PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma wants his high-powered team to get used to playing tight-checking playoff hockey before the postseason begins next month.
St. Louis doesn't need the lure of the playoffs as an excuse to get stingy. The space-eating Blues have been doing it all year, and it showed in a taut 1-0 road win on Sunday.
Frustrating the NHL's best power play during a pivotal two-man disadvantage at the start of the second period, the Blues continued their mastery of the Eastern Conference by beating the Penguins the way they've beaten so many teams this season.
The room to maneuver that Pittsburgh stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin usually enjoy disappeared as St. Louis clogged passing lanes and dictated play defensively.
David Backes deflected a slap shot by Alexander Steen past Marc-Andre Fleury midway through the third period for the game's only goal and Brian Elliott stopped 33 shots to pick up his fourth shutout of the season as the Blues moved three points clear of Chicago in the race for the best record in the Western Conference.
"When you're in a tight game like that against a good team, the guys kind of rose up to the challenge and I tried to make a couple saves and get the rebounds out of the zone and they did the rest," Elliott said.
Fleury made 26 saves for the Penguins but watched Backes' deflection carom off his glove and into the net just after a penalty against Malkin expired.
"I just saw the guy raise his stick for the shot," Fleury said. "There were a bunch of people in front. I tried to cover some net but I didn't see it go in.
St. Louis bounced back from a one-sided loss at Philadelphia on Saturday to improve the league's best road record to 23-11-3. Pittsburgh's top-ranked power play went 0-for-5 a day after scoring three times in a win over Tampa Bay.
When Elliott wasn't getting a pad on the puck, his teammates were. The Blues blocked 25 shots, with the Penguins' frustration growing at every turn as the Blues improved to 20-5-2 against the Eastern Conference, the best interconference record in the league.
Pittsburgh had a 5-on-3 power play at the beginning of the second period for more than 90 seconds without being able to sneak something by Elliott. Most of the time the Penguins struggled generating a shot as the Blues effectively disrupted Pittsburgh's rhythm.