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Backes' late goal lifts Blues by Penguins 1-0

Sunday, 23 March 2014 18:27 Published in Sports
 
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.
 
"We just kind of cleared lanes and I was able to see the ones they took," Elliott said. "Whenever guys are moving big guys out of the way, it just helps and you saw guys get in front of shots, block them and clear them down."
 
Malkin was called for high-sticking 9:17 into the third and he was barely out of the box and back on the ice when Backes gave St. Louis the lead. The puck cycled to the point and Alexander Steen fired a slap shot that Backes found a way to nick as it sailed by. His 24th goal of the year proved more than enough.
 
Elliott wobbled several times - including at least two saves where it appeared the puck was creeping to the goal line when the whistle blew - but didn't collapse. When the clock expired after one last clear up the zone, the game ended with the unusual sight of Malkin trying to mix it up with Alex Pietrangelo.
 
Bylsma said coming into an important weekend he wanted his team to get used to playing tightly contested, low-scoring games. Pittsburgh survived one on Saturday, rallying for a 4-3 overtime win against the streaking Lightning that featured 40 minutes of clamp-down hockey and 22 minutes of frantic play.
 
The Blues, who have positioned themselves into contenders in the West by sealing off the net, would not be lulled into the kind of end-to-end stretches that allow the Penguins to run free.
 
"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."
 
At times, Bylsma wonders if his club was too patient, particularly in the first period.
 
"The first 20 minutes we backed them off with speed," he said. "We had some opportunities and needed to have more of a drive and shoot mentality."
 
NOTES: The Penguins played with seven defensemen instead of six, a move Bylsma said was needed in a game where he knew open ice would be at a premium. ... St. Louis plays in Toronto on Tuesday while the Penguins host Phoenix on Tuesday.
 

Kelly chosen as Cardinals' No. 5 starter after win

Sunday, 23 March 2014 18:25 Published in Sports
 
JUPITER, Fla. (AP) -- Joe Kelly was told that he will be the Cardinals' No. 5 starter after taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning Sunday in St. Louis' 6-3 victory over the Houston Astros.
 
Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said Carlos Martinez will go to the bullpen.
 
"We are just in a spot where we've got to try and figure out what is best for our club," said Matheny, noting that Martinez is a proven commodity in the bullpen.
 
Kelly lost a competition last spring to Shelby Miller, but moved from the bullpen to the starting rotation later in the year. He started 15 games for the Cardinals in the regular season and four more in the postseason and has a 3.08 ERA.
 
Martinez thrived in the setup role late last season, including in the playoffs. He will return to eighth inning duty, setting up closer Trevor Rosenthal, despite allowing only three earned runs and striking out nine in 15 1-3 spring innings.
 
"I believe that he is eventually going to be a starter and I believe he is going to be a very good one, but right now we need him to help our club out of the bullpen," Matheny said.
 
Kelly's control fluctuated in Sunday's start, during which he struck out five but also walked four. He allowed two runs and two hits in the sixth and didn't get an out before being lifted.
 
"I wouldn't say it was great, by any means," Kelly said before learning he would be in the rotation. "The walks are just something that I absolutely don't like."
 
Shortstop Jhonny Peralta gave the Cardinals the lead in the second with his third homer of the spring. Matt Holliday hit his first in the third and Matt Adams also connected in the third, a two-run shot off Astros starter Jerome Williams.
 
Williams gave up six runs and nine hits in four innings.
 
"It was one of those days where balls were finding the bats and balls were finding the holes," Williams said. "I left about three or four pitches up and they took advantage of them."
 
Closer Trevor Rosenthal took a comebacker off his backside in the ninth. The ball caromed to third baseman Daniel Descalso, who threw to first in time to get Marwin Gonzalez. Rosenthal remained in the game and recorded the save.
 
STARTING TIME
 
Astros: Williams has allowed 10 runs in 7 2-3 innings over his past two Grapefruit League outings.
 
"It's kind of bad that it's happening now at end the of spring," Williams said. "Hopefully I can just turn it around before the season starts."
 
