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Blues claim Central Division lead

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- T.J. Oshie and Vladimir Tarasenko had a little unfinished business they wanted to complete Saturday for the St. Louis Blues before getting on a plane headed for the Winter Olympics.

They had to work a little longer than planned but finally got the job done -- lifting the Blues into first place in the Central Division as the Olympic break begins.

The two right wings scored in the shootout and goalie Brian Elliott stopped both Winnipeg shots to give the Blues a 4-3 victory. They have 84 points, the same as the Chicago Blackhawks, but they have won more games and have played three fewer games than Chicago.

"It's nice to be on top right now, and now we can go and take care of business overseas," said Oshie, who is one of three St. Louis players who will be on Team USA in the games and one of nine, including Tarasenko, who will be playing in the Olympics. Tarasenko is on the Russian team.

"It was a goal. Obviously the end goal is what we're looking for. It doesn't mean too much right now, but that was a small goal we had, getting to first place before we hit the break. And we found a way to do that."

It was the fourth consecutive Blues game decided in overtime or a shootout and raised their record to 9-3 in shootouts.

"There is a calmness on the bench," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "That's what is intriguing for me. Being in other situations where you are just hoping, but there is a real calmness on the bench that first of all we can go deep because we've got a lot of people who are good at it down the ladder, but we've also got those three guys who are pretty golden for us. We know we're going to get a goal from one of the three for sure."

That calmness comes from knowing that the combination of the Blues' usual top three shooters -- left wing Alexander Steen, Oshie and Tarasenko -- have been very good in those situations. Oshie has converted 7 of 10 shootout chances and Tarasenko is 3 for 5. They both scored Saturday after Steen's shot was stopped by goalie Al Montoya.

"It's a fun part of the game," Oshie said. "You've been doing that at the end of practice with goalies since you were a kid and I've always had fun with it. I try to switch it up. I know they watch video just like we do, and I just try to be unpredictable out there."

Oshie admits there is an extra level of confidence that the Blues can win when the game gets to a shootout.

"We practice it so much I think our goaltenders get a lot of shots and different looks," he said. "And, for us, everyone has a couple of moves that they use, and we're very confident that if the first guy doesn't score the next guy is going to get one."

Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice was more concerned with how his team played in regulation and overtime than with what happened in the shootout, and he liked what he saw.

"We played a hell of a game," Maurice said. "We were down three times and battled back. We got a big power-play goal and a fantastic penalty kill. We played a real solid game. I don't put any stock into a shootout deciding how we play. We played a great game.

"We worked hard enough and played well enough that we just as easily could have won that game. I'm proud of the way we played."

The Jets, who got two goals from center Mark Scheifele, tied the game 3-3 on a power-play goal by defenseman Duastin Byfuglien at 13:43 of the third period while Steen was serving a minor hooking penalty.

"For it to come down to a shootout is a tough way to end it," Scheifele said. "We know we can play with every team in this league, and to lose in a shootout to a team like that is obviously good, but we know we could have won that game."

The Blues got regulation goals from left wing Brenden Morrow, center Derek Roy and left wing Jaden Schwartz.

The win improved the Blues' record to 39-12-6 at the break.

"I told the players tonight when we come back (after the Olympics) March and April is for them," Hitchcock said. "We've played awfully well, really resilient all year. We've responded to challenges all year, but it's really going to get dialed up and our players recognize that."

NOTES: St. Louis D Jordan Leopold suffered an injury to his right leg during the first period and did not return. The extent of the injury was not immediately announced. Morrow suffered a cut to his face when he was hit by the high stick from center Olli Jokinen in the second period, but he was able to return. ... LW Vladimir Tarasenko was back in the St. Louis lineup after missing Thursday night's game because of the flu. ... With six goals and 34 assists, Alex Pietrangelo became the first defenseman in Blues history to record 40 points in each of his first three full seasons. ... D Barret Jackman appeared in his 700th game with the Blues, becoming the fourth player in team history to reach that milestone. ... After the game, the nine Blues headed for the Olympics flew to New York, where they will join other NHL players on a charter flight Sunday to Sochi. ... The Jets have four players headed to the Olympics. ... D Paul Postma rejoined the Jets after a four-game conditioning stint with the St. John's IceCaps of the AHL. ... The Blues assigned RW Dmitrij Jaskin to Chicago of the AHL.

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