Jim Carey realizes he faces a tough battle trying to re-establish himself as a top NHL goaltender.
Sunday, the 24-year-old former Vezina Trophy winner took a small step in the right direction when he led the St. Louis Blues to a 5-2 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Carey recorded his first NHL victory since Oct. 21, 1997. Although he seemed shaky on both Chicago goals, Carey did stop 22 shots in his fourth game with the Blues.
"Tonight is the first game I can honestly say I felt good out there," said Carey, who signed with St. Louis as a free agent on March 1. "But I'm not at the top of my game. I know that's not going to happen overnight."
"I'm not going to go out and put up Vezina-like numbers right away."
Carey won the Vezina with Washington in 1995-96, his second NHL season, with a 2.26 goals-against average in 71 games. But after being traded to Boston on March 1, 1997, Carey eventually was demoted to Providence of the AHL.
"He made some big saves at key times in the game," said St. Louis coach Joel Quenneville. "He survived."
Carey had struggled in three previous appearances with the Blues. He had allowed 11 goals on 63 shots in 142 minutes for a goal-against average of 4.65. He had an 0-2-0 record.
Sunday, however, Carey was given an early 3-0 lead as Pavol Demitra scored twice in a three-goal St. Louis flurry during a 3:54 span in the first period.
Demitra, who reached the 30-goal plateau for the first time in his NHL career, also set up a second-period goal by Michel Picard.
"Pavel is looking really good at center the last two games," said Quenneville, who moved Demitra from the wing to the middle. "He really gives us a lot of speed up the pipe. This year he has improved his game and taken it to a different level."
Michal Handzus also scored in the first period for the Blues and Scott Young added aempty-net goal. Tony Amonte and Christian Laflamme scored for the Blackhawks, who have lost two consecutive games after a three-game unbeaten streak.
"We didn't come out with the intensity we needed," said Chicago coach Lorne Molleken. "I'll take full responsibility for that. We didn't play a strong game tonight."
Jocelyn Thibault started in goal for Chicago, but was replaced by Mark Fitzpatrick at 2:02 of the second period when Picard gave St. Louis a 4-1 lead on the Blues' 14th shot.
The Blues, who lead the NHL with 79 first-period goals this season, led 3-1 after 20 minutes.
Demitra made it 1-0 with a power-play goal on a high screened shot at 10:22. Handzus skated into the slot and beat Thibault, who had lost his stick, at 13:17 for a 2-0 St. Louis lead.
Demitra, who leads the Blues in goal scoring, connected again at 14:16 when he cut through the slot and deflected in Riccard Persson's low shot from the left point.
Amonte cut the Blues' lead to 3-1 at 14:50 on a 30-foot slap shot from the slot.
Set up at the edge of the crease by Demitra, Picard made it 4-1 at 2:02 of the second period to chase Thibault.
LaFlamme cut the Blues' lead to 4-2 at 10:18 of the third period when he fired a rebound of Jamie Allison's shot between Carey's pads from 25 feet. Young, however, dumped in an empty-net goal with 57 seconds remaining to complete the scoring.
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