TORONTO (AP) — David Backes completed a hat trick with an empty-net goal to lead the St. Louis Blues to a 5-3 victory Tuesday night that sent the Toronto Maple Leafs to their sixth straight loss.
T.J. Oshie and former Leafs forward Alex Steen also scored for St. Louis, which passed Boston for the most points in the NHL with 105.
Ryan Miller made 21 saves to improve to 32-15-3 in his career against Toronto. The Blues have won 10 of 13 games since acquiring Miller and forward Steve Ott from Buffalo before the trade deadline.
Joffrey Lupul, Carl Gunnarsson and James van Riemsdyk scored for Toronto, which dropped out of a playoff spot for the first time since Jan. 14, coupled with Washington’s shootout loss to Los Angeles.
The loss ruined the return of Toronto goalie Jonathan Bernier, who made 44 saves in his first game since reinjuring his groin on March 13
Bernier helped withstand an early barrage before the Maple Leafs scored first in a game for the first time since March 10 at Anaheim — seven games and six losses ago.
With Brenden Morrow in the box for high-sticking, the Leafs’ second power-play unit cashed in. After getting robbed by Miller at the side of the net, Nazem Kadri batted the puck out of the air and right to Lupul at the side of the net at 11:30 of the first period.
The Leafs’ lead didn’t last long, as Oshie tipped a shot from Roman Polak down and dived to knock the puck in at 15:55.
Had the Leafs been able to keep the score tied at 1 by the first intermission, they might’ve been able to make it a game. Instead, van Riemsdyk took an ill-advised interference penalty in the final minute to set up a memorable miscue by Phaneuf.
With a chance to send the puck down the ice on the penalty kill, Phaneuf wound up twice and held onto it just long enough for Oshie to poke it away. Seconds after the turnover, Backes beat Bernier clean with 32.3 seconds left.
The Blues’ 23 first-period shots were the most the Leafs have given up this season.
Considering that, their second period was a strong improvement. Unlike the first, when they were hemmed in their own zone and needed Bernier to make big save after big save, the Leafs opened things up on the Blues and traded some chances.
They couldn’t cash in, but the Blues did, as Backes scored his second of the night at 7:32 after a brilliant pass from Alex Pietrangelo.
At 17:35, St. Louis added the dagger when Steen beat Phaneuf in a net-front battle and then flipped a back-hand shot past Bernier for his 31st goal.
Down 4-1, Pietrangelo turned the puck over to Gunnarsson, who blasted a shot by Miller to cut the deficit to two.
Van Riemsdyk added a goal at 15:54 to make it 4-3, Backes’ empty-netter sealed it for St. Louis.
NOTES: With Bernier back, the Leafs sent G Drew MacIntyre back to the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. … Defenseman Paul Ranger was scratched for the third straight game with a neck injury.
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