ST. LOUIS – A week ago, Jaroslav Halak couldn’t wait to get off the ice and find a place to hide. He’d been no relief at all after replacing Brian Elliott in net in New Jersey and was embarrassed along with the rest of St. Louis Blues.
“I can speak for myself: I was hoping the game was over after the second period,” Halak said.
The bad taste is all gone now.
Alexander Steen gave the Blues the early lead and Halak earned his fourth shutout of the season and was the game’s first star in a 3-0 victory over the Devils on Tuesday night.
New Jersey had 23 shots, the same as it needed in a 7-1 rout at home last week, but, this time, had nothing to show for it.
“It was weird, going to New York and getting back and playing Jersey again,” Halak said. “It was a good thing we got it over with and we didn’t have to wait.”
Brenden Morrow added a power-play goal midway through the third period and Maxim Lapierre scored into an empty net with 2:08 left. Patrik Berglund assisted on both third-period scores.
“I think the more we learn from those types of games the better, because that’s never a good recipe when you’re chasing games,” Morrow said. “Good teams stay with their structure, stay with their system and let that roll over and get back into the game that way, and I think we learned our lesson there.”
The Blues have won three straight and moved a point ahead of the Blackhawks, who played later at Calgary, for the Central Division lead.
St. Louis cleaned up on defence a week after getting whipped in New Jersey when Halak allowed four goals in 14 shots after relieving Elliott. Halak has started all three games since that setback, allowing a total of four goals.
He’s 7-1-1 in his last nine starts with a 1.77 goals-against average and .940 save percentage.
The Devils mustered little offensively coming off a 7-3 loss to the Rangers at Yankee Stadium on Sunday. They were shut out for the sixth time, although this was the first time in 35 games.
“Well, we didn’t have many chances to score, but they played great tight defence and we had nothing,” said forward Jaromir Jagr, held to two shots. “We had chances but not 100 per cent chances.”
The Devils have the NHL’s second-best power play but were 0 for 5 against Halak.
“Two totally different games,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “Both goaltenders were very good. I don’t think that was the case last week in New Jersey.”
The Blues are an NHL-best 17-3-1 against the Eastern Conference, and 9-0 at home.
Steen was the NHL’s second-leading goal scorer in late December before missing 11 games with a concussion. He’s been back six games and has a point in the last five with three goals and four assists.
“He is a very dynamic player,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “For him to get to the elite level where he was before, I think he just has to learn to get back to the right balance between reward and risk.
“He had an unbelievable balance of reward and risk going before he got hurt.”
Halak and Brian Elliott have combined for seven shutouts this season. Halak has won four straight starts with two shutouts this month, and holds the franchise mark with 20 shutouts in four seasons.
Morrow deflected a waist-high shot past Cory Schneider for his eighth goal and first point in nine games, capitalizing on a tripping call against Bryce Salvador.
St. Louis killed off Roman Polak’s high-sticking penalty just nine seconds into the game, and then took the lead on Steen’s 27th goal at 3:25. Steen scored his 100th goal in six seasons with St. Louis scoring from the slot on an odd-man rush with assists by Jaden Schwartz and David Backes.
Alex Pietrangelo took a holding call foiling a break-in by Stephen Gionta late in the period and, again, the St. Louis penalty killers came through. The Blues’ Vladimir Sobotka hit the goal post on an odd-man rush with just under five minutes to go.
The Devils played in St. Louis for the first time since Nov. 20, 2010, a 3-2 Blues victory.
NOTES: NFL Hall of Famer Dan Dierdorf, who recently retired from broadcasting, wore a Blues jersey with his number 72 while watching from a private box. … New Jersey is 5-16-3 when trailing after two periods. … Jagr had totalled two goals and four assists the previous four games. … Steen has seven game-winners in 41 games this season. The previous two seasons, he totalled six game-winners in 83 games.