Cardinals: While Matheny named Kelly to the starting rotation, he declined to give the order in which the starters will appear. Adam Wainwright will be the Cardinals opening-day starter. He will be followed, in an order to be announced later by Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Shelby Miller and Kelly.
 
TRAINER'S ROOM
 
Cardinals: Jaime Garcia threw a 25-pitch bullpen session from the mound for the first time since the second week of spring. Garcia had experienced soreness in his surgically-repaired shoulder. He was expected to contend for the Cardinals' fifth starting spot before experiencing the discomfort.
 
Reliever Jason Motte is scheduled to long toss on Monday as he works his way back from ligament replacement surgery.
 
DIAZ DOWN
 
The Cardinals sent five players to the minors - one of whom was 23-year-old Aledmys Diaz. The newly-signed Cuban shortstop went 3 for 5 in two major league games before heading to Double-A Springfield.
 
"He just kind of plays a little more experienced baseball than you would expect him to," Matheny said.
 
DOWN TO THREE
 
St. Louis also optioned reliever Sam Freeman and outfielder Joey Butler to Triple-A Memphis. With Freeman gone, that leaves Jorge Rondon, Keith Butler and Scott McGregor competing for the final spot in the Cardinals' bullpen. The Cardinals also optioned infielder Greg Garcia to Triple-A Memphis and re-assigned infielder Luis Mateo to minor league camp.
 
MORE TO COME
 
Houston manager Bo Porter expects first baseman Chris Carter to produce better offensive statistics than 2013's breakthrough season in which he hit 29 home runs but only posted a .239 average.
 
"I think just the experience of playing everyday last year will help in that regard - lower strikeouts, more contact, more homers," Porter said.
 

Saint Louis comes up short from long range

Saturday, 22 March 2014 22:20 Published in Sports
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Saint Louis did something it hasn't done all season Saturday — and it proved costly against defending national champion Louisville.
 
The Billikens went 0 for 15 from 3-point range in a 66-51 loss in the third round of the NCAA tournament.
 
They shot long, came up short, missed to both sides and even had a couple blocked. It was easily the team's worst long-ranging shooting performance of the season.
 
Saint Louis, a 32-percent shooting team from behind the arc this season, had made at least two 3s in every game and had 190 total. They hit 9 of 18 treys in Thursday's come-from-behind, overtime victory against North Carolina State.
 
"I thought we took a lot of good shots today," said forward Dwayne Evans, who led the way with 16 points but missed his only 3-point attempt. "They weren't falling, but we had the right guys in the right spots."
 
Saint Louis (27-7) shot 40 percent from the field.
 
Mike McCall Jr. missed all six of his 3-pointers. Jake Barnett (0-4), Jordair Jett (0-2), Rob Loe (0-1) and Austin McBroom (0-1) also misfired from that distance.
 
"We're going to keep taking shots if they're good shots," coach Jim Crews said. "We don't have a plan before a game to say, 'OK, we're going to take X number of 3s in this game and that game.' We don't do that because I think that you've got to have a balance to be really good."
 
The champs had a lot to do with Saint Louis' struggles.
 
Louisville (31-5) mixed defenses repeatedly, using man-to-man, the 2-3 zone and even a little 1-1-3 to make sure no Billikens could get open looks from the corners.
 
"We wanted to smother the 3," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. "This team reminds me of Colorado State last year: Extremely well coached in all phases of the game. And we felt if we gave up the 3 we could get beat tonight, so we will take that away."
 
It worked to perfection.
 
Louisville made six treys. Luke Hancock, who finished with 21 points, drained two 3s midway through the second half that helped the Cardinals create some cushion in a tight game.
 
Saint Louis just couldn't answer.
 
The Cardinals have the size and athleticism to close out on the 3-point line, and it showed Saturday.
 
Making matters worse for the Billikens, they had 18 turnovers. Louisville had nine steals to go with five blocks.
 
"They're very good defensively," Crews said. "They change things up. They do press and they play zone and have different shifts and so forth, and they mix it up with man. They keep you a little bit off balance with that, which is a good thing because basketball is a rhythmic game and they keep you out of rhythm with it."

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