By LOUIE KORAC
DALLAS -- As the Blues play Game No. 82 tonight against a makeshift Dallas Stars lineup playing out the string, there's still something to play for.
No, not all those accolades mentioned in the press the past couple weeks. Throw out the Presidents' Trophy, throw out all the talk about winning the Western Conference -- even though the Blues are still mathematically alive for it, throw out Jennings Trophy talk, throw out Norris Trophy talk, Vezina Trophy talk.
With the Blues mired in their longest winless streak of the season (0-2-2), what needs to happen tonight at American Airlines Center, the Blues need to get back to doing what they do best: play with an edge and play as a 20-man unit.
"Absolutely, and it's 20 guys doing it," captain David Backes said. "It's not one or two or even five (players). It's 10 guys every night that are looking for an easy game and it's not the way we need to play to be successful and as long as we have that, we're not going to be very good. Once we get it back, we're going to be a force to be reckoned with.
"When you start talking about trophies and championships and all these accolades in the regular season, we stop thinking about the next shift or the next game. We start thinking about we need eight of 10 points or who's got more regulation or overtime wins. That doesn't help us concentrate and have an edge and focus on what we need to focus on to win games. That distracts us and we need to be more mentally strong and push that stuff aside and get back on task."
Coach Ken Hitchcock has a rather easy solution.
"It's pretty simple: we need to play better," Hitchcock said. "We need more players playing better. ... It's not exactly inventing something here. We need to just play better. We need more players on our team bringing a better game into the group so we can have something to build on.
"It's a deferral. It's when you add good players to your lineup, you want someone else to do the heavy lifting. So it's two things. It's a deferral, let someone else do the heavy lifting. Secondly, we got too far ahead of ourselves. We started looking at next week, rather than day to day. We let the opponent dictate how we were going to play. When you live in fear, you usually play well. And when you're comfortable, it comes out."
This might be a time when leadership jumps up and makes a stand with the rest of the group, but according to Backes, that can only go so far.
"It's the NHL. You've got to be motivated from within," Backes said. "The leaders can lead, but there's enough guys that have been players.
"It's Game 82. If you need to be motivated right now, it's your own damn fault. We've got 26 guys, six that are not gonna play every night that are working their butts off to get in that lineup, and if you don't want to be a part of the solution, then you're part of the problem and you can watch from the stands."
So why has it come to this?
"I don't know why, but it's got to change," Backes said. "The sooner it happens, the more success we're going to have. If it stays that way, we're going to be flipping coins to see who wins games. Our coin flips haven't been very good lately."
Added Hitchcock: "It's just an attitude that you need to narrow your focus, keep your focus simple. Focus on the day to day, let the coach take care of the big picture, and you guys worry about the little picture. It always gets complicated when players start thinking too much big picture stuff. The players just need to look at the competitive part of the game and let us take care of the big picture."
The Blues' scenario for a Western Conference No. 1 seed is as follows:
Any type of win tonight against Dallas and a regulation loss by Vancouver against Edmonton. Anything else gives the Canucks the No. 1 seed and the Blues the No. 2 seed, and they will face any of the following: Los Angeles, San Jose or Phoenix.
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Tonight's Blues' lineup:
David Perron-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
Alex Steen-Patrik Berglund-Andy McDonald
Jaden Schwartz-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Jamie Langenbrunner-Scott Nichol-B.J. Crombeen
Kent Huskins-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Jaroslav Halak gets the start in goal; Brian Elliott serves as the backup.
The Blues' scratches include forwards Matt D'Agostini, Ryan Reaves, Chris Porter and Jason Arnott as well as defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian Cole. Arnott and Colaiacovo did not accompany the team on the trip.
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The Stars' probable lineup:
Reilly Smith-Jamie Benn-Michael Ryder
Loui Eriksson-Tom Wandell-Scott Glennie
Eric Nystrom-Vernon Fiddler-Tomas Vincour
Brenden Morrow-Ryan Garbutt-Adam Burish
Alex Goligoski-Philip Larsen
Brenden Dillon-Trevor Daley
Adam Pardy-Jordie Benn
Richard Bachman will start in goal; Kari Lehtonen will back up.
AHL Texas Stars Friday. Smith and Jordie Benn, Jamie Benn's older brother, will be playing their third NHL games, respectively.
Dallas is scratching several veterans that are banged up with minor injuries. They include C Mike Ribeiro, D Stephane Robidas, LW Steve Ott, D Sheldon Souray, D Mark Fistric (groin), RW Jake Dowell, C Toby Petersen and RW Radek Dvorak.