ST. LOUIS – St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock wants any advantage his team can get as it heads into the playoffs.
Goalie Brian Elliott and rookie Jaden Schwartz did their part for the cause Saturday night.
Elliott made 22 saves and Schwartz had his first two-goal game to help the Blues capture fourth place in the Western Conference by defeating the Chicago Blackhawks 3-1. St. Louis earned home-ice advantage for its first-round matchup against the Los Angeles Kings. The defending Stanley Cup Champions secured fifth place by beating San Jose.
“I think home ice, that we got tonight, is going to be something that down the line is really necessary,” Hitchcock said. “It might be the little advantage we’re looking for that helps us along the line.”
The Blues won 12 of their last 15 games.
After searching all season for a solution in the nets, the Blues settled on Elliott for the stretch run and he delivered. Elliott allowed just 16 goals in April on 305 shots (.948 save percentage). He led the league in April with 11 wins and a 1.28 goals-against average.
“It’s a great way for our team to finish,” Elliott said. “As the goalie, you’re the last line of defence. But it’s really the way the guys in front of you play and they played really well this last month.”
Elliott and the Blues were helped by facing a Chicago lineup that was devoid of almost every regular. Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane all sat out for the Blackhawks, who had already clinched the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference and will face the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs.
“It was a weird game,” Elliott said. “They didn’t obviously have their lineup in. There were a lot of guys over there trying to make an impression for next year or the future. They were trying hard and we had to battle through that.
Saturday’s setback was just the second for the Blackhawks this month (10-2-2) as Chicago finished 36-7-5 to wrap up its second Presidents’ Trophy. Chicago will face the Minnesota Wild in the first round.
“They’re a dangerous team and we expect a real tough series,” Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. “We can’t wait to get started.”
Chicago even brought up career minor league goalie Carter Hutton to make his NHL debut. Hutton, who has been in the minors since signing in 2003 with the Thunder Bay Golden Hawks, made 25 saves.
“I was maybe trying to do a little too much at the start,” Hutton said. “You’re pumped up trying to play, but once I realized I was quick enough to keep up and play the game I felt pretty good out there.”
Ben Smith, who was playing in his first game of the season, scored for Chicago.
The two-goal game was the first of Schwartz’s career. Patrik Berglund also scored for St. Louis and David Backes had two assists to give him 300 points for his career.
Berglund broke the ice with his 17th goal just 4:33 into the game when he put home a rebound of Andy McDonald’s shot. Schwartz made it 2-0 at 17:24 of the first period by swatting home the puck during a scramble in front.
Schwartz gave the Blues a three-goal cushion midway through the second period, when he broke down right wing and put a backhander past Hutton at the 8:39 mark.
NOTES: Blues defenceman Jay Bouwmeester played in 635th straight game, which is the longest iron man streak in the league. … The Blues won their last six home games; the last time St. Louis had a six-game home winning streak was Dec. 6-26, 2011.