with a 6-18-1 road record and four wins in their past 20 overall. But netminder Nikolai Khabibulin failed to get the memo.

It took the Blues 38 shots and 54 minutes, 46 seconds before they finally got one past the veteran goalkeeper. Pietrangelo's goal with 5:14 remaining snapped the scoreless knot and gave the Blues something to show for their 38-15 advantage in shots.

"I'm lucky enough, I've got a long stick and I was able to reach around and get it before he was over there," Pietrangelo said. "He got over quicker than I thought. I think he got a piece of it. But I was going to try and stuff it in no matter what."

The Blues ruled from the outset, but without reward. When Edmonton took a penalty 4:24 into the first period, the Blues owned an 11-0 advantage in shots. Perhaps arm-weary, they didn't click on the ensuing PP, or any of five manpower chances.

The rink continued to be tilted and the Blues' shooting percentage continued to shrink. By the time Oilers registered their first shot with 12 minutes to play in the first, the margin was 17-1. But Khabibulin refused to stand down.

The save of the period came with under four minutes to play, as 37-year old Jason Arnott came off the bench for a pass from Chris Stewart and had the 39-year old goalie at his mercy. The cagey keeper won the Champions Tour showdown, staying with Arnott to make the stop.

The Blues had 19 shots on the consonant-cluttered keeper when the first horn sounded. But they had the same number of more goals as the synchronized-skating squad that entertained at intermission.

The texture changed somewhat in the second. An early penalty on Scott Nichol gave the Oilers power-play time and some momentum. Edmonton then pressured the Local Six into consecutive icings, causing Hitchcock to spend an energy-repleting timeout.

A slightly scary moment came later in the second, when Edmonton center Sam Gagner caught David Perron not looking and delivered a shot to the head. Perron, who recently returned after missing more than a season with concussion symptoms, got up slowly. But he didn't miss a shift afterward.

Sporadically effective this season, the Blues' PP unit continued to fizzle. Late in the second, the group enjoyed an extended segment, including 24 seconds of two-man advantage. But Arnott missed with a promising one-timer, and the time expired.

While Edmonton took a penalty in the waning seconds, the teams went to the dressing room for the second recess stuck in a scoreless standoff.

"I believe and I trusted our guys," Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak said. "I'm pretty sure they trusted themselves that eventually if you keep coming at them, keep shooting, it will go in. It was the case tonight. We kept shooting at them and finally we got that one. I think it was a big relief for all of us."

When the Blues wasted 28 more seconds of two-man advantage early in the third, overtime seemed imminent. But with just more than 5 minutes remaining, the spell was broken. Pietrangelo swooped in behind the Edmonton goal and stuffed the puck behind Khabibulin on the other side.

Pietrangelo, who turned 22 on Wednesday, has points in eight consecutive games (three goals, eight assists). The goal was his fourth game-winner and 20th goal of his career, tying Bob Plager for 16th place among defensemen on the Blues' career list. "I guess I'm moving down the list," Plager said.

Thanks to their spectacular defense, the Blues are moving up. The team has gone a franchise-record 10 games without allowing a third-period goal. The NHL record for such a thing is 13 games, set by the 1928-29 Montreal Canadiens.

Halak had four shutouts on the season and three in his past four starts. Combined with Brian Elliott's five shutouts, the Blues lead the league with nine shutouts overall. They also have the lowest goals-against average at 1.94.

Halak's stretch of unblemished work has reached 148:25, the fourth longest in the NHL this season. He is 10-0-3 in his past 13 starts, with a 1.50 goals-against average and .941 save percentage.

For a visiting team, that's just plain rude. But even the abused can appreciate the beauty of the homestanding beast.

"They played an unbelievable game," veteran Edmonton defenseman Andy Sutton said. "They came out with amazing pressure and intensity. That's the way hockey was meant to be played."

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Related to this story

Richard Park scored the go-ahead goal 2:23 into the third period, Evgeni Malkin padded the lead with two, and Marc-Andre Fleury made 30 saves …

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