Wednesday, March 26, 2014
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Backes' Hat Trick Leads Blues Over Leafs

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[March 26, 2014]  TORONTO  Maple Leafs goaltender Jonathan Bernier was supposed to be the missing piece to finally help Toronto bump a five-game skid. But despite big saves early, he was unable to help steal two points as the St. Louis Blues earned a 5-3 win Tuesday, knocking Toronto down the Eastern Conference standings.

Bernier, who returned after missing five games due to a groin injury suffered March 13 in Los Angeles, made 44 saves and dropped to 8-3-2 when facing 40 or more shots this season.

Blues captain David Backes scored his second career hat trick and center T.J. Oshie added a goal and an assist to lead their club to victory.

Center Alexander Steen had the other goal for St. Louis.

Center Joffrey Lupul opened the game's scoring for Toronto (36-30-8) at 11:30 of the first period. Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson and left winger James van Riemsdyk added third-period goals for Toronto to bring it to 4-3, but the Leafs were unable to get the equalizer before Backes put the game away with an empty-netter with just over a minute left.

"They came out strong, and we received the game, and then they were killing 30, 40 seconds in our zone and we had to change," said Bernier. "That was the whole first period. We made a good push, but it wasn't enough."


As for the injury, Bernier admitted to still feeling pain.

"It was a little sore obviously, but I was just trying to get it loose a little bit in between whistles and timeouts. My leg felt pretty good today," he said. "We got a good staff and obviously a lot of stretching and take care of my body  lots of rest."

Blues goaltender Ryan Miller, who made 22 saves for his 23 win of the season, understood Bernier's situation.

"It's hard to trust that all-important kind of muscle group when you're on the ice trying to make explosive moves," said Miller. "He looked pretty good tonight. We threw a lot of pucks at him. A lot of things happening. He handled himself pretty well."

The win vaults St. Louis (49-16-7) into the top spot overall, one point over the Boston Bruins in the President's Trophy race, while dropping Toronto out of the Eastern Conference playoff picture entirely. The Leafs are tied points-wise with both Detroit and Washington, although both teams have a game in hand.

"We played as well as we've played on the road for 50 minutes and then when they started to skate their forwards up to the far blue line and take all the chances and we couldn't score on the 2-on-1s and 3-on-0s," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. "We had a really good game plan, guys followed through for 50 minutes and then the game got to be shinny at the end there."

With the win, St. Louis earned a split (2-2-0) on their four-game road trip.

The loss is Toronto's sixth straight and seventh in eight games. The last time the Leafs dropped six straight in regulation was in 2009-10 when they started the season 0-7-1.

Gunnarsson pulled Toronto to within two at 4:39 of the third by beating Miller with a shot low to his glove-side.

Then at 15:54 of the third, van Riemsdyk pulled Toronto to within one, poking home the rebound off defenseman Jake Gardiner's point shot for his 28th.


"There's a lot of tenseness in our players," said Leafs coach, Randy Carlyle. "You can tell by the start of the game. The first three puck recoveries, we just slapped the puck away. We didn't pick up the puck and skate with it at all. That's showing signs of being nervous, tense confidence not wanting to make a mistake, which led to more offensive zone time.

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"The way Bernie played in the first period, we get out of that 1-1, we would've been very, very fortunate."

Steen made it 4-1 at 17:35 of the middle frame, backhanding a shot over the glove of a screened Bernier for his 31st of the season. Steen now has four goals in five career games against his former team.

St. Louis took a 3-1 lead at 7:32 of the second as Backes beat Bernier five-hole for his second of the night and 26th of the season.

The Blues capitalized off of Leafs' defenseman Dion Phaneuf's turnover to take their first lead of the game. Oshie stripped the Leafs captain of the puck and fed Backes, who beat Bernier off his pad and in for his 25th at 19:27 of the first.

"A couple great plays by teammates for me to capitalize tonight," said Backes "Oshie on the power play goal, great little give-and-go where he throws it into an area and I'm able to skate in. (Pietrangelo) on the long pass to spring me for the second one. The third one, a pretty unselfish play by Oshie to pass it over on a 2-on-2 with an empty net."

Backes admitted he had a bit of strategy on his first two goals of the night.

"Guys were teasing me that the empty-netter was five-hole too," he laughed. "It's just one of things, I looked up and (Bernier) was challenging. When he's challenging out on his angle there. It's tough to find ways around him. He's taking away a lot of the net. Try to find a little slice of air between his legs and I was fortunate enough to do that.

Oshie tied it at 1 at 15:55 of the first, tipping defenseman Roman Polak's point shot past Bernier for his 18th.


Lupul opened the scoring moments later at 11:30 of the first on a power play, putting home a mid-air feed from forward Nazem Kadri for his 21st of the season. The Lupul goal ended a stretch of seven straight games in which Toronto had given up the game's first goal.

NOTES: With G Jonathan Bernier's return, the Maple Leafs assigned G Drew MacIntyre to their American Hockey League affiliate. ... Toronto D Paul Ranger (neck) missed his third game because of a concussion. ... The Maple Leafs announced the signing of D Eric Knodel on Tuesday. Knodel, originally a fifth-round selection in the 2009 NHL Draft, will report to the team's AHL affiliate on a professional tryout contract. ... St. Louis won the only other meeting between the clubs, 6-3 on Dec. 12. ... Blues RW Vladimir Tarasenko (hand) missed his fifth straight game. ... The Blues entered Tuesday with 48 wins. The franchise record for wins in a season is 51, set in 1999-2000.

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