Blues-Blue Jackets Preview

The Associated Press

Considering the consistency the St. Louis Blues have displayed all season, it's somewhat surprising they haven't yet won five games in a row.

They'll try to change that Sunday in Columbus by sweeping a chippy home-and-home set between the teams at the top and bottom of the NHL standings.

St. Louis (44-18-7) has the inside track to the Presidents' Trophy thanks in part to seven different four-game winning streaks, but the Blues haven't won five straight since December 2010.

They improved to 8-1-0 in their last nine with a 4-1 home victory Saturday over the lowly Blue Jackets, who had their own string of four consecutive victories snapped.

"They just come at you," Columbus goalie Curtis Sanford said of the Blues. "They come at you in waves. They work hard from the first drop of the puck until the last buzzer. You always have to be paying attention because they have some skilled guys as well that can make some really quality plays."

While the Blues have been particularly dominant at home with a 29-4-4 mark, they went 5-1-0 on their most recent road trip, including wins at Nashville and San Jose.

That may bode well for their longest trip of the season. The seven-game trek that starts Sunday will take them all around the United States, from Chicago to Tampa Bay to Los Angeles.

Visits to Columbus (22-39-7) have been no easy task for St. Louis, which needed to rally for a 2-1 win there Nov. 27 before losing by the same score Feb. 14.

Saturday's game went more smoothly. Chris Stewart put the Blues ahead for good with a backhanded scoop midway through the second period and T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo added power-play goals as insurance for Brian Elliott.

St. Louis is 7 for 17 with the man advantage during its current four-game surge, and has snuffed out all 36 of its opponents' power plays in its last 13 contests.

"They play fast. They play big," interim Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "I think the depth on their team is one factor. I don't think (Blues coach Ken Hitchcock) is concerned with any matchups. He's kind of just rolling his lines.

"The defense they have, they do a great job of moving the puck up the ice and at key times, they're getting the saves they need from their goalies."

Jaroslav Halak is expected back in net Sunday to put his personal seven-game win streak on the line. He also won seven straight in January, but eight in a row would be a career best.

His most recent loss came in Columbus last month.

The Slovak standout has allowed 10 goals during his current run, moving into second in the NHL - behind Elliott - with a 1.86 goals-against average.

"I'm just trying to have fun out there and keep the guys in the game," Halak said Thursday after beating Anaheim 3-1.

St. Louis' defense has typically been stifling regardless of its goaltender. Saturday's game was the fourth straight in which its opponent scored exactly one goal, and the Blues improved to 36-0-0 when scoring at least three.

Hitchcock still wants more.

"I think we have another gear that we can play at," the St. Louis coach said. "We're playing nice right now. I think we can go a lot higher than this."

Each of the four games between these teams has included at least one fight, with a pair Saturday as they combined for 58 penalty minutes.