Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Blues will not abandon playoff chase

Rangers on tap tonight as team is seven points
out of 8th place with 13 games remaining

ST. LOUIS -- Each time that a Colorado Avalanche puck would pierce the back of the net Tuesday, Blues fans felt every part of the puck pierce their hearts.

And after the Blues suffered their second straight defeat, 5-3 against the Avalanche, it knocked one more valuable game off the schedule and one more opportunity to stay afloat in what is clearly becoming a grim playoff chase.

The Blues (32-28-9) have 13 games remaining on the regular season schedule, including today's 6 p.m. tilt at Madison Square Garden against the New York Rangers (31-30-9). They trail eighth-place Detroit by seven points in the Western Conference playoff race and seventh-place Nashville -- whom the Blues have three head-to-head meetings with -- by 10 points.

But the problem now for the 11th place Blues is that they also have two more teams to climb over just to set their sights on the Red Wings. And it's becoming quite clear that -- as easy as it may sound -- they just may have to run the table to get this playoff push done again this year.

The Blues went 9-1-1 down the stretch a season ago to charge in. They'll need something similar again this year, but such a remarkable feat may not be enough.

Or would it?

"You never know," forward David Perron said after scoring his 18th goal of the season in Tuesday's loss. "How many games we got left, 12 or 13? If we win them all or we go 11-1 (or 12-1) ... we did that last year. We're ready to do it again this year."

The Blues have not been poor as of late, as they've gone 7-3-0 in the last 10 games, but the problem is that Nashville also has the same 7-3-0 record in that stretch, Detroit is 7-2-1, Calgary is 5-5-0 and Minnesota, which is one point ahead of St. Louis in 10th place, is 5-3-2. So the Blues are not gaining much ground -- if any at all against the teams they're supposed to chase down.

In fact, just in the last two games, they've lost ground by not budging off 73 points.

"It's tough right now, the situation," goalie Chris Mason said. "We're all aware of the points we have to make up. We have to go in and focus and we have to get points in our next game.

"We have to continue ... we need a winning record here. Probably something like 10-3 or something like that to get in. We'll just worry about New York."

Blues coach Davis Payne, guiding his first NHL bench in a postseason fight, said there's still plenty of fight left in his team. Keeping things together will not be an issue.

"Not difficult in that regard," Payne said. "Lots of fight and lots of time left for our hockey club."

Exactly two weeks ago after the Blues finished dismantling Dallas 6-1 in Texas, the Blues were just one point out of that eighth and last playoff spot. But since that win, they have gone 2-3-0 while other teams have pulled away, which made it easy for the 19,150 in attendance Tuesday night to start throwing in the while towels.

But not the guys skating on the ice. As long as there's a flicker left in the lighter, the Blues will keep pushing.

"A lot's happened with two outs in the bottom of the ninth," said forward David Backes. "We're not going to count ourselves out. We've got a task every night. We play a lot of teams that are ahead of us still. If we take care of business, I still like our chances. But losing games like this (Tuesday) where we give our opponents a lot more than they take from us is going to be things that we'll kick ourselves in the end for."

After tonight, the Blues then play at New Jersey on Saturday. Then the season comes down to 11 games, with seven of those coming at home. But the Blues have been one of the worst teams on home ice (12-17-5) this season.

And it gives the Blues another tall hill to climb.

"We know what's at stake," Perron said. "We don't want to get any further back for a playoff spot.

"It's going to be a tougher road. We're ready for it, and we're looking forward to it right now."

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