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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.

“I don’t know,” Lupul said. “We couldn’t break their cycle, we couldn’t get the puck.”

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, Steen beat Phaneuf in a net-front battle and then flipped a back-hand shot past Bernier for his 31st goal.

“If we’re missing motivation, at this time of the year everyone should have some,” Bernier said. “Obviously, we knew it was not going to be easy. That’s a good team out there - they’re first and they showed it tonight.”

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.

“It was a 5-3 game where I think we could’ve scored 10 goals tonight,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said in a nod to Bernier. “We had so many scoring opportunities, and I thought for the most part until we got careless and started to get fancy around the net instead of burying it that we were really playing one of our top games.”

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.