ST. LOUIS — Former St. Louis Blues coach Brian Sutter liked to say that hard work was a skill, which may explain why the Blues' fourth line was their most skilled unit Thursday.
Fourth-liner Ryan Reaves had the first two-goal game of his NHL career thanks to some work by linemates Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter in a 4-1 victory over the Calgary Flames.
"I never turned into the team sniper," joked Reaves, who has nine career goals in 130 NHL games and doubled his season total from two to four Thursday. "The hands felt good today, luckily I could pot a couple of them."
Reaves now has three goals in the last five games. The entire line spent a lot of together in the minors with the Peoria Rivermen. Cracknell, who had a two-goal game April 4 against Chicago, picked up two assists against the Flames.
He was just happy to see Reaves so excited as the fourth-place Blues (28-17-2, 58 points) moved within one more win of clinching home-ice advantage for the playoffs.
"I don't know what he had for pregame (meal), but I wish I had some of that," Cracknell said. "He scores goals going to the net on just quick shots, that's what we practice on all the time."
Known much more for his toughness and fighting than his offensive skills, the 26-year-old right winger showed he hadn't lost his touch when challenged to a fight by Calgary's Tim Jackman in the third period.
Reaves used the same hands that scored two goals to pummel Jackman to the ice, easily winning the bout. Reaves was only an assist away from the Gordie Howe hat trick, which is a goal, an assist and a fight.
"I always enjoy the fisticuffs, especially when a guy jumps me and it ends up like that," Reaves said. "But it was nice to have my two-goal game."
The son of former NFL and Canadian football league running back Willard Reaves, Ryan Reaves had perhaps the biggest night of his NHL career on the night the NFL began its draft.
"I love the sport of football, so it's a good day for everybody," Reaves said.
The Blues stretched their season-high home winning streak to five games and also improved to 10-3 with former Flames defenseman Jay Bouwmeester in the lineup.
On Reaves' first goal, Porter did some good work to dig the puck out along the boards before Cracknell found Reaves open in the faceoff circle. Calgary's Sven Baetchi tied it 1-1, but Blues winger Andy McDonald scored on a wrist shot from the slot midway through the second period.
Alexander Steen's backhander while being hooked on a delayed penalty also eluded Calgary goaltender Joey MacDonald and put the Blues up 3-1. It marked the first three-goal period by the Blues since March 7 in a 6-4 victory over Phoenix.
Porter set up Reaves in front 2:10 into the third period for his second goal of the night, with Cracknell picking up another assist on the play. Reaves scored a career-high three goals in 60 games with the Blues last season. His highest goal total in the minors with Peoria was eight in 2008-09.
The fourth line typically creates energy and physical play, but the Blues' trio has been generating a lot of offense.
"I think they've got great chemistry," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Everything is work-based; they compete, they're strong on the puck, they're smart. I don't really know that you can call it a fourth line. We've got four lines and I think that if the line continues to play at that pace ... they're going to be using up quite a bit of ice time if they play at this level."
Blues goalie Brian Elliott continued his red-hot April, stopping 18 of 19 shots and improving to 10-2 this month with three shutouts, a 1.14 goals-against average and .947 save percentage. He's allowed just one goal in his fifth straight home game and only 15 goals in 12 games.
Hitchcock said he was not pleased with the team's lackluster approach during a scoreless first period.
"Hitch came in and said it's going to be hard to play like that and then turn it on in the playoffs in less than a week," Reaves said. "I think we took it to heart and everybody came out flying."
The third period wasn't among Hitchcock's favorites either, with Elliott called upon to make several big saves. The biggest came on a breakaway by Calgary's Roman Horak.
"We had too many sloppy plays in the third period that could have ended up in our net," said Hitchcock, whose team was outshot 8-4 in the final 20 minutes. "Our goalie made four great saves and you can't make those (defensive) mistakes either."