By LOU KORAC
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- By taking care of their own business and a little scoreboard watching up in Alberta, the Blues (41-28-6) could solidify a position that was in question just a little over a month ago.
With a win against the Arizona Coyotes (27-40-9) today (9:30 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) and a Calgary Flames win over the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues would punch their ticket into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The only questions remaining would be where would the Blues finish and who would they open the Western Conference first round against.
"It's good motivation for us tonight to go out and play a real strong game," said defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who tied a career-high with his 12th goal of the season Monday in a 4-1 win over the Coyotes. "We've talked about us playing really good hokey right now, and I think it's an opportunity for us to put ourselves in a real good spot in the standings. A lot on the line tonight. It makes for an exciting game for us."
For a while there, the Blues were teetering on the brink of being in and being on the outside looking in, but a 10-1-1 run and the Kings slipping in the standings drastically, including a 2-5-1 stretch in the past eight, puts them in grave danger of missing the playoffs again.
Also for the Blues, it's a chance to leapfrog the Nashville Predators into third place in the Central Division by a point. The Predators lost 4-1 at Boston on Tuesday and the Blues' game in hand is tonight.
"More proud after we do it. We're in a good position," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "You come into a game like this tonight and we have a chance to clinch. We can do our part, we need somebody else to do their part, but I just think we've got a chance, we've got an opportunity here down the stretch.
"We've said our goal, there's two parts two it. The first is to make sure we get in and the second is to make sure that our game is real sharp, and if we continue to make sure our game's real sharp, then we'll go in in a good spot. Making the playoffs, it's a big deal. So to have a chance to do that tonight's pretty exciting."
The Blues have been the beneficiaries of playing one of the weaker schedules down the stretch. This will mark the third time since March 18 they'll have faced the Coyotes. The Blues have played the last-place Colorado Avalanche twice since March 5 and will play in Denver Friday and host the Avalanche to conclude the regular season on April 9.
"It's almost like a playoff series as many times as we've played them," Pietrangelo said of the Coyotes. "Coaches don't like it, but the best part is we don't have to sit through as many meetings. It's easier on us."
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Defenseman Jordan Schmaltz will enter the lineup for his third NHL game.
Schmaltz, who's been a healthy scratch the past eight games, will replace Carl Gunnarsson in the lineup tonight.
Gunnarsson was apparently injured in the win over the Coyotes Monday and according to Yeo, missed the last 10 minutes of the game, which had Yeo joking: "If you guys would have been watching the game ... were you guys even there?"
Gunnarsson didn't skate this morning.
"Yeah, a little bit (dinged up). Held him off the ice today," Yeo said. "This was a game we were going to play Schmaltz no matter what. Keep 'Gunny' off the ice here today and should expect him back soon hopefully."
Schmaltz played 12 minutes, 8 seconds March 11 against the New York Islanders after making his NHL debut on March 5 against the Avalanche, where he played 15:07; he'll play alongside Robert Bortuzzo tonight.
"Always nice to know you're going to get back in the lineup and playing the game that you love, so yeah, it's going to be fun. I can't wait for it," Schmaltz said. "... You've just got to be ready for the bell. I guess the bell's ringing so I've got to answer the call here."
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Goalie Carter Hutton will also enter the lineup tonight against the Coyotes in a potential clinching game.
Despite Jake Allen being 7-0-0 with a 1.00 goals-against average and .961 save percentage in his career against Arizona, including a 3-0 shutout here at Gila River Arena on March 18, Yeo said it's time to get Hutton some work.
"He's got all the skills of winning hockey games and doing the right things there, but there's much more than goes into it," Yeo said. "He's a great teammate for the guys. He's a guy that goes unnoticed just the extra work that he puts in after practice so guys in their game can stay sharp. I'm hoping that we put a good game in front of him here tonight.
"He's got a great attitude. He's happy for Jake's success. At the same time, he's a competitor and he wants to play. He makes sure that he stays focused and he's prepared. He puts an awful lot of work in on the non-game days to make sure his game stays sharp."
Hutton's last start was March 16, a 4-1 win at San Jose.
"Jakey's our guy; we know that," Hutton said. "... As of late, I haven't played that often, and when I have played, it's been back-to-backs. But I understand. I understand how it works. I thought at a point in the year, I came in and was solid when we needed it and I helped out and that's what you need sometimes from a No. 2 guy. Sometimes you're going to be called upon when normally you wouldn't be. It might not be that back-to-back situation. Now we're rolling and things are going well, so it is what it is. I can only control what I can do on the ice, my output in practice and preparing."
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The Blues will insert a few tweaks into their specialty teams tonight, too.
Schmaltz will get some time on the point on the second power play unit, and Zach Sanford will move up to the first unit, dropping Patrik Berglund back to the second unit as well.
The Blues are 0-for-9 the past four games on the power play and haven't scored a man-advantage goal since Pietrangelo's tally at the tail end of a five-minute power play here on March 18.
"Last game was just not even close enough to good enough for us," Yeo said. "It's one thing if you don't score, but you want to generate some momentum and you want the rest of the guys on the bench feeling like we're doing the right things. Certainly that wasn't the case last game. We have to be much better tonight.
"We lost a lot of momentum from that (the first period power plays Monday). Watching the game again, our first couple shifts of the game were good and then it just kind of sucked the life out of us, so we have to be much better."
Schmaltz will quarterback along with Colton Parayko.
"I think I can help on that sort of end," Schmaltz said. "It's always nice being on the power play, getting a little more ice and hopefully create some scoring chances."
As for Sanford, it's a chance to put a bigger body at the net.
"Our power play hasn't been as good as it needs to be lately," Sanford said. "Hopefully I can be strong there and help us out.
"I think a lot of it's just getting to the net. We play on the perimeter a lot. I didn't really talk to the coaches too much, but I think they wanted 'Bergy' on the wall there on the second one, which makes sense. It's just another big guy to create traffic."
Putting Schmaltz on the man-advantage gives him an opportunity to get more acclimated with playing, since there's a likelihood he'll play Friday in Colorado, too.
"We intended to play him in this game and most likely next game no matter what because obviously guys have been doing a really good job, all of our guys, but we want to make sure everybody stays a part of it and everybody's game is staying sharp," Yeo said. "He's a young player who needs the experience so we feel like now's a good time."
"The last couple games, he just kind of said he's not going to make promises but to just be ready," Schmaltz said of Yeo. "I'm just trying to do that every day working after practice and stuff like that. Just trying to be a good teammate."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Nail Yakupov
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Robert Bortuzzo-Jordan Schmaltz
Carter Hutton will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
The Blues have no healthy scratches. Paul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (knee), Jori Lehtera (upper body), Carl Gunnarsson (undisclosed) and Dmitrij Jaskin (upper body) are out with injuries.
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The Coyotes' projected lineup:
Clayton Keller-Christian Dvorak-Radim Vrbata
Max Domi-Alexander Burmistrov-Anthony Duclair
Brendan Perlini-Jordan Martinook-Tobias Rieder
Lawson Crouse-Peter Holland-Josh Jooris
Oliver Ekman-Larsson-Connor Murphy
Alex Goligoski-Anthony DeAngelo
Jakob Chychrun-Luke Schenn
Louis Domingue will start in goal; Mike Smith will be the backup.
Zbynek Michalek, Teemu Pulkkinen and Christian Fischer are healthy scratches. Brad Richardson (leg), Kevin Connauton (upper body) and Shane Doan (lower body) are out with injuries. Jamie McGinn (death in family) is out.