By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Instead of solely focusing on finishing in a particular position as the season winds down, the Blues are more geared towards getting their game in order and playing their best hockey when all is said and done by the end of the night Saturday.
From then on, let the chips fall where they may.
"I think that's what we're thinking now, just get back to how we play," center Patrik Berglund said before the Blues faced the Detroit Red Wings Wednesday night. "I think everybody's been talking about that stuff (top seed in the Western Conference and Presidents' Trophy) for so long and we've come off it for a little bit. That's why we're focused on that team game and play solid hockey overall."
Added winger Chris Stewart: "We can't worry about anyone else right now. It's all about the St. Louis Blues. We control our own fate. We're going to take it one game at a time and we've got three tuneup games before the big dance. We've got a big opponent tonight in Detroit, then Phoenix and Dallas. Those are all teams fighting for their lives. Those will be good tests for us."
For Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, the task is keeping his lineup focused while evaluating who plays more when the playoffs roll around.
With the Blues an injury-free team, the bodies are plenty but only so many spots in the lineup.
"This is the deepest we've been. This is the most potential," Hitchcock said of his 48-21-10 team. "This is a chance to get to another level than where we're at, but there is going to be some short-term pain going through this trying to see if we can get these guys up to speed. This lineup that's playing tonight, this is the highest skill level we've been able to put on the ice since I've been here. This is it.
"That's our big focus right now: to get our game in order defensively and puck management-wise ... puck management more than anything. can we get on the same page again. The second thing is where are these guys up to that are coming back? Can we play them where they were up high in the lineup, are they good enough to play there, do they have the energy, do they have the moxie to go there again or do we need to scale them back. We're trying to evaluate that right now."
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One of the players being evaluated is winger Matt D'Agostini, who will play his second game since returning from a concussion that forced him to miss 25 games. D'Agostini, who played on a fourth line with Stewart and Scott Nichol Saturday, will be elevated to play with Berglund and Andy McDonald against the Red Wings (47-27-5).
"I'm just going to try to go out there and skate," D'Agostini said. "I think my game goes right when I'm moving my feet and getting to the places I need to be. Those guys will put in the work. If we play hard and we move our feet, as a line we're pretty quick and can protect the puck and have some success.
"Both their styles, they're easy to play with. Bergy's good at holding onto the puck and using his big body down low. Mac's just good with his speed and he's a smart player all over the ice. Both guys compliment my game well. ... They have that they-can-draw-guys-to-them-thing, get defenses on the wrong side. Whenever there's space opened up for me, it's always a better thing and more room for me to handle the puck and move my feet."
Hitchcock said D'Agostini is effective on the go.
"I think just awareness and playing give-and-go ... this is Game 2 for him, let's see how much further he's up to speed so we can evaluate him," Hitchcock said of D'Agostini. "... I think the right side makes him more comfortable. He uses his speed more. He sees the ice better."
D'Agostini is still getting his game in gear after missing so much time. He feels he's getting up to speed.
"We've had a lot of practices to kind of get back into the swing of things," D'Agostini said. "I've been feeling better day in, day out. With the game shape thing, it takes a while to play a couple games to get into the mix. Hopefully I can get into one tonight."
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Enforcer Ryan Reaves, after sitting out Saturday's game, will return and bring what Hitchcock called, "a lot of energy."
It was perhaps an element missing from Saturday's 5-2 loss to Columbus. The Blues didn't have anyone that can bring an edge and Hitchcock wants that back tonight.
"We're built a certain way and the last couple games, we got away from it," Hitchcock said. "He's back in.
"We've got lots of players that play like that. I think we're better when we play physical. We're better when we knock people on their seats and we've got to get back to that mentality with our role players. We're very good when we play that way. When we play that deep, north game, I think we have a bigger impact on our energy. We're not a good team when we play quiet. He brings a lot of energy and intensity to our game, whether it's (Reaves), (B.J. Crombeen)... those type of players. Even (Chris) Porter when he plays like that. They bring a lot of energy to our game so I'm looking forward to it."
