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Stempniak leads way as Blues down Kings

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Associated Press
12/21/2006 10:41:00 PM

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Rookie David Backes provided an early boost and the St. Louis Blues were on the way to their first home victory.

Backes scored his first NHL goal and Lee Stempniak added a goal and an assist, helping the Blues beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-2 on Thursday night.

The win was the second straight for the Blues after losing 11 in a row. St. Louis won back-to-back games in regulation for the first time this season, and improved to 1-6-1 at home.

The victory snapped the Kings' five-game winning streak against the Blues. The last St. Louis win over Los Angeles since March 16, 2004.

Backes' first NHL goal came on a backhand in the slot at 10:47. Backes, a second-round pick in 2003 who is staying with veteran Keith Tkachuk, made his debut Tuesday in Pittsburgh and had an assist.

"Keith went hard to the net and took two guys with him and left a ton of room in the slot for me," Backes said. "(Radek) Dvorak passed it out there and I just threw it on and luckily it found the back of the net."

Backes credited his teammates with helping him adjust to life in the NHL.

"The guys are making it easy for me, simplifying my role," Backes said.

Tkachuk said the rookie has what it takes to succeed in the league.

"He got our team going," Tkachuk said. "He's a big, strong kid. With the new NHL rules, it's power, power, power. Once he gets a step on a guy with his speed and size, he's going to create a lot of things. You can tell he's got a good nose for the net."

That ability will serve him well, St. Louis coach Andy Murray agreed.

"He won the puck battle down in the corner and powered his way to the net," Murray said. "It was a power forward goal."

The Blues took a 2-0 lead at 6:10 of the second period when Stempniak scored on a wrist shot from the top of the left circle. Stempniak's shot went over the glove of Kings goalie Dan Cloutier and into the upper right corner of the net.

"They tried to sneak in a line change and (Barret) Jackman turned it up quick and I got off a shot before they could cut me off," Stempniak said.

St. Louis went ahead 3-0 at 11:01 when Martin Rucinsky scored on a rebound in front of the net. Dennis Wideman ripped a slap shot from inside the blue line that Cloutier blocked. Battling two defencemen, Rucinsky knocked in the loose puck.

The Kings struck twice quickly early in the third period to get back in the game.

Anze Kopitar used his backhand to score at 1:40. In his last five games, the 19-year-old centre has five goals and three assists.

"I feel great. I feel confident and comfortable," Kopitar said. "My teammates and my coach have a lot of confidence in me."

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