Tarasenko, Steen return, Blues look playoff-ready against Wild
Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen looked as if they're ready for the playoffs.
The pair had a lot to do with the St. Louis Blues finishing the regular season strong.
''This is the team we want to take on the journey,'' coach Ken Hitchcock said after a 4-2 victory over the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.
''We're healthy and we'll be 100 percent going into the playoffs, which is completely different from last year.''
Tarasenko and Steen returned from injuries with two points apiece, fueling a dominant second period.
''I didn't expect nothing,'' Tarasenko said. ''I just wanted to play this game and try to be ready for the playoffs. Everything feels good.''
Jori Lehtera scored twice and Brian Elliott was solid in net for the Central Division champions, who thwarted Minnesota's bid for an NHL-record 13th consecutive road victory.
Marco Scandella and Zach Parise scored for the Wild, who allowed two or fewer goals in each of the wins that matched the 2005-06 Red Wings for the NHL's longest road winning streak. Minnesota, which pulled goalie Devan Dubnyk before the third period trailing 3-1, has the first wild-card spot in the West.
The Wild entered with an NHL-best 54 points in 35 games since the All-Star break and a 28-8-3 record since Jan. 15.
''We dug ourselves out, found a way,'' right wing Jason Pominville said. ''Obviously, we would have liked to have played a better game, but I think our run is something we've got to be proud of.''
Tarasenko missed five games and Steen six with undisclosed lower body injuries. The Blues had been scuffling for goals, totaling four in the previous three games.
''We played a good game, moving the puck well, supporting each other,'' Steen said. ''It wasn't necessarily a playoff-type game.
''It'll be different come Wednesday or Thursday when we start.''
The Blues won five of their last six and could take the top seed in the Western Conference if Anaheim lost or won in a shootout at Arizona later Saturday. St. Louis finished with 111 points last season, two more than this season, but ended on a six-game losing streak and was eliminated in the first round by Chicago.
''We're not comparing anything to any other previous years,'' Steen said. ''It's just focus on what we're doing right now.''
Both teams rested several key players, including both captains. David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk were among the Blues scratches while the Wild sat forward Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter.
''It was a little different,'' Dubnyk said. ''You could tell there was a lot of new pairings and combinations on the ice.
''I still thought we played pretty well, there's just a couple of lapses that ended up in them making some nice plays.''
Elliott got just his second start in the past six games and will be the backup entering the playoffs behind Jake Allen.
Tarasenko scored his 37th goal and added an assist while Steen had two assists - all four points coming in a stretch of 6:04 of the second period in which the teams combined for four goals. Dmitrij Jaskin opened the scoring for St. Louis.
Jaskin's 13th goal, and second in two games, opened the scoring at 13:27 of the second on a 3-on-2 break. Tarasenko's 37th came off a cross-ice setup from Steen with two minutes to go in the second.
Scandella answered for Minnesota with his 11th goal 51 seconds later before Lehtera's 13th, off a nifty backhand pass from Steen, restored the two-goal cushion just 40 seconds later.
Minnesota, which took the season series 2-1-1, blocked seven shots in the first period and held the Blues to season-low one shot.
Notes: The Wild scored 226 goals, matching the franchise best from 2005-06. ... The Blues wore Cardinals jerseys during warmups, a nod to the cross-town franchise that plays their home opener on Monday. ... Blues D Robert Bortuzzo (upper body) returned after a two-game absence. ... Before the last two games, Jaskin had mustered one assist in the previous 16 games. ... Pietrangelo played 81 games and was a healthy scratch in the finale for the second straight season. ... Attendance of 19,155 was the Blues' 23rd sellout.