Playoff-bound Blues tangle with Pens
(SportsNetwork.com) - The playoff-bound St. Louis Blues will try to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season when they visit the Pittsburgh Penguins for Sunday's showdown between first-place clubs.
St. Louis is coming off consecutive losses to Chicago and Philadelphia and was outscored by a combined 8-1 margin in the two setbacks.
Despite getting dealt a regulation loss by the Flyers on Saturday, the Blues were still able to clinch a playoff spot by the end of the day after Phoenix lost in regulation to Boston. St. Louis is the first team from the West to officially claim a postseason berth.
The Blues haven't lost three straight in the regular season since an 0-3-0 slide from March 24-28 of last season. St. Louis did drop four in a row against Los Angeles in the opening round of last spring's playoffs after taking a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.
St. Louis still leads the Central Division with 101 points, but Chicago is only four points behind. The Blackhawks, who have played one more game than the Blues, are hosting Nashville on Sunday.
San Jose is one point behind the Blues for the conference lead. The Sharks are idle on Sunday.
After beginning a four-game road trip by absorbing a 4-0 loss to the rival Blackhawks on Wednesday, the Blues were handed a 4-1 setback Saturday afternoon in Philadelphia.
St. Louis fired 33 shots at Steve Mason, but the Flyers goaltender stopped 32 of them. The Blues also came up empty on six power-play opportunities.
"We were really good in the first and then didn't outwork the goalie in the third. You're down 2-1 and have the chances you get in the third period you have to outwork the goalie," offered Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock. "I thought his level of compete was harder than ours in and around the net area and we couldn't get the second and third chances that we probably need to."
Jaden Schwartz provided the lone offense for the Blues, who have lost two in a row for the first time since Feb. 26-28.
Ryan Miller came up with just 15 saves in his second regulation defeat as starter for St. Louis. Miller is 7-2-1 with a 2.03 goals against average in 10 games since coming over to the Blues in a trade with Buffalo.
Brian Elliott will get the start in net for the Blues on Sunday. He is 4-1-1 with a 2.63 GAA and .925 save percentage in seven career games against the Penguins.
Pittsburgh, which holds a 14-point lead over Philadelphia for first place in the Metropolitan Division, won for the second time in three games with Saturday's overtime victory against visiting Tampa Bay.
James Neal kept Pittsburgh's winning streak over the Lightning intact, notching the game-winning goal 1:27 into OT. The 4-3 win kicked marked a positive start to a four-game homestand for the Penguins, who boast a 26-5-2 record as the host this season.
Evgeni Malkin scored twice in the final 8:53 of regulation and added two assists, including one on the deciding goal. With the Penguins on a 4-on-3 advantage in the extra frame thanks to a too many men on the ice penalty, Malkin sent a pass down to Neal in the right circle, and Neal beat Anders Lindback with a one-timer to the far side.
Malkin has four goals and two assists over his last two outings. He had been pointless in three straight tilts before breaking out over the last two games.
The Penguins converted on 3-of-6 power-play chances and have now beaten the Lightning nine straight times. Jeff Zatkoff made 21 saves for the win, and Sidney Crosby recorded a goal and two assists.
Tampa Bay's Ondrej Palat scored with 1:22 left in regulation to force overtime before Neal provided the game-winner.
Marc-Andre Fleury expects to start in net for Pittsburgh today. He is 3-3-1 with a 2.44 GAA and .923 save percentage in seven career outings against the Blues.
Sunday's tilt marks the first of three straight home games against Western Conference opponents for Pittsburgh, which hosts Phoenix on Tuesday and Los Angeles on Thursday. The Pens are 14-6-1 against the West this season.
The Blues will try to sweep the two-game season series against Pittsburgh on Sunday. St. Louis recorded a 2-1 regulation win over a visiting Penguins team on Nov. 9. It was the third win in four meetings for the Blues, who are 3-1-1 over their last five trips to Steel City.
03/23 10:43:55 ET