Team looking to make the necessary push for playoff run
By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It was around the middle of February when the Blues began to approach every regular season game last year like it was a playoff game, a must-win mentality, if you will.
Well, look at the time.
Look at the date.
It's desperation mode once again for this hockey club.
The Blues (26-25-9) have 61 points on the season after Tuesday night's 4-3 shootout victory over Detroit. They sit six points in back of eighth place Calgary in the Western Conference with two more games left before the Winter Olympic break and 22 games remaining in the 2009-10 season.
Every moment is crucial, every period is critical, every point earned is a must, and every win from here on out means the Blues are closer to where they would like to be.
"Every game is the most important game of the season," said forward Paul Kariya, who scored twice Tuesday, his first home goals since Oct. 25, 2008. "Last year, we went through it. We're in a similar spot this year. I think we've got a lot of resiliency in this room and we know that we can do it, too."
The Blues' current campaign is a mirror image of what they went through a year ago up to this point. They were dead last in the conference as late as Feb. 18 but amazingly leapfrogged nine other teams to get as high as sixth in the conference and earn a postseason berth for the first time since 2003-04.
They sit in 13th place today, and have home games with Toronto (Friday) and Washington (Saturday). The climb will be just as difficult if not harder to make. But for the players that take the ice, they know there's nobody to blame but themselves for the position they're in, and it will take every guy in the locker room to be able to collectively work their way back to where they feel they belong.
"We need the points right now," said forward Brad Boyes, who scored the shootout winner against Detroit, giving him six goals in nine attempts this season.
The Blues, after getting in late following Monday's 5-2 loss at Colorado, played with a sense of urgency and desperation for much of Tuesday night's game. But a common theme occurred: they allowed the lead to dissipate, which is something that's cost the Blues precious points in the standings and at one time, led to the firing of coach Andy Murray.
"I've come in here with a mindset of making sure these guys understand that we want to correct as we go," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We've got to win hockey games, but we also know things aren't going to go our way all the time and it's how you respond to those situations."
For one night, the Blues responded accordingly, as did goalie Chris Mason, who was below his standards in allowing five goals on 15 shots Monday in Denver.
Payne informed Mason with a text message after the team touched down that he was coming back with him against the Red Wings, and the veteran netminder responded with a 39-save effort which included a game-saving stop on Henrik Zetterberg to help the Blues gain the extra point.
"I'm really thankful for the opportunity," Mason said. "(Monday) night was one of those nights where nothing seemed to go right. It was a tough game, but it was good to get back in there and kind of redeem yourself."
For Payne, the decision seemed like a no-brainer despite backup Ty Conklin stopping all 18 shots he saw in relief of Mason Monday.
"I've got all the belief in the world in Ty, but also wanted Mase to know, 'Hey, it didn't go your way last night, but we need you to get back in there and have a healthy kick at it for us,'" the Blues' coach said. "He responded well."
So did Mason's teammates against the Red Wings, who the Blues are 4-0-1 against this season, a rare feat.
"Detroit's the kind of team where you've got to go at them," Boyes said. "We've played them a lot over the last couple years. We know them pretty well. They've had their team the last couple years, pretty similar and the same as us, so we know what to expect.
"With them, they're a team if you sit back and let them dictate how it's going to be, they'll make you look silly. For us, it was go at them, be physical, be smart, try to limit them as much as you can."
The Blues can only hope those smarts can parlay into victories and in the end, the necessary points needed for the postseason.