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St. Louis stumbling in its past three games

4/4/2003

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The St. Louis Blues don't look like they're
ready for the playoffs.

Nathan Dempsey and Chris Simon each scored twice and rookie
goalie Michael Leighton won his first career game as the Chicago
Blackhawks beat the slumping Blues 6-4 Thursday night.

The Blues trail the Avalanche by three points for fourth place
in the Western Conference, and home-ice advantage for the first
round. But St. Louis is 0-2-1 in its last three games, giving up
two late goals in a tie with the Oilers on Monday and losing by
four to the Red Wings on Saturday. The normally defensive-minded
team has given up 17 goals in that span.

''That is a lot of goals,'' goalie Chris Osgood said. ''Better
now than next week or the week after. We'll straighten things
out.''

St. Louis wasn't helped enough in its home regular-season finale
by the return of Keith Tkachuk, out nine games with a wrist injury.
Tkachuk scored on a third-period power play. The Blues, who got two
goals from Pavol Demitra, are 0-2-1 since Chris Pronger returned.

''It's frustrating,'' Tkachuk said. ''We're going through a
little bit of a funk here and we've got to turn it around.''

Theo Fleury had three assists for the Blackhawks, only 7-15-3-3
since February and long eliminated from playoff contention. Chicago
scored on two of the first six shots against Osgood and fought off
rallies in the second and third periods by the Blues.

''We've been guilty of giving up leads before,'' Dempsey said.
''So we were extra vocal in the dressing room between the second
and third periods about the fact that we needed to play hard until
the final buzzer.''

The Blues and Blackhawks play again Friday night in Chicago.

''The guys are working hard,'' Blues coach Joel Quenneville
said. ''We have to work with better purpose.''

Osgood, acquired from the Islanders at the trade deadline, has
been in goal in each of the past three games. With the Blues
trailing 5-2 after two periods, he was replaced by former No. 1
goalie Brent Johnson. Martin Bell scored on the second shot Johnson
faced at 2:18 of the third period for a four-goal lead.

Leighton won for the first time in five career decisions,
although he had a shutout in a scoreless tie with the Coyotes in
January. He faced 45 shots, one short of the Blues' season high.

''I definitely wanted to get that win to get that weight off my
shoulder,'' Leighton said. ''I finally got it. It's a great
feeling. I've been waiting a while for it.''

Dempsey, who has five goals, missed the previous four games with
a strained groin. He scored the game's first goal with a wrist shot
through traffic just 2:24 into the first period, and made it 4-1
off a rebound midway in the second on a Blackhawks' power play,
converting a setup from Fleury.

Simon got his 11th on a deflection in the first period and
scored on the Blackhawks' first shot of the second period for a 3-0
lead.

Game notes
The Blues have given up the game's first goal in 45 of
their 80 games. They're 22-14-6-3 under that scenario. ... The
Blues installed new netting behind the goals for the game,
improving visibility. Previously, the netting had been black and
the new setup is monofilament, or similar to fishing line in
consistency. ... The Blackhawks finished with 36 road points, two
more than last season. ... On Dec. 18 at Anaheim, the Blues had
their season high of 46 shots in 5-2 defeat.