By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Much has been made about the Blues' upcoming games leading into the Winter Olympic Games. They've been touted as make-or-break games as far as the postseason is concerned.
But after coming off a demanding schedule where games were compressed into a small window if time but saw beatable opponents, the Blues are about to enter into the meat grinder. Finding their way through it will hold a myriad of challenges.
Seven games stand between the Blues (24-22-9) and Valentine's Day, the day the National Hockey League takes a two-week hiatus for the Olympics. There will be six opponents in that time frame (Chicago twice, San Jose, Colorado, Detroit, Toronto and Washington) that hold a combined 182-100-45. Take the Maple Leafs out of the equation and that record balloons to 165-72-34.
In San Jose and Washington, that's the top two teams in each conference along with the Blackhawks, who are second in the west.
So you think the Blues, with 57 points on the season and 13th in the Western Conference -- five points out of eighth place -- are about to run into adversity? They certainly won't shy away from the gauntlet presented before them.
"We got some of the best teams in the league coming in here, but we want to be one of the best teams in the league so we're going to have to play those guys and show that we can beat them on a regular basis," Blues forward David Backes said after Saturday's 3-2 overtime loss to Columbus, a team below the Blues in the West. "That's what we're going to have to do these last few games (before the Winter Olympics).
"... It's going to be a good test, seven or so games before the Olympic break. We'll see if it's make-or-break or if we're in the playoff hunt or if we're going to slide away. It's a test for the guys. We're going to take it head on and show what we've got here."
The Blues' last two games doesn't offer much hope against the formidable foes about to stand in their way. They faced the bottom two teams in the conference and came away with three of four points.
That may not sound all too bad, but considering they escaped with a win at lowly Edmonton and lost in overtime Saturday to the Blue Jackets, even allowing one point at this time of the season is tough to cough up.
"That's not giving the other teams enough credit," Blues goalie Chris Mason said, referring to the loss against Columbus. "We're below a lot of teams and we expect to beat teams ahead of us. We always play tough against Columbus and they play us hard. They've got a lot of talent over there. They're underachieving, but obviously it's a game you want to have like any other game."
The Blues were off on Sunday, and that may have been the best recipe in recent weeks this team has been given. After playing 11 games in 18 days, which included stops in western Canada and Ontario, the Blues used Sunday and will use the next two days before playing again to allow the body to replenish for the upcoming stretch, which will include seven games in 13 days that features three sets of back-to-back games.
"We've got a couple days here to kind of get away from everything," defenseman Mike Weaver said. "We've had a long couple weeks here. ... It's easy to want it (but) tough to earn it.
"The last couple weeks, we were home a combined three days. We were in Canada the rest of the time. Obviously, it's good to kind of step away from everything."
Chicago will be next on the ledger Wednesday in the Windy City. San Jose will follow here Thursday before the Blackhawks return Saturday to Scottrade Center.
Of the next six opponents, the Blues' record is 4-4-2. They have not faced the Leafs or Capitals. They're 0-2 against the Hawks, 1-1-1 against San Jose, 0-1 against the Avs and 3-0-1 against the Red Wings.
"You look at our record against a team like San Jose, who's lost 10 or 12 games this year, they're obviously tight games ... 1-1 or 2-2 (or) overtime like the last one," Backes said. "We seem to rise to their level, play them tight, play them hard and physical. Those are games we have to get two points out of and show that we can play with the best teams in the league, teams that are up for the Presidents' Trophy every year. We've got to make sure the Blues are back there ... they've had a good tradition of making the playoffs 25 years in a row. We need to get back to that and put a few more banners back in the stands here."
First thing's first: just work back into the postseason. A solid stretch of games here that garner two points consistently will go a long way in determining of the Blues will be there at the end this year.
"It'll be a big challenge for us, especially starting next week with the three teams we face in Chicago, San Jose and Chicago again," Mason said. "We've just got to be ready, be a little more disciplined and get our rest here the next few days. It's going to be tough."