Streaking Blues set for Central Division showdown

( - The first place St. Louis Blues will look to separate themselves a bit more from the Colorado Avalanche this afternoon in a 1 p.m. showdown. The Blues have won five of their last six games. That includes Thursday's 2-1 triumph over the Buffalo Sabres, one that gave St. Louis a franchise-best 52nd victory of the season.

The Blues also are tied with the Bruins for the most points in the NHL with a game in hand. Boston hosts the Philadelphia Flyers this afternoon.

Brian Elliott made the start as Ryan Miller got a night off despite the Blues taking on his former Sabres club. Elliott was solid with 24 saves, having a shutout bid spoiled with under a minute to play.

"I've been around Brian (Elliott) for three years, this is the best I've ever seen him play," St. Louis head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's playing terrific."

Maxim Lapierre and Brenden Morrow each tallied goals, with the latter's coming with 1:52 left to play to help the Western Conference-leading Blues improve to 13-3-1 since they acquired Miller from Buffalo on Feb. 28.

The Blues also played without leading scorer Alex Steen (upper body) and defenseman Barret Jackman (lower body), with blueliner Jordan Leopold getting into the lineup for the first time since Feb. 8. Steen, who has 33 goals and 60 points this season, and Jackman are questionable for today's game.

The Blues will visit the Blackhawks on Sunday and Miller is set to return to net today. He is, however, just 1-3-3 in his career when facing the Avalanche with a 3.21 GAA.

Today marks the fourth and final regular-season meeting between these clubs, with the Blues having won four in a row in the series.

St. Louis recorded a 7-3 victory in the most recent home matchup on Nov. 14, its fifth straight as the host against Colorado.The Colorado Avalanche can make the race for the Central Division crown just a bit more interesting on Saturday afternoon when they try to match their longest winning streak of the season in a battle with the first-place St. Louis Blues.

The Avs have won five in a row to post their longest string of consecutive victories since Oct. 19-Nov. 2, the second of two six-game winning streaks this season.

Colorado's run has upped its season point total to 104, seven back of St. Louis' 111 points with six games to play for both clubs. The Avalanche also are one point ahead of the third-place Chicago Blackhawks with two games in hand.

Defenseman Tyson Barrie came up with a clutch performance on Thursday versus the New York Rangers, scoring the game-tying goal with 51.4 seconds left in regulation before notching the lone tally of the shootout.

Colorado goaltender Semyon Varlamov stopped Mats Zuccarello, Martin St. Louis and Brad Richards in the shootout to secure the victory for the Avalanche. He improved to 39-14-5 this season with a 2.47 goals against average in 60 games (57 starts) this season.

Varlamov also matched current head coach Patrick Roy's franchise record for most home victories in a season with 24, set in 2000-01 in Colorado's Stanley Cup-winning season.

"In my opinion (Varlamov) should be a candidate for the Hart Trophy. That's how high I think of what he's doing," Roy said.

Andre Benoit scored in the second period as Colorado recorded its 49th victory of the season, tied for the second most in team history. The aforementioned 2000-01 squad logged 52 victories in the regular season.

After earning high praise from his coach, Varlamov is slated to start today's game as well as Sunday's home contest versus the Pittsburgh Penguins. He is 4-4-1 lifetime versus the Blues with a 2.16 GAA.


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