By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- As long as the math doesn't exclude them from the postseason, the Blues will approach the remaining games they have left as if they still have a pulse.
It's the only way to go about it, according to Blues goalie Chris Mason.
"Whether we do or we don't, we're professionals and you should have enough pride in here that nobody should ever quit regardless of the circumstance," said Mason, who will start tonight's home game against the Los Angeles Kings. "... You never know until it's official.
"The bottom line is you never know what's going to happen. The last two games really hurt our chances a lot. It's tough to swallow right now, but you never know what's going to happen. There's a lot of pride and you just have to keep playing because you just never know. There's always a chance."
The Blues (34-30-9) limp home after losses against Nashville (3-2) Sunday and Detroit (4-2) Wednesday night and now trail the eighth-place Red Wings by 10 points.
It looks pretty bleak, but the players feel a sense of obligation to try and finish strong and hope for the best. There's also the realization that some people are also playing for jobs for next year and that also plays a role.
"We've got a good group of guys in here that's not going to quit," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "Obviously the last couple games would have been big to come out on the other end of them, but we can't do anything about that now. All we can do it try to take care of what we can take care of, and that's going and winning one game at a time."
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The Blues have used an array of centers this season to fill in whenever needed.
Both Keith Tkachuk and David Backes are converted wingers now playing center on a regular basis for the team. T.J. Oshie, a natural center by trade but playing on the wing since joining the Blues, has also filled in down the middle. And of course, there's center-turned winger Andy McDonald.
Crombeen, a winger his entire playing career, has been the next one to audition for a new role.
With Tkachuk missing games in recent weeks because of a dislocated pinky finger and also sitting out Wednesday's game with a lower-body issue, Crombeen has been asked to fill in.
"It's been a little different," Crombeen said this morning. "Obviously, it's a whole new position that I've never played before. It's been a bit of a learning curve. I've had about four or five games with it now."
When asked how it's gone, the 24-year-old said, "It's not too bad. The draws are one of the hardest things to try to get, to try and get the timing on against guys that are pretty skilled at it. So I just try and keep working on it. Other than that, defensive zone, offensive zone, it's pretty similar. It's just a lot of communication, a lot of talking. It's a little bit more skating, but you know what, I've enjoyed it so far. I'll try and do whatever I can."
Crombeen centered the fourth line with Brad Winchester and Matt D'Agostini Wednesday night.
"They kind of put me there. I'm not going to say no," Crombeen said. "If that's where they need me, that's where they need me and I'll do whatever I can to help."
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Both Tkachuk and defenseman Roman Polak (sore shoulder) participated in today's morning skate and both seemed to do enough to get back into the lineup.
When asked if he had a green light for tonight, Tkachuk said, "Yeah ... I hope so." Polak was also asked if he will go tonight, and he said, "I think so."
So barring any late changes regarding Tkachuk, the forward lines look similar to this (but keep in mind, today was an optional and 11 players and two goalies of the 24 skaters were on the ice today for the optional skate):
Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Alex Steen-Jay McClement-Brad Boyes
Cam Janssen-Keith Tkachuk-B.J. Crombeen
Healthy scratches will be Matt D'Agostini, D.J. King and Brad Winchester.
The D-pairings, barring any late change regarding Polak, will see a familiar lineup:
Eric Brewer-Erik Johnson
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver
With a return of Polak, that will make Darryl Sydor a healthy scratch.
Chris Mason gets back in goal tonight.
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The Kings (42-24-6), who dropped a 4-3 shootout decision at Colorado Wednesday night, did not skate this morning.
They took the only meeting between the two teams here by a 2-1 score back on Oct. 10. The Blues won both meetings in Los Angeles, 5-4 in a shootout on Dec. 5 and 4-3 on Jan. 9.
The Kings are expected to use the following lineup:
Brad Richardson-Anze Kopitar-Wayne Simmonds
Fredrik Modin-Michal Handzus-Dustin Brown
Ryan Smyth-Jarret Stoll-Justin Williams
Alexander Frolov-Jeff Halpern-Scott Parse
The D-pairings should feature:
Rob Scuderi-Drew Doughty
Sean O'Donnell-Jack Johnson
Randy Jones-Davis Drewiske
Jonathan Quick will start in goal again tonight despite being pulled after allowing three goals on 16 shots Wednesday night in Denver. It will be Quick's 72nd appearance.