Surging Blues try to extend series win streak over Panthers

( - The St. Louis Blues got their offense going last time out and hope to keep things on track Sunday evening with a sixth straight victory over the Florida Panthers.

Held to three goals or fewer in five straight, the Blues erupted offensively in a 6-3 decision over the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday. Alex Steen paced the attack with a goal and two assists, while David Backes and T.J. Oshie had a goal and a helper each.

Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny and Vladimir Tarasenko also scored to keep St. Louis surging, with the club now 14-2-1 since Jan. 3 following its second straight win. Brian Elliott did his part as well by coming up with 26 saves.

"They really took it to us in our building, so we knew we needed a great performance to have a chance tonight," said Backes, referring to a 2-1 overtime win over the visiting Bolts on Feb. 3. "We got that from a lot of guys."

The victory was the 693rd in the coaching career of Ken Hitchcock, with the St. Louis bench boss moving past Dick Irvin for fourth place on the NHL's all- time list.

The Blues are four points ahead of the Chicago Blackhawks for second place in the Central Division and are six points behind the front-running Nashville Predators, who lead the NHL with 82 points.

St. Louis' offensive surge comes at a good time as it carries a five-game series winning streak over Florida into this meeting. The Blues have outscored the Panthers 21-4 over that stretch, winning 4-2 at home on Dec. 8 to extend the run.

Elliott is 4-2-0 with a 2.61 goals against average and .908 save percentage in six meetings with the Panthers, including five starts.

The Panthers are failing to make up ground in the wild card race as they trail the Boston Bruins by four points for that second playoff spot. Florida lost for the third time in four games on Friday, falling 2-0 to the Dallas Stars.

Al Montoya stopped 26-of-28 shots for the Panthers, who were coming off a 2-1 setback in Minnesota on Thursday. They had plenty of shots in Friday's game, but saw Stars' goaltender Kari Lehtonen make 37 saves.

"The guys worked hard and competed hard all night. A couple of mistakes cost us in the first," Florida head coach Gerard Gallant said. "... I wouldn't say we didn't generate offense, but we didn't generate great scoring chances."

The Panthers lost defenseman Dmitry Kulikov late in the game as he was whistled for a major penalty and game misconduct for a low hit on Tyler Seguin that left the Stars forward injured and unable to finish the contest.

"It was the right call. It was a five-minute game misconduct, so there's no issue," Gallant said.

Kulikov was offered an in-person hearing by the NHL Department of Player Safety, which the defenseman waived. His hearing will be done by phone on Monday and could land him a suspension of six or more games.

Veteran blueliner Shane O'Brien was recalled from the minors by Florida on Saturday.

The Panthers were shut out for only the second time this season and are likely to turn back to Roberto Luongo in net tonight. He is 15-12-1 in his career against the Blues with a 2.34 GAA, .906 save percentage and three shutouts.