ST. PAUL, Minn. – Cal Clutterbuck scored for the third time in two nights, and the Minnesota Wild beat St. Louis 3-1 on Saturday while sending Blues goalie Jaroslav Halak to an early exit.
Halak was pulled for Ty Conklin midway through the second period after Kyle Brodziak's goal made it 3-0 Minnesota. Antti Miettinen also scored a power-play goal for the Wild, who got another strong start by goalie Niklas Backstrom and outshot the Blues 31-25.
Patrik Berglund scored for St. Louis, but that wasn't nearly enough.
Clutterbuck, also the NHL leader in hits, leads the team with a career-high 17 goals.
Playing a home-and-home, back-to-back weekend set with the Blues, the Wild stretched their home winning streak to a season-high four games. St. Louis fell to 7-3-1 on the second night of back-to-back games this season.
Minnesota raised its record to 9-2 in its last 11 games, with seven of those victories in regulation and a plus-17 goal differential — excluding shootouts — during that stretch. The Wild also improved to 17-7-1 over the past 25 games.
Outshot the night before in St. Louis 35-27, the Wild answered every Blues goal in regulation with one of their own and won a nine-round shootout. This time, they had a stranglehold on the pace, the flow and the direction of the game, except for a five-minute surge by St. Louis started by Berglund's goal late in the second period.
The Blues were outshot 12-5 in the first period and nearly spent more time trading punches and shoves with the Wild over the feisty first two periods — Clutterbuck, Cam Barker and Brad Staubitz were the primary tusslers for the home team — than they did on the attack. As the final horn sounded, both teams got in one last fight with David Backes and Clayton Stoner dropping the gloves.
Backstrom, who has allowed only 10 goals in his last seven starts since returning from a hip injury, gave the Wild another calm and controlled performance. He improved to 18-12-3, even surviving a stretch of about a minute midway through the second period without his stick with the Blues on the attack.
Greg Zanon's high-sticking call on T.J. Oshie set up a power play for the Blues and a slick 2-on-1 goal for Berglund off a pass from Oshie with 5:12 left before the second intermission. That stopped a streak of 17 straight penalties killed by the Wild, spanning five-plus games.
The Blues picked up the pace over the remainder of the period, but they couldn't turn it into another score and lost some of that momentum once the final frame began.
Speaking of momentum, the Blues would love to get back the charge they had in the season's first month when they went 9-2-1 before their rash of injuries spread over the roster. Oshie's return ahead of schedule from a broken left ankle was a big lift, and the recent return of Andy McDonald from a concussion was another key development.
In the super-tight West race, there is plenty of room for them to finish strong and sneak into the playoffs. But with these back-to-back losses to the Wild, one of their primary competitors for a spot, and the continued absence of David Perron to a concussion the Blues are in an urgent situation even though they've played fewer games than every team ahead of them in the standings.
NOTES: This was the Wild's annual "Hockey Day Minnesota," a made-for-TV event featuring as undercards two outdoor high school games four hours by car away in Moorhead and a college contest between the Gophers and Denver in Minneapolis. Three of the Blues' young stars, Backes (Spring Lake Park), Erik Johnson (Bloomington) and Oshie (Warroad), are Minnesotans. Backes also played his college hockey at Minnesota State in Mankato. All three of them were on the power play together late in the first period, right before Clutterbuck's goal. ... Berglund has three goals in his last four games.