By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- As the Blues face the Colorado Avalanche in an all-important game tonight at Scottrade Center, the Blues seek retribution against the Avs.
But more importantly, goalie Chris Mason does more than anyone.
The Blues (32-27-9), who are 0-3 against the Avs (39-23-6) this season, need the two points to keep up in the Western Conference race.
And it's been Mason who's been on the hook for all three losses, being pulled early in the previous two meetings in Denver.
Mason, who is 24-19-8 with a 2.53 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage, would have loftier numbers if he can remove the games he's played against Colorado.
He's 0-3 with a 7.23 GAA and a .750 save percentage. He's allowed 13 goals on 52 shots in those games.
Mason, historically good against Colorado, came in with a career mark of 6-3-0 with a 1.56 GAA, allowing 14 goals in those nine games. With the three games this season, the numbers fall to 6-6-0, 2.51 GAA and a .920 save percentage.
"I definitely want to play well tonight, not just because it's them but because we need these points," Mason said Tuesday morning. "They beat us three times and handily every time so we definitely have some retribution. Hopefully, we recognize that and come out that way to start the game. Lately, our starts have been concerning even though we played well as the games went on. Against this team, they've started well and taken us out of the game early. We need to be ready."
Both times Mason was pulled early from games against Colorado, he bounced back with victories against Detroit on Feb. 9 (a 4-3 shootout win, where he recorded 42 saves) and against the New York Islanders on March 11 (a 2-1 shootout win).
Mason was pulled from the Blues' last game Sunday in Minnesota, so it bodes well for a bounce-back effort tonight. And it's all about parking the past and looking to the task at hand.
"Chris has been playing good hockey for us," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "I don't think we allow one blip on the radar to waver from that. It was a game against Minnesota where we made some mistakes early that certainly in that first period perhaps could have bailed us out on one of those, but he would have had to come up with a great save. The mistakes we made were bigger than his. We've got to make sure that's cleaned up. It was his third game in four nights, and perhaps going into that game, I could have read that decision differently."
In Mason's case tonight, it's having a chip on his shoulder because of what happened the previous two starts against these guys.
"Oh yeah. It's definitely there," Mason said. "I haven't played well against these guys the last two times. It's in the back of my mind. You try to play well every night, but you're definitely aware of that.
"Sometimes, you get pulled and it's not that you're playing bad. The older I've got, you just try to keep a more level head. You can't be stuck on an opponent like that. It's the next night you have to worry about. What happened last game has no future bearing on the next game. You just have to be ready to play."
* Backes keeps 'A' -- Even with the return of Keith Tkachuk back to the lineup Sunday, the Blues have decided -- at least for the time being -- that David Backes will keep the alternate 'A' on his sweater.
Tkachuk, Paul Kariya and Barret Jackman have had the distinction of wearing the alternate captain's 'A,' but Payne feels like now is the time to embody Backes more into that leadership role, one he fully deserves.
Despite no 'A,' Tkachuk still has his leadership role in the locker room, letter or no letter.
"I had the conversation with Walt about it, and he's completely aware of the leadership we view him with and the place he has in our locker room and on this hockey team," Payne said. "When I talked to him about it, we don't feel he needs a letter to make that statement.
"We feel that David embodies the type of hockey that we want from this team and feel that he conducts himself in the manner that takes a step from the leadership role which to me is the next thing for him."
* Lineup tweaks -- The Blues' lineups have remained pretty steady since Payne's arrival on Jan. 2, and although the forward lines will only see minor movement tonight, the defensive pairings, which have been a steadying force on this hockey team, will see a couple changes.
Maybe it has something to do with the opponent tonight and trying to alter the flow of the game, but here's who was working in unison this morning:
Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen
D.J. King-Keith Tkachuk-Brad Boyes
The defensive units saw the following pairs this morning, but as was evidenced in the pregame skate before the drop of the puck, the Blues will keep their D-units in tact:
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver
Chris Mason makes the start, his 12th consecutive start.
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Colorado comes into Scottrade Center after a 5-3 win Sunday at Dallas, a game where goalie Craig Anderson stopped 48 shots, the second time this season he has done that.
The Blues, who last were winless against Colorado in a season was the 2005-06 season (0-2-2), will have one last crack tonight.
"These guys have definitely have our number," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "We definitely haven't played our best hockey against them. It's a huge game for us tonight.
"You look at the standings, we're starting to lose some ground. Every game is getting more and more important. We can't worry about our record against these guys in the past. We have to respect our opponent and come out and show them the kind of team we really are."
Avs winger Chris Stewart has been a Blues killer all season, recording six goals and four assists in three games. He had three goals and an assist in the teams' last meeting, a 7-3 Avalanche win in Denver on March 6.
"He plays a complete game," Mason said of Stewart. "He's got a lot of skill and he plays tough and rugged. If you're not ready to play against a big, strong man like that, he's going to make you pay. He's played really well against us, he's played really hard. He's been tough and he can skate and that's a pretty deadly combination."
The Blues have given Stewart too much freedom on the ice, which means to have success, they must play with a physical edge not only with Stewart but with the likes of Paul Stastny, rookie Matt Duchene and veteran Milan Hejduk.
"He's a pretty talented player," Colaiacovo said of Stewart. "He's big and strong. He's got the knack for putting the puck in the net. We definitely have to make it tough on him, make it hard for him to get in those areas, play the body on him and limit his time and space. Obviously to compliment all that, he's got great speed."
The Avs will roll out the following forward lines, with Stephane Yelle and Cody McLeod out with leg injuries:
T.J. Galiardi-Paul Stastny-Chris Stewart
Peter Mueller-Matt Duchene-Milan Hejduk
Kevin Porter-Ryan O'Reilly-Darcy Tucker
Chris Durno-Matt Hendricks-Marek Svatos
Scott Hannan-Kyle Quincey
John-Michael Liles-Brett Clark
Kyle Cumiskey-Adam Foote
Peter Budaj gets a rare start in goal for Colorado, his 12th game of the season. Budaj, who is 6-5-0 with a 2.32 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage against the Blues in his career, beat St. Louis 4-0 here on Dec. 7 when he stopped all 35 shots.