Said Reaves, who has dressed in 58 games: "It did look like there was a physical aspect missing. Whether it's me or Beener bring that, one of us two. A lot of other guys can step up and do that, too. It just might have been lacking from a couple of guys the last game."
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The Red Wings, who are 0-5-2 in their last seven road games, will play away from the confines of Joe Louis Arena in the regular season for the final time tonight.
And much like their counterparts in the Blues, the Red Wings are getting healthy and looking to gear their game towards an NHL-best 21st straight playoff run.
"Going through that injury stratch messed with the rhythm and timing of things, but now that we've got our full lineup back minus (Darren Helm) and (Patrick Eaves), it should give us a good chance the last three games getting our game just right heading into the playoffs," said goalie Jimmy Howard, who has had three stretches this season out with injuries.
The Wings have missed at one time or another guys like Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom, Danny Cleary, Ian White, Darren Helm, Todd Bertuzzi and Jonathan Ericsson. They have managed to stay up to speed, just like the Blues. Depth has been key.
"I think it's good for us in the long run," center Justin Abdelkader said of the team's depth. "Guys have played more expanded roles and gotten more minutes. When everyone's healthy, hopefully it's helped taken us in the right direction and our depth has come through. Hopefully we're ready to make a run here in the playoffs."
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The Wings, with 99 points and a record of 47-27-5, can reach the 100-point mark tonight for an NHL-record 12th consecutive season with at least an overtime/shootout loss.
It's quite a feat, especially since there is so much parity in the NHL these days and the man power teams deal with, particularly with so many injuries.
"That is pretty impressive since the last month and a half here hasn't been too kind to us with the injury bug," Howard said. "The guys stepped up and we got ourselves a chance to do it again.
"It just shows you do a lot of winning throughout the years. ... It's difficult. It's not easy by any means, especially with the parity throughout the league. Anyone can beat anyone now on any given night. To be able to hit 100 points here again tonight if we get the opportunity, it would be pretty sweet."
Abdelkader, a part of two of those 100-point seasons and looking for his third, said there were difficult times for the team when it went through a 1-6-2 stretch before winning three of five.
"We tried to sustain what we had going, but it was tough," Abdelkader said. "Our play kind of declined there for a while. When you have so many injuries like that, it's tough to maintain it, but now's the time to get everyone healthy and everyone's been coming around. That's good for us.
"It is an accomplishment (reaching 100 points) and it's a tribute to the owners, the management, the scouts that do all the work. Bringing the teams together each year, I think they've done a tremendous job."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-Matt D'Agostini
Alex Steen-Jason Arnott-Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner-Vladimir Sobotka-Ryan Reaves
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott gets the start in goal, his first action since the third of three straight shutouts recorded. Elliott comes in with a franchise- and personal-best streak of shutout minutes at 186 minutes 33 seconds; Jaroslav Halak, who started the last two games, is the backup.
The Blues' scratches include forwards Nichol, Crombeen and Porter as well as defensemen Kent Huskins and Ian Cole.
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The Red Wings' probable lineup:
Valtteri Filppula-Henrik Zetterberg-Jiri Hudler
Gustav Nyquist-Pavel Datsyuk-Johan Franzen
Danny Cleary-Justin Abdelkader-Todd Bertuzzi
Drew Miller-Cory Emmerton-Tomas Holmstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom-Jonathan Ericsson
Niklas Kronwall-Brad Stuart
Jakub Kindl-Ian White
Jimmy Howard starts in goal; Ty Conklin is the backup.
Red Wings D Kyle Quincey will serve his one-game suspension tonight after being disciplined following an elbow to Florida's Tomas Kopecky Sunday in Detroit. LW Jan Mursak is a healthy scratch. C Patrick Eaves (fractured jaw) is on injured reserve, as is RW Darren Helm (MCL sprain) and G Joey MacDonald (bulging disk).