Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Curtain finally falls on Blues' playoff hopes

Colorado's shootout win Tuesday eliminates
St. Louis, which plays at Chicago tonight

ST. LOUIS -- Now, it's over -- officially.

When the Blues step onto the ice tonight at United Center to face the Central Division champ Chicago Blackhawks, the game will have no meaning.

At least from the Blues' standpoint.

The Blues finally had their life support plug pulled, courtesy of the Colorado Avalanche, which wrapped up the last of the eight playoff berths in the Western Conference when the Avs won in Vancouver late Tuesday night, 4-3 in a shootout.

But when the Blues (39-31-9) boarded their plane for Chicago Wednesday afternoon, there were still hopes that somehow, this could be extended one more day.

That's how the Blues were living -- it seems like -- for the past couple weeks.

But when they take the ice today for the morning skate, it will be business as usual for a team, though, that will congregate afterwards knowing nothing is at stake anymore.

They couldn't decide their own fate this time, like they did a season ago.

"It's frustrating to do," defenseman Erik Johnson said of scoreboard watching. "You want to kind of have your fate in your own hands, but we're in this position and we'll have to see what other teams do."

Now they know.

The Calgary Flames, the team directly in front of the Blues, lost 2-1 at home to San Jose, so one half of Tuesday's equation went the way the Blues wanted. But then the Avalanche went and knocked three teams out of the playoffs (the Blues, Flames and Anaheim) all with one blow.

"We obviously know that a lot of the stuff is out of our hands based on what Colorado and Calgary do," Blues coach Davis Payne said Tuesday morning. "All we can do is continue to apply our pressure from behind and make sure if they stumble, we're right there."

No need coach, Colorado didn't stumble. And it was at the expense of the Canucks, who in a sense helped end the Blues' season two years running after sweeping them in the first round of the playoffs last season.

"We talk about the fact we don't like where we are, but all we can do is paint the landscape the way we want it to look," Payne said. "That's by getting two points every time we play. If the other team stumbles, we're going to be there. If they take care of business, it's a little bit tougher road."

And so when the Blues take the ice one final time Saturday in Nashville, it will be the end of the road, having regressed after last season's miracle run to the playoffs.

Many factors will play a role in this season's run that fell short. For one, a home record that was the worst in the league until a recent stretch of winning eight of 10 on Scottrade Center ice, including the last five. Also, blowing big leads. Three games, the Blues lost when leading by three and another recently at Nashville, they led 2-0 and lost.

"We’ve constantly been on the wrong side of the pile all the time and it's really difficult to make up ground as we've all known, and we're just running out of games now," defenseman Eric Brewer said recently. "You have to be good for the whole season. You really can't have that month off or that big stretch of games where it doesn't go very well for you. You have to continually get points, you can't give away the points. The slow accumulation or non-accumulation of those single points throughout the year, they make a difference at the end."

They certainly made a difference for the Blues when this season comes to an end.

* NOTES -- Forwards Patrik Berglund (upper-body) and Keith Tkachuk (lower-body) were injured in Monday's 2-1 overtime win over Columbus. Tkachuk is questionable tonight against the Blackhawks (7:30 p.m., FS Midwest, KMOX 1120-AM) but Payne said he was "hopeful" of getting Tkachuk into the lineup. Berglund did not accompany the team to Chicago and will not play. Neither will defenseman Barret Jackman (upper-body), who will miss his third straight game. ... The Blackhawks (50-22-7) will have plenty to play for tonight, as they trail San Jose by two points for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Blues are 2-3-0 against Chicago this season, splitting the two previous games in Chicago.

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