CHICAGO (AP) The battle for the top spot in the Western Conference was almost over. Then Vladimir Tarasenko stepped up for the St. Louis Blues.
Tarasenko scored his second goal of the game at 3:37 of overtime, and the Blues cooled off the Chicago Blackhawks with a 2-1 victory Thursday night in a possible playoff preview.
St. Louis (49-23-9) won for the eighth time in nine games to remain tied with Dallas for the Central Division lead. The Stars, who finished off a 4-2 victory over Colorado right before Tarasenko’s winner, own the first tiebreaker heading into their season finale against Nashville on Saturday, while the Blues host NHL-leading Washington in their finale on the same night.
“We want home ice the whole way,” said Brian Elliott, who made 24 saves. “Obviously, Washington is going to win that. But in our conference, in our division there, if we can get that home-ice advantage, that’s a big thing. Especially if we get past the first couple of series.”
Tarasenko also tied it with 1:16 left in regulation with a laser from the left circle on a rebound attempt off a shot fromKevin Shattenkirk. His team-best 39th goal was an easy one, with Alex Pietrangelo making a nice pass to set up an open net in overtime.
“I was calling for it and thanks, Petro,” Tarasenko said.
The Blackhawks are locked into the third spot in the Central and will face the Blues or the Stars in the first round.
“Hurts, hurts for sure,” forward Patrick Kane said. “I thought we played a great game up to that point against a good team. You give one up with 1:15 left and then you’re in a position where you have to score in that 1:15 to basically put yourself in a good position to try and get home ice. It obviously didn’t happen.”
Elliott made three stops in overtime. He is 11-0 in his last 13 games, matching a franchise record for consecutive wins.
“You just try to feel good and just play and take your mind out of it and let your body work and trust in your instincts and preparation and just go out and play,” he said. “That’s the mindset.”
Moments after a pair of penalties sent off a player from each team in the second, Toews made the most of the extra space on the ice. The captain skated into the left circle and sent a shot between Elliott’s legs at 12:40.
Toews’ 28th goal of the season extended his points streak to six games. He had a goal and two assists in Tuesday night’s 6-2 victory against Arizona.
Before Toews put Chicago in front, the Blackhawks had been stymied by Elliott all night long. The goaltender also got some help in the first when Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester blocked a shot by Teuvo Teravainen with most of the net uncovered.
Elliott also stopped a penalty shot for Andrew Ladd with 4:58 left in the third.
The Blues struggled to generate many prime opportunities. A streaking Paul Stastny got to the net early in the third, but was unable to corral an airborne pass in time to get off a good shot. Darling stopped Magnus Paajarvi‘s rebound attempt with about three minutes left, and Blackhawks defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk then swept away the loose puck from the goalmouth.
Bouwmeester returned for St. Louis after missing six games with an upper-body injury, but rookie Robby Fabbri was sidelined for the fourth straight game with a lower-body injury. Forward David Backes and goaltender Jake Allen also were held out with lower-body injuries, but could return for the playoffs.
The Blackhawks played without Crawford and forwards Artem Anisimov, Marian Hossa and Andrew Shaw due to injuries. Duncan Keith missed the game due to a suspension that runs through the playoff opener.
“I don’t mind the way we’re playing here,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “We’re missing five guys in a game I thought we played pretty good and did some good things in a lot of ways, in a lot of areas. I didn’t mind it.”
Crawford and Hossa participated in the morning skate, and it looks as if Crawford will return for Saturday’s season finale at Columbus for his first game since a 5-0 loss to the Kings on March 14.
If Hossa doesn’t return against the Blue Jackets, he is expected to be ready for the start of the playoffs. Shaw and Anisimov also are expected to be ready for the start of the postseason next week.
NOTES: The 39 goals for Tarasenko are a career high. He had 37 last season. … Chicago went 26-12-3 at home. … The Blackhawks killed off two power-play opportunities for the Blues and have killed off 21 straight overall.