Stars-Blues Preview

The St. Louis Blues are quickly making the transition from early

surprise to legitimate Western Conference contender.

Finally solving the Dallas Stars would prove that even more.

St. Louis looks to end a five-game losing streak against Dallas

when the teams meet Monday night at the Scottrade Center.

The Blues (20-10-4) improved to 6-1-1 in their last eight games

with a 3-2 win at Phoenix on Friday night, moving within four

points of West-leading Chicago.

“We really gutted it out,” coach Ken Hitchcock said. “Both

teams, especially in the second and third periods, really went

right at each other.”

Continuing the team’s trend of outstanding goaltending, Brian

Elliott made 24 saves. He’s 14-3-0 with a league-best 1.55

goals-against average, while teammate Jaroslav Halak is 5-1-4 with

a 1.75 GAA since a rocky start.

Halak’s strong stretch coincides with Hitchcock’s tenure. Since

firing Davis Payne on Nov. 6 and replacing him the former Stars

coach, St. Louis has gone 14-3-4 to surge into second place in the

Central Division.

Hitchcock presided over some of the best days in Dallas’

history, guiding the franchise to its first Stanley Cup title in

1999, then back to the finals the following season.

Now looking to lead St. Louis to those same heights, Hitchcock

first hopes to help end his current club’s skid against the

Stars.

The Blues didn’t get off to a very good start in the first

meeting of the season Oct. 13, allowing the first three goals and

falling 3-2. That marked the fifth straight win in the series – by

a combined margin of six goals – for Dallas, which has been playing

well despite the absence of injured goaltender Kari Lehtonen.

The Stars (20-13-1) have won five of seven and are tied with San

Jose for the Pacific Division lead after Friday’s 6-3 win over

Nashville – aided by 34 saves from Richard Bachman.

The rookie has started each game during Dallas’ hot stretch,

posting a 2.72 GAA, and coach Glen Gulutzan has been confident

riding Bachman.

“He’s had tough times in that we’re playing him in just about

every game,” Gulutzan said. “I thought he made some key saves

(Friday).”

Gulutzan said Lehtonen (groin) is expected to return before the

new year, though the exact date is unclear.

Lehtonen made 36 saves in the first meeting with the Blues,

while Loui Eriksson scored short-handed and Brenden Morrow added a

power-play goal for the eventual winner.

Eriksson, who has three goals and three assists in his last five

games versus St. Louis, had a goal and an assist Friday to give him

two goals and six assists during a five-game point streak.

Michael Ryder scored his team-leading 13th goal and added two

assists, while Jamie Benn also scored. Each has seven points during

a five-game point streak.

Matt D’Agostini scored for the Blues in the first meeting, and

he registered his first multipoint game of the season Friday with a

goal and an assist.

Stars defensemen Sheldon Souray (ankle) and Stephane Robidas

(foot) are nursing injuries, meaning Dallas may be without its two

leaders in ice time.

The Stars have won three of their last four visits to St. Louis,

but the Blues have been sharp at home all season, winning five

straight there to improve to 13-3-1.