By LOUIE KORAC
CHICAGO -- Not only did David Backes prove the doubters wrong by reaching 30 goals in a season again, but the Blues' top-line center has done it going through the tough rigors of a regular season schedule without a blemish on it.
Backes, along with teammate Matt D'Agostini, are the lone players on the roster who have played each and every of the Blues' 80 games this season and will make it 81 when they play against the Chicago Blackhawks here at United Center tonight (at 7 on Versus, KMOX 1120-AM).
"Knock on wood, there's two more left," Backes joked. "It's also something with having pride and being durable and being in shape. Head injuries are obviously something you don't need to play with, but if there's an ache or a pain, it's something the training staff does a fantastic job of getting you ready. It's mind over matter and getting those competitive juices flowing. After you start the game, there's not much feeling left from those injuries."
Backes, whose career-high goal mark came two seasons ago when he reached 31 (to go along with 54 points), reached the 30-goal mark when he opened the scoring in the Blues' 3-1 win over Colorado Tuesday night at Scottrade Center.
"It's a great plateau for him obviously getting back to that spot," Blues coach Davis Payne said of Backes. "He's played hard hockey this year. Credit to him, that's how he plays. He plays it against other teams' top defenders. He also has a top defensive role for us on both sides. Great to see him get it."
Backes has surpassed his career-best of 54 points (set in 2008-09) by having 30 goals and 30 assists this season to go along with a team-best plus-30 rating, which ranks in the top 10 in the league.
"I've got to maintain that for two more games," Backes said. "I won't count the chickens before they're hatched. The plus-minus sometimes is a terrible stat, but in this case, we'll say it's a great stat. ... That's supposed to mean you're helping the team win a lot more than you're helping them lose. It doesn't happen without good goaltending behind you and guys are willing to commit to the defensive side of the game."
What nerves Backes more than anything is that the Blues (37-33-10) will once again be on the outside looking in as far as the playoffs are concerned. It's too bad because the Blues, 5-1-1 in their last seven games, seem to be finding their niche once again -- just like they did to begin the season.
"I'm sick of those situations of what if there's a month left," Backes said. "It's kind of like we should learn our lesson: fool me once, fool me twice. Let's just play well in the middle part of the season and position ourselves well. If we stumble a little down the home stretch, we drop from maybe a three-four seed to a five-six and still make a good push to get home ice again rather than stumble from a eight, nine, 10 down to 14 and trying to work yourself back into the playoff race. It's not quite the recipe you look for. We need to learn that lesson and let it really let it sink in."
- - -
The Blues have a chance to be spoilers here tonight, as the Blackhawks, who are coming off a 2-1 overtime loss in Montreal Tuesday, are in the fight of their lives to get back into the playoffs after winning the Stanley Cup a season ago.
The Hawks sit in the eighth and final playoff spot but sit just two points ahead of both Dallas and Calgary.
"That's more incentive along with guys proving to be professionals," Backes said. "We're keeping spots or earning spots for next year, contracts, earning ice time, responsibilities ... there's plenty to play for.
"Whenever you get a rival team like Chicago, if you can spoil their postseason hopes, there's plenty more to play for. In their building, they get a lot of support the same way we do here. We expect them to have a good game and we need to match their intensity and have a much cleaner game than we had here (Tuesday).
"We're one of the teams that they don't show when they show the Western Conference playoff race. That's just fact and the way that it is. We need to play for our fans, for the city and make sure they know we're building something here with a few more pieces, play with the same consistency we have here the last five or six games and show them we're doing something right. We're going to be a contender next year."
- - -
Jaroslav Halak, who will get the start again tonight, is 4-1-1 in his last six starts, was very strong in the 3-1 win over Colorado, stopping 26 of 27 shots faced, which includes the final 16 he saw.
"I think our guys are playing better when they started coming back from injuries," Halak said, detracting credit to his teammates. "Right now, we've been playing some really good hockey, but too bad it's too late."
Halak is 7-4-1 since coming back from a broken hand and has allowed more than three goals in that stretch once. He's allowed one goal in each of the Blues' last two games
- - -
T.J. Oshie's fight with the Avs' Ryan Wilson Tuesday was the first in his NHL career, a tussle in the third period that saw Oshie handle himself pretty well against a formidable opponent.
"I was kind of happy to see him get going there," said teammate Kevin Shattenkirk, who knows a thing or two about Wilson after playing with him earlier this season. "(Oshie) makes great cutbacks and sometimes catches a hit in the face or something like that and to see him really stand up for himself and do a really great job in a pretty good fighter in Ryan Wilson ... he did a tremendous job. We're all really happy to see that."
- - -
Andy McDonald's three-point game Tuesday matched a season best, now done five times.
McDonald also reached the 20-goal mark, giving the Blues five 20-goal scorers.
However, McDonald is looking more at the big picture, not personal stats.
"We're certainly looking for positives. It's frustrating being in the position that we are," he said. "... We know we're kind of getting ready for next year. We definitely want to leave the season on a good note. We want to go into the summer and look back and say we finished playing good hockey and realize next year we can't put ourselves in that position."
- - -
The Blues had an optional skate here this morning, with only five guys on the ice. The lineup feature a couple changes. Philip McRae will return to the lineup after sitting out the last three games. It looks like Cam Janssen is the healthy scratch; not on the ice for pre-game warm-ups:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Matt D'Agostini-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Alex Steen-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Porter
Ryan Reaves-Philip McRae-B.J. Crombeen
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak
Ty Conklin gets the start in goal tonight. It will be the 200th NHL game of Conklin's career. He is 8-5-0 in 15 career starts with a 2.94 goals-against average and .899 save percentage against the Blackhawks.
- - -
The Blackhawks are saying they could get Patrick Sharp (knee) back into the lineup tonight. He's missed the previous seven games. Also, Troy Brouwer (shoulder) is listed as day to day after being injured Tuesday night at Montreal.
AHL callup Ben Smith will likely be inserted into the lineup. Smith was recalled from Rockford today following Brouwer's injury abd take the place of Marcus Kruger.
The Blackhawks will likely roll out the following lineup tonight but line combinations are anyone's guess but we'll give it a shot:
Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Sharp
Bryan Bickell-Michael Frolik-Marian Hossa
Viktor Stalberg-Jake Dowell-Fernando Pisani
Tomas Kopecky-Ryan Johnson-Ben Smith
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Chris Campoli-Nick Leddy
Corey Crawford is expected to get the start tonight. Crawford is 2-0-1 with a 4.22 GAA and .862 save percentage in three career starts against the Blues.