Torrid Blues extend winning ways

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ken Hitchcock’s surging St. Louis Blues added a special one to their recent collection of victories.

David Backes scored a power-play goal in the third period Sunday night to lift St. Louis past the Columbus Blue Jackets 2-1, giving Hitchcock the win in his first game against his former club.

Hitchcock, the winningest coach all-time for Columbus, guided the Blue Jackets to their only playoff berth in 2009 before being fired a season later.

The game wasn’t as emotional for Hitchcock as it was playing against Dallas, which he coached to a Stanley Cup title in 1999, but it certainly had meaning.

“There’s a lot of players on the other side I’m close with,” he said. “I have a healthy respect for those players because I would say 10 of those guys went through the wall for me.”

And it was another former member of the Columbus organization that began to change the tide for St. Louis. Kris Russell, traded to the Blues earlier this month, scored with eight seconds left in the middle period to tie it.

“I thought the goal in the second period helped us a lot,” said Hitchcock, who has guided the Blues to a 7-1-2 mark since replacing Davis Payne on Nov. 6. “But more than anything the grind that we put on in the third period, we got in on a big body game, and that really helped us.”

Brian Elliott made 23 saves for the Blues to move to 10-1-0 this season.

Derek Dorsett scored, Curtis Sanford made 27 saves — losing for the first time in six starts — and Columbus had its five-game points streak snapped.

“It was almost like a playoff game,” Sanford said. “It was like a chess match. Their special teams came out on top. That’s usually the difference in these games.”

Tied at 1 entering the final period, the Blues’ league-worst power play came through at 7:49. T.J. Oshie flicked a backhand pass from the left edge of the crease to a wide-open Backes for his ninth goal of the season. It was St. Louis’ first man-advantage tally in six games.

Columbus had plenty of chances throughout, including a power play of its own just a few minutes later, but a hooking penalty by Fedor Tyutin — his third minor infraction of the game — negated the opportunity.

“That was a 200-foot game where you had to battle for every inch,” Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel said. “We had a lot of chances to actually score and we didn’t. They certainly capitalized on a couple of mistakes that we made.”

Elliot was steady holding the Blues’ lead, stopping Antoine Vermette on a 2-on-1, shorthanded break with just over 5 minutes left. Then with Sanford off for an extra attacker, Elliott blocked Rick Nash’s doorstep stab.

In a mostly tight-checking game, played cautiously early, Dorsett broke in alone, compliments of a Samuel Pahlsson steal at center ice, and beat Elliott at 5:06 of the second period to put Columbus on the board first.

Later in the period, the Blue Jackets marched up the ice on a 3-on-1 after a miscue by Barret Jackman. Nash slid the puck to Carter, but his shot was blocked by a sprawling Roman Polak.

Skating four aside, Steen shook his coverage and powered around the right side, strong-arming a shot on goal. His rebound off Sanford came to Russell near the crease for the quick putback.

The best scoring chance of the first period came off the stick of Rick Nash on a semi-breakaway, stopped by Elliott.

Notes: Russell was traded Nov. 11 to the Blues in exchange for D Nikita Nikitan. Russell has three goals and an assist, while Nikita has five assists in eight games each with their new teams. ... Hitchcock has posted the best 10-game start for a new Blues coach in franchise history, ahead of Joel Quenneville, Red Berenson, Andy Murray, Mike Keenan, and Al Arbour.

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