The St. Louis Blues got the fast start they had been craving. A strong finish, too, that launched them into the post-season.
Jaden Schwartz had an early goal and an assist and Jake Allen got light work in net for the Blues, who ended a three-game home losing streak and clinched a playoff spot with a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames on Thursday night.
“It’s not fun chasing games all the time,” Schwartz said. “Got the crowd into it early and it was nice to get the first one.”
Paul Stastny, Jori Lehtera and Patrik Berglund also scored for the Blues, who reached 100 points for the third time in four seasons — despite not having top forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen. St. Louis is in second place in the Central Division with 101 points, two behind Nashville, with five games to go.
“That was impressive to watch from my end,” Allen said. “It could have been a lot higher score, but their goaltender played great.”
The Blues ended a 10-game, first-period goal drought when Schwartz scored his 25th on a backhander at 1:16.
They entered the night just 1-3-2 in their previous six games and needing a victory or a Los Angeles regulation loss to earn their fourth consecutive playoff berth.
“A big deal gets made of it,” Stastny said.
“I think we were just kind of squeezing our sticks too hard. I think we just kind of wanted to get on them.”
Sean Monahan scored his 30th goal for Calgary, with the 20-year-old becoming the youngest player in Flames history to reach that milestone.
“Obviously, it doesn’t mean much right now after a game like that,” Monahan said.
“But I guess putting the puck in the net in this league is tough, so it’s pretty cool to get 30.”
Tarasenko, among the league leaders with 36 goals and 71 points, is day-to-day with a lower-body injury sustained Monday in a 4-1 loss to Vancouver. Steen has missed two games with a knee injury, but is expected back soon.
“Those are tough guys to replace, so we’ve got to do it as a group,” Schwartz said.
Coach Ken Hitchcock said earlier in the week that he expected the full roster to be available for the playoffs. The Blues had been 3-6 in their previous nine home games.
“I said to the players, this is something we’ve built for four years,” Hitchcock said. “Got real good resolve in us. We’re going to need it for the balance of the season.”
Schwartz won a battle for the puck in the corner and beat Jonas Hiller with a backhander to end the first-period scoring drought at 2:06:56 on the Blues’ first shot of the game. Besides matching his career high in goals, he set a career best with 57 points.
Stastny’s 15th goal on a deflection from David Backes capitalized on a five-minute boarding major and game misconduct on Brandon Bollig and made it 2-0 early in the second. Bollig, who is from suburban St. Charles, was penalized for a hit that left Blues defenceman Barret Jackman bleeding from above his left eye near the end of the first period.
“The worst part is putting your team on the penalty kill for a couple of minutes and they scored on that penalty,” Bollig said. “Obviously, I would have liked to play a full game in front of my family.”
Blues defenceman Robert Bortuzzo dropped the gloves and was penalized two minutes for instigating and five for fighting, along with a 10-minute misconduct.
“I’m pretty sure he would have done the same thing, as well as a lot of guys in this locker room,” Bortuzzo said.
Lehtera’s 12th goal put it out of reach off a strong setup by Patrik Berglund at 16:45 of the third, and Berglund tacked on an empty-net goal with 2:05 left.