After mustering one goal in his first 22 games, Backes has scored two goals twice in his last three contests. The six-foot-three, 200-pound forward was a presence in front of the net in a 5-3 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night. “I’m getting a little more confidence, realizing if I get the puck anywhere near the net if I shoot it’s got a chance to go in,” Backes said. “It’s awesome.”
Jay McClement had a goal and an assist and Manny Legace made 33 saves for the Blues, who have won three in a row. St. Louis, mired in last place overall earlier in the season, is 18-9-5 since Andy Murray became coach in mid-December. The Blues have inched 10 points behind the Wild for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
The Blues missed their first chance to make a dent against the Wild just after the all-star break, losing 5-2 on Jan. 30 and missing a chance to shave the deficit to six.
“We have to win a lot of games to get in the playoffs,” captain Dallas Drake said. “We have to beat everybody, we have to get on a huge run.”
After Marian Gaborik tied the score 2-2 with 1.8 seconds left in the opening period, St. Louis pulled away with three goals in the second.
“To come out of it 2-2 it was kind of gloomy,” Legace said. “Did they ever come out and respond.”
Adam Hall and Pavol Demitra also scored for the Wild, who had won eight of their previous 10 road games but missed a chance to take the lead in the Northwest Division. Minnesota entered the night one point behind both Vancouver and Calgary.
Backes has six goals in 27 games, including four in two games – with another two-goal game Wednesday at Columbus. He tapped a rebound shot past Wild goalie Niklas Backstrom on a power play to put the Blues ahead 2-0 midway through the first period and scored on another rebound effort off Lee Stempniak’s slap shot to make it 4-2 at 7:40 of the second.
Gaborik has five goals and three assists in the last four games, and his 19th of the season had given the Wild life late in the second period. Off a set play, Gaborik busted through the Blues’ defence to beat Legace with a high shot.
Instead of folding, the Blues scored three second-period goals at even strength. Stempniak assisted on two of the goals, and Keith Tkachuk had an empty-net goal on a rebound after the puck trickled away from Backstrom on a save for his 20th goal and a 5-2 lead at 16:37 of the second.
The Wild outshot St. Louis 14-4 in the third, but got only Demitra’s 18th with about 3 minutes left.
Backstrom, who had been 6-1-2 in his previous nine starts, made 21 saves and was pulled in favour of Josh Harding to start the third period. He was victimized by Jamal Mayers’ innocent-looking wrist shot for a short-handed goal to start the scoring, and failed to cover the post with his skate on McClement’s go-ahead goal early in the second.
“He played so good lately for us and I felt we didn’t give him support at all,” coach Jacques Lemaire said. “There were a lot of scrambles in front of the net and our defencemen, some of them, were not sharp.”
The Wild won 4-1 at Nashville on Saturday night, but are 3-5-2 when playing on the second consecutive night. They were dragged down in the first period by six penalties.
“Maybe our belly was full from last night,” Lemaire said. “You beat a great team and you feel that things will be easy the next day, but they’re not.”
Notes: The Wild lost for the first time when Gaborik scores, entering the game 12-0-1. … The Blues have scored the first goal in 20 of 32 games under Murray. … St. Louis has scored five or more goals seven times, all but two coming under Murray. … The Blues beat the Wild for only the second time in the last eight.