Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Victory over Canucks good steppingstone for Blues

Seven points back of 8th with 27 games remaining;
team to honor four greats who wore No. 7 on March 7

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Let's get one thing straight right off the bat here: Davis Payne is no Herb Brooks. At least the two present themselves in a different manner.

Payne, at least in the public eye, is more relaxed and subdued. Brooks, who orchestrated and was the head coach of the 1980 Miracle on Ice US Olympic Hockey squad, has been known a time or two to inspire and/or make himself be heard loud and clearly.

With 28 games remaining on their schedule heading into Monday's showdown with the Western Conference best Vancouver Canucks, the Blues may have needed one of those Brooks-esque speeches.

Time is ticking and the Blues need to be locked in playoff mode immediately.

"I don't know if you can orate it as well as Herb Brooks can," Payne said Tuesday. "But I think the approach we took yesterday morning was making sure we understood that the Saturday night game in Minnesota lacked a lot of the details that come from effort, that come from our standard of play and making sure we understood with Vancouver coming in, it was a very, very important game for us to establish some momentum and kind of continue some of the things that we've been doing better coming out of the break.

"These guys understand the spot we're in. We talked all summer long, we talked all training camp long about not putting ourselves in this situation but for whatever reason, we face it. We have to face it head-on and our guys recognize the importance of each game and the points that are on the table."

OK, let's not get ourselves carried away. It's one game. The Blues still have a big mountain to climb. The odds are still against them making the playoffs this season.

But if the Blues (25-21-9) are to go on one of these big winning streaks that could conceivably catapult them right back into the thick of the Western Conference race, there was no better place to start than beating the best team in the West.

Monday's 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks was not only critical for the Blues, who trail eighth-place Calgary by seven points, but it was well-deserved.

On the heels of a discouraging weekend against the Minnesota Wild that saw the Blues go 0-1-1 and net one of a possible four points that included an uninspiring 3-1 loss in Minnesota Saturday, the Blues arguably turned in one of their more inspiring efforts of the season Monday.

"There were a number of games that we've had throughout the course of the season that we feel are foundation games," Payne said. "From a commitment level as far as what we're doing with the puck, what we're doing positionally, the direction where we were applying pressure, I think that was a solid 60 minutes that we can include in that package of games we need to hang our hat on and certainly hang it on more often as we go down the stretch."

Forward Andy McDonald called it "the biggest win of the season," while teammate Patrik Berglund, who scored the eventual game-winner with a power play goal in the second, said, "It's up there obviously. Every game counts, and we've got to get a lot of points here."

The Blues did it in a number of areas. They got two big power play goals, the first time that's happened in a game since Dec. 16 -- or a span of 25 games, they limited the top-ranked power play Canucks to one opportunity, they played a disciplined game and Jaroslav Halak was the stopper they needed.

It all added up to a must-win game, as are the remaining 27 games this season.

"We understand the formula. Now it's repetition, it's consistency," Payne said. "It's commitment to make sure that you're going to bring that every single night. Your teammates need it. You need to be prepared. You need to get the right things done on the ice, right things done off the ice. You need to make sure that the focus is with the same sort of intent that we had last night. It wasn't simple. It was winning hockey. We need to be directed that way starting in Buffalo (Friday) and coming back here against Anaheim (Saturday) and going forward.

"... We did a good job of recognizing that last night. It was very steady play for us. The message was steady and simple to the fact that we've got to do the right things as a group, be strong to the group and we'll get the job done."

Friday in Buffalo starts another crucial stretch of games, with the team playing six in eight days and will finally paint a picture of where they are and what needs to be done heading into the Feb. 28 trade deadline.

"We got into this situation ourselves, and we have to get out of it," Berglund said. "We're prepared to do it, and we're willing to do whatever it takes."

* Blues to honor lucky No. 7 -- The Blues will honor the four greatest players in franchise history that donned the No. 7 sweater when they host the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday, March 7 at Scottrade Center.

A pre-game ceremony will recognize Red Berenson, Garry Unger, Joe Mullen and Keith Tkachuk for their contributions and success with No. 7 on their back.

"All four of these players were great players not only for the Blues but for the NHL," Blues President John Davidson said in a statement. "This will be a wonderful night as we bring back the history of the Blues and honor these four greats who all had a different style of hockey while wearing the same number."

Added Blues CEO Mike McCarthy, "We are always looking to add unique and special events for our great fans and this event undoubtedly qualifies."

Berenson, who wore No. 7 from 1967-71, ranks 12th all-time in Blues history in games played (519). He ranks seventh in goals (172) and eighth in both points (412) and assists (240). Now in his 27th season as head coach at the University of Michigan, Berenson also served behind the bench for the Blues from 1980-82. In three years, he led the Blues to a 100-72-32 record and ranks second all-time among Blues coaches with a .569 winning percentage. In addition, the six-time NHL All-Star holds two NHL/franchise records as he scored six goals in one game on Nov. 7, 1968 at Philadelphia including four in one period (second period).

Unger, who was the next player after Berenson to wear No. 7 (1970-79), is the fourth longest tenured Blue in club history. In 662 games, the Calgary, Alberta native accumulated some of the franchise’s top career offensive numbers including ranking fourth all-time in goals (292) and points (575), sixth in assists (283), third in hat tricks (7) and game-winning goals (40) while remaining the club leader in game-tying goals (19). In addition, the seven-time All-Star's 662 career games came in consecutive fashion, a club record, and he remains one of two players in Blues' history to record seven points in one game.

Mullen, who wore the No. 7 from 1979-86, played 301 career games for the Blues and ranks 11th all-time in goals (151), 20th in assists (184) and 13th in points (335). A veteran of 16 NHL seasons, Mullen is one of seven players in franchise history to have averaged over a point per game while with the club. The New York native was also one of the NHL's most prolific U.S.-born players, becoming the first to score 500 goals and record 1,000 points. Overall, he finished his 1,062-game career ranking sixth all-time among U.S.-born skaters in points (1,063), fifth in goals (502) and 11th in assists (561). A three-time NHL All-Star, Mullen was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 2000.

Tkachuk, who was the last player to wear No. 7 (2000-10), retired last season after an 18-year NHL career that included parts of nine seasons with the Blues. A five-time NHL All-Star, Tkachuk ranks 11th in club history in games played (543), fifth in goals (208), 13th in assists (219), seventh in points (427) and tied for fifth in game-winning goals (29). In addition, the Melrose, Massachusetts native finished his career as one of the most productive U.S.-born players in NHL history ranking third in goals (538), fifth in points (1,065) as well as first all-time in power play goals (212).

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