Hitchcock'd. Blues 1, Penguins 0

Justin K. Aller

No time, no space, no chance.

David Backes scored midway through the final frame and Brian Elliott turned away each of the Penguins' few scoring chances to stifle the Penguins en route to a 1-0 victory Sunday in Pittsburgh.

The Penguins have had trouble with Ken Hitchcock's St. Louis club over the past few years. St. Louis avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season in topping the Penguins, who remain six points behind the Boston Bruins in the East.

Pittsburgh, who on Saturday potted three power play goals en route to a 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, were held in check on the man-advantage.

The Pens went 0-for on five power play opportunities, including an extended 5-on-3 to begin the second period.

Even given a fresh sheet of typically awful CEC ice to work with, the Pens couldn't convert on the two-man advantage.

"We still want to do a better job in these games and win them," Crosby said. "We have done a pretty good job of being patient when we've been in these kinds of games."

In spite of the loss, Pittsburgh played a strong game at five-on-five, matching the intensity and tight-checking style of the Blues in a game that had a very postseason feel about it.

Evgeni Malkin had another strong game Sunday, collecting seven shots on goal while drawing a number of penalties. Malkin had six points in two games before Sunday's contest, but it was a third-period minor for high-sticking that put the Pens on their heels.

St. Louis collected their game-winner just after Malkin's penalty had expired.

St. Louis retained its lead on the Western Conference with the win and moved back into a tie with the Bruins atop the NHL points race. Since acquiring Ryan Miller and Steve Ott at the trade deadline, the Blues have overtaken the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central and everyone else in the West in their bid for the President's Trophy and first playoff seed in the West.

Saturday, they became the first team to clinch a playoff berth.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, still holds a 14-point lead over the surging Flyers in the Metropolitan Division. However, the Penguins have looked much more like a team wearing down than one finding its wheels in time for the stretch run.

Pittsburgh is 5-4-1 in its last ten and seems to be in a bit of a win one, lose one pattern of late. The Penguins have dealt nicely with their league-leading man-games lost to injury problems this year, but the absences seem to be taking their toll on the rest of the healthy, if not beleaguered, players.

That's becoming very apparent on the blue line, where do-it-all rookie defender Olli Maatta seems to be taxed physically while the rest of the team's defenders deal with new pairings and irregular assignments.

The Penguins will have Monday to collect themselves before taking on another tight-checking western conference team in Phoenix Tuesday.

Audio courtesy Ali Doyle & Pittsburgh Penguins.

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