Red-hot Blues battle Blue Jackets in Columbus
(AP) -- The St. Louis Blues have been getting stellar goaltending from Brian Elliott, but it's rookie Jake Allen's turn to be between the pipes.
Allen is expected to start Friday night as the Blues look for a seventh straight victory when they visit the Columbus Blue Jackets.
St. Louis (23-14-2) is riding its longest win streak since a seven-game run Oct. 22-Nov. 7, 2010. The last three victories have been mainly because of Elliott, who made 23 saves for his third straight shutout in Thursday's 2-0 win at Minnesota.
The Blues' surge gives them 48 points in the crowded Western Conference standings. That's six more than ninth-place Phoenix and seven more than Columbus (17-16-7) and Dallas.
"Chemistry is that elusive animal that you try to catch up to," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When you've got it, it feels like you're never going to lose. When you don't have it, it feels like you're never going to win. ... We've got a real good spirit, and we don't want to let go of the rope."
This is the finale of a four-game trip and Hitchcock is planning to use Allen against the Blue Jackets in the second half of back-to-back games.
That move worked last Friday in the same scenario when Allen made 26 saves in a 2-1 home win over Columbus.
The Blues can sweep the season series from the Blue Jackets for the first time, also winning 2-1 on Feb. 23 and 4-1 on Jan. 31.
Captain David Backes has a team-high four points in the season series for St. Louis.
Columbus is three points behind Detroit for the West's final playoff spot. Regardless of whether the Blue Jackets reach the postseason, the franchise could finish with its best season since Hitchcock guided it to its lone playoff berth in 2008-09.
Led by Sergei Bobrovsky's 2.05 goals-against average, the low-scoring Blue Jackets acquired Marian Gaborik from the New York Rangers on April 3 and feel the future is bright.
"It's great for our young players to be playing big games like this because it is at a different speed, a different intensity," coach Todd Richards said. "To have to play at these levels, to play against these elite teams, is a great teaching experience."
Columbus avoided a third straight loss Tuesday, as Bobrovsky made 30 saves for his fourth shutout - all coming in the last 15 games - in a 4-0 victory over San Jose.
This contest is critical for the Blue Jackets, who start a six-game trip after Friday.
"We have eight games left," said Gaborik, who has five points in four games with his new club. "We're going to keep fighting till the end."
Gaborik was one of four different goal scorers against the Sharks for Columbus, which totaled one goal over its two previous games.
"We want to leave everything out there every game," Gaborik said. "Hopefully we can make it interesting to the end and fight for the playoffs."
St. Louis has won 10 of the last 12 meetings overall.