Blues beat 'Hawks, clinch home ice

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[April 08, 2016]  CHICAGO -- St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock always is confident that right winger Vladimir Tarasenko will be ready in the biggest moments of a game.

"He's a guy that we count on," Hitchcock said. "He can score from anywhere. He can score at any time."

Just ask the Chicago Blackhawks.

Tarasenko scored late in the third period and again in overtime to lift St. Louis to a 2-1 win over Chicago on Thursday night. He evened the score at 1 when he scored with 1:16 remaining in regulation after the Blues pulled goaltender Brian Elliott in favor of an extra skater. The 24-year-old Russian sealed the comeback with a wrist shot with 1:23 remaining in overtime.

St. Louis (49-23-9) secured home-ice advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs. The Blues earned their third straight victory and improved to 8-1-0 in their past nine contests. If the Blues collect more points in their regular season finale than the Dallas Stars collect in their finale, then St. Louis would clinch the Central Division and earn the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

 

"The whole focus was home ice and to continue to keep pushing toward first place," said Hitchcock, whose team concludes the regular season Saturday against Washington. "Every team has to play now. Dallas has to play for points, we've got to keep playing for points, and then we'll just see where it goes. But it's nice to know that we're going to have home ice no matter who the (first round) opponent is."

Jonathan Toews scored the Blackhawks' lone goal. Chicago (47-26-8) dropped to 11-8 in overtime this season and finished the regular season 26-11-4 on home ice.

The Blackhawks played without several key players, including suspended defenseman Duncan Keith, injured forwards Marian Hossa and Artem Anisimov, and injured goaltender Corey Crawford. Next week, the team will begin the playoffs on the road against St. Louis or Dallas.

"I don't mind the way we're playing here," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. "We're missing five guys right now in a game that I thought we played pretty good. I thought we did some good things in a lot of ways and a lot of areas, so I didn't mind it."

After Hitchcock pulled Elliott from the net with about 1:30 remaining, Tarasenko evened the score. Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk blasted a slap shot from the right circle. Goaltender Scott Darling stopped Shattenkirk's shot but allowed a long rebound to Tarasenko.

Tarasenko scored in overtime on a drop pass from defenseman Alex Pietrangelo during an odd-man rush. The goal marked Tarasenko's 39th of the season, a career high.

Darling finished with 33 saves, while Elliott stopped 24 shots. Elliott denied Blackhawks left winger Andrew Ladd on a penalty shot with 4:58 remaining in the third period.

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"I think every time we play here, it feels like a playoff game," Elliott said.

After a scoreless first period, Chicago grabbed a 1-0 lead on a goal by Toews with 7:20 to go in the second period. Patrick Kane zipped a pass to Toews, who scored on a wrist shot from the left circle. The play marked Toews' 28th goal of the season and his third goal in the past three games.

A pair of stellar defensive plays by St. Louis prevented Chicago from seizing an early advantage.

Pietrangelo slid on his stomach and used his stick to break up a two-on-one rush by Kane and Artemi Panarin early in the first period. Later in the period, Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester used his skate to deny a point-blank shot by Blackhawks center Teuvo Teravainen.

The Blackhawks entered the game 41-6-4 when scoring first and 37-0-3 when leading after two periods.

"Hurts, for sure," Kane said. "I thought we played a great game up to that point against a good team."

NOTES: Blackhawks LW Bryan Bickell played alongside C Andrew Desjardins and RW Dale Weise in his first game since Jan. 8. Chicago recalled Bickell on Wednesday from Rockford of the American Hockey League, where he scored 15 goals and dished 16 assists in 44 games. ... Blues D Jay Bouwmeester returned after missing six games because of an upper-body injury. ... A lower-body injury cost Blackhawks RW Marian Hossa his second consecutive game. Hossa has 499 career goals. ... Blues C Robby Fabbri missed his fourth straight game because of a lower-body injury. ... Blackhawks C Artem Anisimov did not play because of an upper-body injury. ... Blues C David Backes missed his second game because of a lower-body injury. Backes will be re-evaluated before the playoffs. ... Blackhawks D Duncan Keith served the fourth contest of a six-game suspension for high-sticking Minnesota Wild C Charlie Coyle.

[ 2016 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.]

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