Blues, Wild will battle for first time on consecutive
nights this season with four points at stake
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- In the previous coaching regime, it was said that there's no such thing as a four-point game. Only the two points were on the line and that's all that mattered.
Technically speaking, former Blues coach Andy Murray was right. But it definitely wouldn't be incorrect to call it a four-point swing.
So when the Blues (24-20-8) and Minnesota Wild (28-20-5) square off twice in a span of two days, a throwback to the old days of the NHL when back-to-back games between the same opponents was common, do we call it an eight-point weekend?
"Kind of," said Blues defenseman Erik Johnson, a Bloomington, Minn. native who will be going home for a day after Friday's game.
Or as coach Davis Payne puts it, "The most we can get is four and the most they can get is four. They start adding up in the win column and the loss column for either team."
No matter how you dissect it, the Blues, who are 2-0-1 in the month of February and already matching their win total of January, need to apply as much pressure to those teams directly ahead of them.
Minnesota is one of them.
The Blues sit in 13th place in the Western Conference with 56 points. The Wild is in ninth place with 61 points.
"It's a team that's ahead of you in the standings," Johnson said. "To do it in back-to-back games, it's huge to get the two points at home and it's big to start at home. Hopefully we'll get a win at home and translate all that momentum on the road and hopefully win back-to-back games. It's huge, huge, huge must-get points for us."
Added Payne, "To us, this is an opportunity to play some great hockey against a team we know we've got to catch or reel in or leapfrog in order to get into the playoffs. They've been playing pretty good hockey over the last little while here. We know we've got a tough couple games here but four-point swing ... tough to assume that that's exactly what it is when you're only going to get two after each win."
It's the first meeting of the season between conference opponents, where the Blues have already faced Nashville five times, they're done with Dallas (four meetings) and faced everyone else in the West at least twice.
Getting two wins this weekend for the Blues would be a huge boost, but all they're worried about right now is tonight's 7 p.m. game at Scottrade Center.
"We're not looking forward to the Saturday night game yet," forward T.J. Oshie said. "We've got to set the pace early (Friday). I think it's all going to start with a good start on Friday night and just go from there, keep pushing them back, playing fast, playing how we want to play for the full 120 minutes."
The Blues, who had one of the worst months in franchise history in January at 2-8-2, will be looking to keep a streak alive of at least gaining a point in each game out of the All-Star break. They've earned five of a possible six points in three contests.
"It's a huge pace to get on to start with how poor our January was," Johnson said. "It's a pace that we have to stay on to keep ourselves in the hunt. It's not going to do us any good to look at the standings every day. We just have to come to work and get the job done and focus on getting the two points every night."
Blues fans can recall the days of those back-to-back games with Chicago, Detroit and even the old North Stars of Minnesota. There's a uniqueness to playing the same team on consecutive nights.
"It just kind of fuels the fire a little bit," Payne said. "There's immediate recognition of the same opponent in front of you. ... I think it's a good thing. I think for a coaching staff, it gives you an opportunity to make adjustments, to anticipate theirs and create your own in order to find an edge. By the time you get to the end of the first hockey game, there's not going to be many surprises left. Now it becomes the games within the game that your players and we as coaches have to find a way to create advantages. That's the most exciting part."
The two teams split four games a season ago, each winning both games on home ice and each team scoring nine goals.
"We're kind of a similar team," Johnson said. "They're where we want to be right now, a little bit ahead of us. It's something we have to capitalize on what we have ahead of us here this weekend."