By PAUL GEREFFI
SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Jori Lehtera made the most of his first NHL shootout attempt.
Lehtera scored the winning goal in the fifth round Sunday to give the St. Louis Blues a 2-1 victory over the Florida Panthers.
Vladimir Tarasenko also scored for St. Louis in the shootout, and Brad Boyes converted for Florida. Lehtera, who also had an assist, beat Roberto Luongo with a shot between the pads.
“I tried (that shot) a couple of times (on teammate Brian Elliott) in practice but it doesn’t go. It never worked. Never,” Lehtera said. “Both goalies played really good. It was a goalie’s game today.”
Elliott stopped 40 shots for the Blues, including 20 in the third period and two in overtime.
“As a goalie, you just try to stay as calm as possible,” Elliott said. “A lot of guys were sacrificing their bodies blocking shots, trying to keep everything away from that scoring area.”
Jaden Schwartz scored in regulation for the Blues, who are 15-3 in their last 18 games.
The Blues earned their third consecutive win and sixth in a row over the Panthers. Florida hasn’t defeated St. Louis since a 4-0 victory on Oct. 31, 2009.
Nick Bjugstad scored with 1:13 left in the third for the Panthers, and Luongo made 32 saves.
Elliott seemed well on his way to a shutout, which would have tied him for the franchise record of 20 with Jaroslav Halak, before allowing the late goal to Bjugstad.
“I saw the guy kind of reach out to tip it in to me and it went off the boards kind of perfectly to their guy (at) the back door and he was able to put it in,” Elliott said. “Tip your cap to that one and try to move on and take it into overtime and win it.”
St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock was more concise in his assessment of the game.
“Our goalie was our best player, our fourth-liner was one of our best players. See you tomorrow,” Hitchcock said before walking away.
The Panthers tied it 1-all on Bjugstad’s goal. Bjugstad poked the puck toward the net from behind the red line at the side of the net, it hit the post and then bounced off Elliott and back across the goal line.
“I’m actually terrible at geometry, terrible at math,” Bjugstad said. “I don’t know. Just shooting the puck from weird angles and it goes in sometimes.”
Bjugstad has scored three goals in four games and leads the Panthers with 20 goals this season.
“There’s no quit in our team, that’s for sure,” Luongo said. “It was great that we stayed with it and got that huge goal at the end, but it’s disappointing not to get a win there.”
Schwartz gave the Blues a 1-0 lead in the second period. Lehtera passed the puck from behind the net to the right circle. Schwartz corralled the puck, and his wrist shot went over Luongo’s shoulder on the glove side at 11:48. Schwartz has 20 points in his last 20 games.
NOTES: Blues D Barret Jackman tied Brian Sutter for second on the club’s career games played list with 779. Bernie Federko holds the record with 927. … Panthers D Dmitry Kulikov was scratched and is facing a suspension for a clipping penalty Friday on Dallas C Tyler Seguin. … Panthers D Willie Mitchell and C Brandon Pirri were placed on injured reserve with upper-body injuries. The Mitchell move is retroactive to Feb. 3, and the Pirri move is retroactive to Feb.10. … Florida Marlins pitchers Steve Cishek, Matt Latos and Tom Koehler dropped the ceremonial first puck.
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