ST. LOUIS -- It may seem like two teams playing out the string tonight, barely clinging on to playoff hopes, but for Blues fans, it might be the last chance to see two American-born legends on the ice together.
The Blues' Keith Tkachuk and Dallas' Mike Modano, who have a combined to play in 2,653 games with 1,094 goals and 1,326 assists for 2,420 points, 7,714 shots on goal, one Stanley Cup, 37 seasons, 11 All-Star Games and seven Olympic appearances (including three together), could be on the ice for the final time together when the Blues entertain the Stars at 7 p.m. today (FS Midwest, KMOX 1120-AM).
While neither has confirmed their intentions, but both Tkachuk (38) and Modano (39) have indicated that this season could very well be their respective final seasons in the league.
The numbers between the two are simply staggering, with Tkachuk's numbers at 538 goals and 1,063 points, while Modano holds the record for most points by a US-born player with 1,357, goals with 556, playoff points (149) and games played (1,455).
They are arguably two of the most influential US-born players that set the standard of what US hockey is all about.
Blues coach Davis Payne, who is nearly four months younger than Modano, certainly recalls Modano from way back in time, but the two do not have much of a professional hockey past.
"I know Mike doesn't remember, but he was bantam playing for (Detroit) Compuware, a bantam hockey team and they always came to Kamloops, (British Columbia) for the big bantam hockey tournament there," Payne said. "... Beyond that, when you talk about Mike Modano, you always picture a (guy) with the long hair and the guy winding it up with the jersey and creating enough speed to whip the flag in the wind. If this is his last trip in, he's obviously an impressive player and who's had a phenomenal career. For him to go from an elite player and point-producer to a guy who rounds out his game to win a Stanley Cup, that's a great adjustment to see from young player to mature player to winner to leader. It's always special to get a chance to watch guys like that play."
Modano, who has played his entire NHL career with the Minnesota North Stars/Dallas Stars organization, won the Stanley Cup with the Stars in 1999. He controversially lost the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the year's best rookie, to 31-year-old Sergei Makarov, who had already played professionally in the Soviet Championship League for over 12 years; this led to an age barrier of 26 for Calder candidates the following year to the present day.
Tkachuk led the NHL in goals during the 1996–97 season with 52, the first American-born player to do so. That season, he was also only the fourth player in NHL history to record 50 goals and 200 penalty minutes in a single season.
"A lot of USA hockey history out there tonight," Payne said.
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Blues forward Matt D'Agostini, who will be in the lineup tonight against the stars, has been a virtual unknown to the Blues and their fans since being acquired from Montreal on March 2.
D'Agostini, 23, was acquired for AHL prospect Aaron Palushaj and has only seen very limited duty with the Blues, playing in only five of 14 games.
D'Agostini, who has no points and is minus-2 in five games, said it can be frustrating not knowing whether you're playing or not but the preparation's the same every day.
"I've had to deal with it a lot more this year," D'Agostini said. "Even in Montreal, it was kind of that situation. You've got to be ready to play every day when you get the chance. You've got to make it count because you don't know how many chances you are going to get. When you get in there, you've just got to go out there and try and play your game and try not to worry about not playing in so many days."
Chemistry off the ice has not been a problem for D'Agostini but on the ice is a different story with the limited amount of playing time. So Payne will get him in there tonight and get a further evaluation.
"It's a situation where we, for the most part, had roles and performances that have somewhat boxed him out," Payne said. "It's not a true assessment that we have. Would we like to have a better look? Sure, but it's a tough time of year to manufacture that."
Payne does like the fact D'Agostini can play either wing and will fill in at center if need be, but there is plenty more to choose from.
"Skill, speed, pretty good hockey smarts, strong on the puck," Payne said. "He had a good year last year, tough start this year. We feel he's a guy that can score at this level and add depth. Right now, we've maintained some pretty good health in that regard. It's been tough to find those opportunities."
D'Agostini was a late scratch, and will not play after all.
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As bleak as their playoff chances are, somehow, the Blues (37-31-9) are still mathematically alive -- thanks to the March Meltdown by the Colorado Avalanche, who have only won one games since beating the Blues on March 16, going 1-6-1.
They are six points in back of both Colorado and Calgary, who beat the Avalanche Friday night in Denver to pull even with 89 points, with five games to go.
"We can only control ourselves," forward T.J. Oshie said. "It's nice to see there's still a little bit of life left.
"I don't know if (Thursday's 3-2 loss at Nashville) can sting more than it already did. You kind of have that feeling that shot ourselves in the foot with our effort, with our execution and consistency. ... I don't know. Who knows what would have happened, who knows what will happen. We're still fighting."
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The Blues are 2-1-0 against the Stars this season, losing 4-1 here way back on Oct. 24 before winning games in Dallas (4-3 in a shootout) Nov. 25 and blasting the Stars 6-1 at Dallas March 4.
"I think just a lot of shots, going to the net," Oshie said when asked the success in the two games in Dallas. "I'm not sure, but I think our power play's done pretty well against them. Just guys bearing down, just getting to the net. I think the way they play kind of brings out the best in us."
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The Blues had some interesting line combinations at this morning's skate, with Andy McDonald on left wing with David Backes and Oshie, Alex Steen on left wing with Patrik Berglund and David Perron, D'Agostini with Jay McClement and B.J. Crombeen, and D.J. King on left wing with Tkachuk and Brad Boyes.
Defensive pairings saw Eric Brewer working with Mike Weaver, and Erik Johnson, Carlo Colaiacovo and Darryl Sydor working in a trio because Barret Jackman and Roman Polak were not on the ice this morning. Both are a bit dinged up and took a maintenance day.
But Payne said he is expecting Paul Kariya (lower-body) and Colaiacovo (upper-body) to both return to the lineup tonight.
Updated line combinations as of 6:30:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Paul Kariya-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen
D.J. King-Keith Tkachuk-Brad Boyes
That means Cam Janssen, D'Agostini and Brad Winchester will be healthy scratches.
Late update - Barret Jackman (upper-body) will not play tonight, so the d-pairings will be as follows:
Eric Brewer-Roman Polak
Darryl Sydor-Erik Johnson
Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver
Chris Mason, who was the topic of conversation Friday after making a remark about some players not working hard in Thursday's loss, will be in goal.
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The Stars (35-29-14), who downed Edmonton 6-3 Friday at home before coming to St. Louis, jumped ahead of the Blues into 10th place with 84 points, one more than the Blues and Anaheim. But the Blues have one game in hand.
The Stars' lines should remain the same as last night:
Brenden Morrow-Mike Ribeiro-Brandon Segal
Jamie Benn-Mike Modano-Jere Lehtinen
James Neal-Brad Richards-Loui Eriksson
Brian Sutherby-Steve Ott-Toby Peterson
D-pairings should also remain the same:
Nicklas Grossman-Stephane Robidas
Mark Fistric-Trevor Daley
Karlis Skrastins-Matt Niskanen
Kari Lehtonen, who played last night, was expected to get the start again tonight. There was some discussion whether Matt Climie, recalled from the minors Thursday, would get the start.