By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The obvious disappointment for the Blues will come when the final horn sounds at the conclusion of tonight's season finale and there will be no more practices, no more games to look forward to.
Playoff hockey will once again be foreign territory in St. Louis, but for a team that will finish short of its goal once again, there have been plenty of positives to come from the team, the organization and the players that continue to strive to get this hockey club back to where they resided for many years pre-lockout: back to the postseason.
Blues coach Davis Payne said one aspect certainly stood out to him in his first full season.
"The progression," Payne said. "You can ask a young group to do a lot of things and go through a lot of things and I think we've come out with a real strong mentality at the end of the year here playing a team game. We've got guys who are continuing to play banged up, continuing to play with injuries that at this time of the year is a great statement to your teammates, to the club, to the organization.
"We want this thing to continue to push forward in the right direction. That type of sacrifice, that type of leadership, that type of example goes a long way. I think those pieces are there. It needs to get better obviously, but we've got great pieces as far as how this team approaches every single day and what they're willing to do for each other."
The Blues and Nashville Predators (44-26-11) close out the season at 7 p.m. today (FSN, KYKY 98.1-FM) and the Blues got one last chance to get together for the morning skate together as a group, because in all likelihood, this particular group will never be together on the same team.
"We've created a lot of great friendships. This locker room's like family," forward T.J. Oshie said. "... It's unfortunate we didn't make the playoffs but definitely something to build off of is the chemistry we've developed in the locker room.
"Especially the way the year has gone, especially for me for it to end so suddenly. Sometimes, you look forward to the summer and think it's going to be fun, but I definitely don't want it to end right now."
Neither do Oshie's teammates.
"We really do have a great group of guys," forward B.J. Crombeen said. "We really get along well. We enjoy playing with each other. We enjoy everything about this team and this organization. It's obviously a huge disappointment not making the playoffs.
"We've shown we've played some pretty good hockey when we're all together and all healthy. It's a positive thing for next year. I think it's only going to motivate guys this summer and come back ready to not only start on the right foot but carry it through the whole year."
Added defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, in his first full season, "I've never been with such a young group of guys at this level. It's a real fun-knit group, a real tight-knit group. Guys get along real well on this team, guys support each other. It's always fun to go to the rink when you've got a situation like that.
"Everybody gets along and that's a good chemistry to have moving forward."
All the Blues have left is to go out with a bang tonight. They're 9-5-2 in the last 16 games and 5-1-2 in the last eight.
"Everyone worked real hard. We were committed to the goal," Crombeen said. "Obviously we didn't get the results that we needed to get. ... Everyone's just focused on finishing the year out right here and playing a good, strong game tonight."
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The NHL Draft Lottery will commence on Tuesday, and how it all unfolds for the Blues will determine if they keep their No. 1 pick this summer or give it up to the Colorado Avalanche as part of the trade that brought Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk here.
The Blues currently sit in 20th place, or 11th from the bottom. A Blues win tonight in regulation would ensure they finish 11th from the bottom. But they could possibly move up as high as four spots should they win the draft lottery, which involves the 14 teams not in the playoffs.
The Blues have a 1.5 percent chance of winning the lottery, which would vault them to the No. 7 pick. They would then have the option of keeping the pick or giving it up to the Avalanche. Should they finish out of the top 10, the pick goes to the Avalanche.
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Looks like the Blues only have one change in tonight's lineup:
Andy McDonald-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Matt D'Agostini-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Alex Steen-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Porter
Ryan Reaves-B.J. Crombeen-Cam Janssen
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Nikita Nikitin-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak, 5-1-1 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage lifetime against Nashville, gets the nod in the finale.
Philip McRae, who played Wednesday in Chicago, is the healthy scratch. David Perron (concussion) will have missed the final 72 games this season after being injured Nov. 4.
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The Predators, who currently sit in fourth place in the Western Conference standings, are battling with Phoenix and Los Angeles for home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. They did not skate this morning after Friday's 4-1 home victory over Columbus, their 17th straight home win over the Blue Jackets.
The Predators' probable lineup:
Sergei Kostitsyn-Mike Fisher-Patric Hornqvist
Nick Spaling-David Legwand-Joel Ward
Matt Halischuk-Jerred Smithson-Jordin Tootoo
Colin Wilson-Blake Geoffrion-Steve Sullivan
Ryan Suter-Shea Weber
Jonathan Blum-Kevin Klein
Shane O'Brien-Cody Franson
Pekka Rinne, who is having a Vezina trophy-like season at 33-21-9 with a 2.12 GAA and .930 save percentage, is likely to start again tonight with Nashville wanting to hold onto fourth place. Rinne is 8-4-2 with a 2.02 GAA and .926 save percentage in his career against the Blues.
Wingers Martin Erat (back) and J.P. Dumont were scratched Friday night and it's unknown if either will play tonight. Also, center Cal O'Reilly (lower-body) is questionable. Forward Matthew Lombardi (concussion), center Marcel Goc (shoulder) and defenseman Francis Bouillon (concussion) are out.