ST. PAUL, Minn. – The St. Louis Blues are in full acceleration, and the Minnesota Wild have hit a tough skid.
Eleven days ago, they were on opposite paths. Brian Elliott was a little-used backup goalie then.
Elliott notched his third straight shutout, stretching his streak to 189 minutes, 31 seconds without a goal, and the Blues won their sixth consecutive game by beating the Wild 2-0 on Thursday night.
“Chemistry is that elusive animal that you try to catch up to,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “When you’ve got it, it feels like you’re never going to lose. When you don’t have it, it feels like you’re never going to win. … We’ve got a real good spirit, and we don’t want to let go of the rope.”
These turnarounds have been uncanny since the beginning of the month. The Blues beat the Wild on the road 4-1 on April 1 and haven’t lost since. The Wild have barely been able to score.
“We have nothing to apologize for and nothing to feel sorry about,” Wild coach Mike Yeo said. “We played, obviously, a strong team, and we played a good game.”
Roman Polak ended a 120-game streak without a goal, and Andy McDonald also scored, sending the Wild to their sixth loss in eight games. They have been shut out in three of four, the only times they have been blanked all season. The Wild have six goals in six games, and their scoreless streak is at 121 minutes, 25 seconds.
Jason Pominville’s shot hit the post in the opening minutes. An inch the other way, and this game could have gone differently.
“Sometimes those go in, sometimes those don’t,” Elliott said. “When they don’t, you’ve got to give the post a little tap and give it some love, because you can’t count on that all the time.”
The last time the Blues won at least six straight was Oct. 22-Nov. 7, 2010, a seven-game streak. They have given up five goals during the run.
St. Louis captain David Backes described the Blues’ struggles in February and March as “soul-searching” for the rhythm they enjoyed last season.
“I think we found that it’s worth putting that effort in and being exhausted and ice packs after the game if we get the results that we’ve got,” Backes said.
Elliott, who won his fifth straight decision, took over to start the second period on April 1 when starter Jaroslav Halak reinjured his groin and has been unbeatable since. An afterthought in February and March, whose struggles were obvious in that stretch when he did play, Elliott was even sent to the AHL for a two-game tuneup.
He was given only one start in a 22-game stretch for the Blues until that day Halak was hurt.
Elliott made 23 saves. He has stopped 118 of the last 122 shots he has faced. The Blues improved to 14-7-1 on the road, including five wins in a row, the third-best mark in the NHL behind conference leaders Chicago and Pittsburgh. After playing at Columbus on Friday, they have seven of their final eight games at home.
“We knew we what kind of potential we had,” Elliott said. “Things weren’t clicking at some times early on this season, but I think now everybody kind of has a role and they’re playing it to the best of their abilities.”
The Blues are in sixth place in the Western Conference with 48 points. The Wild are seventh with 46 points, but they have played one more game than the Blues. Ninth-place Phoenix has 42 points.
“There is a lot of gripping the stick really tight and a lot of tension,” Yeo said. “If we think it’s intense and emotional and it’s tough right now, where we want to get to, the big ‘P’ word, it gets a little bit more. So this is part of it, learning how to deal with it.”
Though the Wild’s offence has wilted lately after injuries to key forwards Dany Heatley and Matt Cullen, their depth on defence is a concern. Stalwart Ryan Suter, the league leader in time on ice, was noticeably missing during parts of the second and third periods. Suter played 30-plus minutes in each of the last two games. Yeo said he is confident Suter will be fine, without specifying an injury.
The Blues, on the other hand, have been given a jolt of energy on their blue line since acquiring veterans Jordan Leopold and Jay Boumeester in separate trades before the deadline. Their winning streak began the first night Leopold suited up, and Boumeester joined the next game. The defence has been stifling since then.
That is what the Wild want to get back to.
“We obviously can’t sit here and feel sorry for ourselves. We’ve got to pull up our sleeves and dig deep and find a way,” Pominville said.
NOTES: Polak’s last goal was March 30, 2011, at Detroit. … The Blues had their penalty-free streak end at 77 minutes, 5 seconds, but they have gone eight games without allowing a power-play goal, killing 19 consecutive penalties. … In home games, the Wild’s power play entered the night ranked 25th in the NHL. They are 10 for 73.