Saturday, April 12, 2014

As Blues season concludes, they must soldier on

Face Detroit today looking to snap five-game slide 
with division title still at stake despite depleted lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Even though the longest losing streak in six years, even through a sudden plethora of injuries that would overwhelm a hospital emergency room, the Blues still have incentive to win game No. 82.

The regular season ends when the Blues (52-22-7) entertain the Detroit Red Wings (38-28-15) today at 11:30 a.m. (NBC, KY 98-FM) and the wounded Blues still have a division title at stake, thanks to San Jose's win against Colorado Friday night.

The scenario plays out as follows: a Blues victory, which would snap a five-game losing skid that nobody saw coming, would force the Avalanche to defeat the Anaheim Ducks. Those two teams play at 7 p.m. Anything less than two points in that scenario for the Avalanche gives the Blues the Central Division title for the second time in three seasons. The Avalanche, based on having more ROW's (regulation/overtime wins) owns the tiebreaker with the Blues should they finish tied in points.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jaden Schwartz (9) and the Blues look to break a five-game losing skid
when the wrap up the regular season today at home against Detroit. 

If the Blues suffer a sixth straight regulation defeat today, the Avalanche would win the division and the Blues would face the Chicago Blackhawks to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs, beginning with Game 1 Thursday or Friday in St. Louis.

Should the Blues win the division, they would then play the Minnesota Wild, who are the top wild-card team out of the Western Conference.

Bottom line, whatever the Blues do points-wise today, all the Avalanche has to do is match it. 

The Blues, who were on pace for a record-setting season and just as short as a week ago had the opportunity to win a Presidents' Trophy, the top seed in the Western Conference and were virtually a lock to win the Central Division, went from a relatively healthy lineup (minus Vladimir Tarasenko) to facing the Dallas Stars on Friday night without David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Brenden Morrow, Vladimir Sobotka and Derek Roy. And late in the 3-0 loss to the Stars, the Blues lost Patrik Berglund to an upper-body injury that could keep him out for an extended period of time.

The lineup featured the likes of Ty Rattie, the team's 2011 second round pick who made his NHL debut, veterans Keith Aucoin and Adam Cracknell. All three were recalled from the American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves on Friday.  

"The positive thing is we have one more game to play, there's going to be 14 teams out on Sunday night, and we're one of the 16 that are in," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "So we're in the dance starting on Monday. 

"We've got time to get ready and ... maybe the landscape changes a little, but the goal doesn't change. (The) goal doesn't change one bit. You never know. You never know who's the new hero, you never know who comes in and help you, you never know who comes back and helps you. All those things. you don't know that stuff. You've got to go through it."

What the lineup resembles this morning could be similar to what was out there Friday night. Whatever situation the Blues face, they know there is still another goal left.

"It's not fun (with the injuries) and it's an important game," Hitchcock said. "We've got to get a (win), but if we don't, we've still got to get up Monday morning and find a roster to be able to play.

"Anybody that can play is playing. Anybody that can't isn't going to play. We're playing that game to win and that's going to be our attitude. Our roster is our roster, nobody is feeling sorry for us. But after the game is over, we're going to move on quickly. Some teams get to go to work on Monday or Tuesday. Maybe we're a team that has to rest a whole bunch, but regardless, when it starts up, nothing changes. It's still find a way."

And the players know this well.

"We're in a spot we haven't really been in much this year, but there's a lot of guys in here that have been around the block once or twice and I think we can pull ourselves out of it if we put in a good effort on Sunday," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "That's all we can worry about right now and then we start practicing next week and get ready for playoffs."

Tarasenko (thumb) has been out since March 15, and then the snowball effect began with Backes taking a shot off his left foot from teammate Alexander Steen on Tuesday against Washington. Morrow also hurt his foot during the morning skate prior to facing Minnesota, Oshie (upper-body) took an illegal check to the head by Minnesota's Mike Rupp, which resulted in a four-game suspension by the NHL's Department of Player Safety, and both Sobotka (lower body) and Roy (upper body) were also injured in the game against the Wild. Berglund appeared to be favoring his shoulder or elbow following a reverse hit attempt with the Stars' Jordie Benn with under seven minutes left.

"You know what, (stuff) happens," Hitchcock said. "It's not going to change what our goal is. It might alter the way we play -- it probably will -- but it's not going to change the (darn) goal. Like some series start off, you're saying, 'OK, let's get these guys right now.' And some of them you're saying, 'Let's keep this going, let's buy time because the cavalry is coming back in and they're going to give us a hand.' That's just the dramatics of playoffs. But jeez, it could be a lot worse. There are 14 teams that are in a lost worse shape than we are.

"I've seen it turn the other way quickly. All of the sudden, you come to the rink and somebody who's not supposed to play says, 'You know what coach, I can go,' and the whole mentality changes."

Hitchcock warned before this losing skid that teams limping into the playoffs typically don't have a good chance of amping their game back up when the intensity and heat of the playoffs begin. But he softened his stance with a prime example.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (middle) and his Blues teammates can still win the
Central Division crown with a victory against the Red Wings.

"Boston finished 2-7-2 at the end of last year, 2-7-1 or some darn thing and only got healthy at the end of the Toronto series, barely," Hitchcock said. "Then won it in dramatic fashion in Game 7 because the series got extended. Went on to play in the Cup final. 

"You don't know that stuff. Starting Monday, you just fight, you just fight and battle."

Ryan Miller, who is 0-4 with a 4.04 goals-against average and .856 save percentage in his past four starts, is the projected starter for the Blues today.

* NOTES -- With Berglund out of action, the team on Saturday recalled forward Sergey Andronov from the Wolves.

Andronov, 24, has played in 50 games for Chicago this season. He has 25 points (12 goals, 13 assists). 

The Penza, Russia native was originally drafted by the Blues in the third round of the 2009 NHL Draft.

. . . According to reports from Detroit, the Wings will start Jimmy Howard in goal against the Blues. Also, veteran right wing Daniel Alfredsson will be a healthy scratch, likely getting rest before the playoffs start and Joakim Andersson will slot into Alfredsson's spot at forward.

. . . This is the Wings' lone visit to St. Louis this season. With Detroit moving to the Eastern Conference, the former division rivals used to frequent St. Louis with multiple visits per season. The Blues won the lone meeting between the two teams, 4-1, at Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 20.


  1. Why isn't Elliot Starting this gane? Obviously Miller needs a rest! We have nothing to lose here, and the D plays better in front of Brian!

  2. It says projected. Nowhere does it say he is the starter.