St. Louis Blues' Olli Jokinen (13) of Finland, celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks Sunday, April 5, 2015, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Paul Beaty)
Paul Beaty
April 05, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) The St. Louis Blues are primed to grind out the regular season and head into the playoffs on a high note.

Olli Jokinen and David Backes scored in the second period as the Blues beat the Chicago Blackhawks 2-1 on Sunday night for their third straight win to move into first place in the Central Division.

The Blues improved to 105 points, one more than idle Nashville, with three games remaining for both teams.

With top forwards Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen out again with lower-body injuries, St. Louis used just enough offense and tight, physical play to hold off division-rival Chicago.

''We're missing our two leading scorers, but we're finding ways,'' Backes said. ''We like the fact we're playing good hockey with three games left.''

Tarasenko, who missed his third game, leads the Blues with 36 goals and 71 points. Steen, who sat out his fourth, is tied for second on the team in points with 62.

Both are out day-to-day, but are expected to be ready for the postseason and Steen could play this week. When Tarasenko and Steen return, they could boost a Blues team that's already playing sound hockey.

St. Louis's Jake Allen finished with 38 saves, but not many of Chicago's chances were tough.

''I think our last three performances have been some of our best throughout the year,'' Allen said. ''Guys just grinded tonight. Just kept plugging away, plugging away.''

Jokinen's tiebreaking goal with 4:48 left in the second was his first score with the Blues since coming to St. Louis in a trade-deadline deal from Toronto last month. Once the Blues pulled ahead 2-1, they limited Chicago's skating game and chances.

''This is the way we're going to have to win games,'' St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''The part I liked best is when we got the lead, we managed the game. We didn't sit back.

''If you're going to win in the playoffs, you're going to have to play long minutes with the lead, and put good quality minutes in.''

Chicago's Kris Versteeg scored to end a 16-game drought without a goal, but the Blackhawks' four-game winning streak ended and they remained two points behind Nashville in third place in the rugged Central.

''It was really physical,'' said Chicago forward Marian Hossa, who set up Versteeg's goal and rifled a shot of the post late in the second period. ''Not much room out there and lots of battles.

''They played well tonight and I think we played a pretty strong game, but we just came up short.''

Corey Crawford stopped 31 shots for Chicago in a game that had ample chippy moments.

Both teams were coming off momentum-building victories.

The Blackhawks won 4-3 at Buffalo on Friday when captain Jonathan Toews scored twice in the in the final 1:43 of the third period. The Blues scored four straight goals at Dallas to erase a two-goal deficit and beat the Stars 7-5.

The Blackhawks led 1-0 after the first on Versteeg's goal at with 5:48 left in the period. Hossa, closing in at full speed, picked off T.J. Oshie's weak clearing attempt just inside the right point. The Chicago forward then cut across the slot, motored down the left side and flicked a perfect feed to Versteeg, who was alone at the right edge of the crease.

Crawford had to be sharp - making close-in saves during several flurries - to keep the Blues off the board. He denied Jokinen three times in the first, including on a point-blank rebound attempt of Ty Rattie's shot with just under 3 minutes left.

Backes tied it 1-all when he swatted in a power-play goal from the right edge of the crease on the Blues 20th shot at 6:07 of the second. Backes pounced on a puck that was dished by Jaden Schwartz through a goalmouth scrum with Crawford down on the ice.

Crawford stopped Paul Stastny's initial shot shot and a rebound on Stastny's breakaway just over 9 minutes into the second.

Although the Blackhawks outshot the Blues 12-5 in the scoreless third, St. Louis limited Chicago's chances.

Second period, they scored two big ones and then they were trying just to defend and keep it out of their end or prevent the rush game,'' Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said. ''I thought we had stretches where it was okay, but at the end of the day it was a big four-point swing.''

NOTES: Blackhawks D Kimmo Timonen left the game in the first period after only three shifts with an upper-body after being hit by the Blues' Ryan Reaves. ... St. Louis D Robert Bortuzzo suffered an upper body injury in the first and didn't return. ... Injured Chicago star Patrick Kane, who suffered a broken collarbone against Florida on Feb. 24, and was not projected to return for 12 weeks following surgery, participated in the Blackhawks' morning skate on Sunday.

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