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Schwartz's two goals lead Blues to 3-1 win over Blackhawks

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- Jaden Schwartz could not have picked a better time for the first two-goal game of his NHL career.

Schwartz's goals led the St. Louis Blues to a 3-1 win over the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday night. The victory clinched fourth place in the Western Conference and gave the Blues home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

"It was a big game for us, we wanted home ice," Schwartz said. "We got a couple of key bounces."

The Blues will play the winner of Saturday night's late game between San Jose and Los Angeles, who were tied in the standings. The Blackhawks' first-round opponent will be the Minnesota Wild, who won Saturday night at Colorado to clinch the eighth spot.

The win capped a stretch in which the Blues won 12 of their final 15 games, going from being out of the playoffs, in ninth place, to fourth in a three-week span.

"We earned this," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I think that reality check of waking up one morning sitting there in ninth place was exactly what this team needed. Getting back to who we were had to come sooner or later, and the right people took the team over and really established our checking mindset. We were halfway everywhere and not being very effective. We really turned it around.

"We're in a great frame of mind but we are going to have to play better. We're going to need certain people to step up and I think we're going to need other people to play out of character to win this series, I think home ice is going to be something down the line in this series, which is going to be really necessary. It might be the little advantage that we are looking for. We're consistent, but you prove everything in the playoffs."

While the Blues had something to play for in the game, the result was meaningless for the Blackhawks, who had clinched the President's Trophy with the best record in the league.

As a result, the Blackhawks kept most of their stars at home, not even having them travel to St. Louis. The Chicago lineup featured seven skaters and a goalie that spent much of this season with the American Hockey League's Rockford IceHogs.

After being shut out by the Blackhawks in the two previous games this year between the two teams in St. Louis, the Blues took a 2-0 lead in the first period when Patrik Berglund and Schwartz put rebounds past goalie Carter Hutton, who was making his NHL debut.

The Berglund goal came on a delayed penalty against Chicago's Mochal Rozsival, giving the Blues an extra skater.

"You don't want to give them any confidence off the bat," Schwartz said. "We got a good start. We knew they didn't have their full lineup in but we knew they were coming to work."

The Blues made it 3-0 at 8:39 of the second period on Schwartz' second goal, which came on David Backes' second assist of the night. Schwartz had scored only five goals in his first 44 games this season.

"He has just gotten better and better," Hitchcock said of Schwartz. "He's a strong player and he's going to really be needed in the playoffs. He can strip people of pucks, and it's really good for us. His confidence is growing being able to score now, and the touch that he had in college and in juniors is starting to come back. It's a real good sign for us."

The win was the sixth in a row at home by the Blues, who will play host to the first two games of the playoffs next week. The complete schedule will be announced Sunday.

Chicago avoided being shut out for the first time this season when Ben Smith, one of the players called up from Rockford, scored at 8:23 of the third period.

Far more important to the Blackhawks than the result of the game was learning who they would meet in the first round of the playoffs. At the start of the night it could have been either Detroit, Columbus or Minnesota.

Coach Joel Quenneville stayed inside the locker room at the beginning of the third period to watch the final minute of the Wild's win, then gave the news to his players when he got back on the bench.

"They're a dangerous team and we expect a real tough series and we can't wait for it to start," he said. "They work, they play tight. Every game has been close when we faced them and we expect that as we go along. Playoff hockey, every game is going to be tight, we've got to find a way."

His players are ready.

"Every team in this league is dangerous and you got to bring it every game," said defenseman Nick Leddy. "The couple times we played them they gave us a run for our money so we'll definitely have to come prepared. They play a good team game," Leddy said. "They've got some blue line quickness and they capitalize on chances so we'll have to play good defense, team defense like we have been."

NOTES: Among the missing Chicago players were Jonathan Towes, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith. ... St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said injured forward T.J. Oshie and defenseman Barret Jackman were healthy enough to play and that he expects both to be in the lineup for the opening game of the playoffs. ... Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said he does not know if injured forward Dave Bolland or goalie Ray Emery will be ready to play by the start of the playoffs.
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