By LOU KORAC
DENVER -- When the Blues lace up at Pepsi Center tonight for the third time this month against the Colorado Avalanche, there will be added meaning to the game.
The Blues (42-28-6) can clinch a playoff spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs by A) beating the Avalanche (20-53-3), B) get at least a point or C) the Los Angeles Kings lose at Vancouver in regulation, overtime or a shootout.
The scenarios are out there for the Blues when the puck drops at 8 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), but it's always best when your fate lies in your own hands, so if the Blues take care of business tonight, not only do they get in, but they can move three points ahead of Nashville for third place in the Central Division with a showdown with the Predators on tap Sunday afternoon at Scottrade Center.
"We've got a great opportunity here," said goalie Jake Allen, who gets the start tonight and can tie Chris Osgood for most wins by a Blues goalie in a season since 2003-04 (31). "Hopefully we take advantage of it. If we get into the playoffs, we should be pretty proud of ourselves to be honest with the way the season's gone for a lot of us and our team as a whole. Some thing that are changed, ups and downs. If we clinch (tonight), it's a big deal for us and then hopefully we can keep the train rolling and take the positive momentum to whoever we play.
"It's great to clinch, but we're still going for second, third in our division, trying to get as high up the standings as possible. You never know if it's going to pay off. You never know what's going to happen in the playoffs. We don't want to be casual going into the playoffs. We want to be playing well, we want to be playing solid."
The Blues have done well playing against teams they're supposed to beat, and tonight should be no different.
"It certainly should be," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "It's a competitive group, it's a group that really wants to get into the playoffs. We recognize the opportunity and now we just have to make sure we're prepared the right way to make sure we get it done."
The Blues have been playing playoff hockey since the beginning of March when their playoff chances were in question, but going 11-2-1 this month has changed the dynamics drastically.
"I think it's been that way for a while," defenseman Jay Bouwmeester said. "It's always kind of nice to get it behind you, know that you're in for sure, but it doesn't really change the way we're approaching games.
"Since that big road trip to California and we had that big game against L.A., we've been able to keep our focus and know that we've had some games that you're supposed to win and we've done a good job with them. Tonight's kind of another one of those. You can't take these guys lightly. They've got a lot of skill and we've seen it. Obviously we've done a good job of that in these games leading up to now. I think we've been through this enough where you know now's the time of year you want to be playing good heading into the playoffs. If we can keep this going over the next couple weeks, then you're going in on the right foot.
"At the end of the day, you've just got to get in. Teams are so even. It's a different approach. Maybe it will work out well playing real meaningful games going into the playoffs and not kind of having to snap out of it a little bit."
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The Blues have gone 11-1-1 in the past 13 games, and in that stretch, they're No. 1 in the NHL in goals allowed per game at 1.46 goals per game.
Allen and Carter Hutton have been huge factors with their play in goal, but the fact the Blues have stiffened up defensively as a five-man unit brings back memories of yesteryear when they were among the league leaders.
"That's been our whole turnaround really with our season," Bouwmeester said. "Earlier, we were giving up way too much. You don't want to keep looking back in the past, but we've always been a team that's been pretty good at not giving up a lot. Maybe not scoring a lot, but we've been real comfortable playing real close games and those sort of things. I think that's kind of the mentality we've got back to. The 2-1, 3-2, those sort of games. Those are the games you're going to see down the stretch and in the playoffs. We're doing a good job with it, our goalies are playing great and obviously that's a big part of it."
Yeo said he likes what he's seen, but doesn't want the Blues to deviate from that mantra going against the last-place Avalanche.
"That's a big factor. We'll get tested with that tonight," Yeo said. "The last time we were in here (a 4-2 win on March 21), I would put more of it on goaltending than our team play. That game, I thought we gave their skill a real chance to be effective and we have to do a better job of that tonight with out 1-on-1 play, in our play with the puck, in our checking game to prevent them from building speed through the neutral zone and if we do that, then we give ourselves a good chance."
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On the bus ride over to the morning skate, Blues rookies Jordan Schmaltz and Ivan Barbashev were given a crash course in kids' jokes and riddles by none other than Arianna Dougan, the 11-year-old girl battling cancer who's on the trip courtesy of Vladimir Tarasenko.
Needless to say, Arianna had Schmaltz stumped.
"She grilled me a bit. I think between me and 'Barbs,' I think we were 1-for-10," Schmaltz joked. "Our batting percentage is a little low right now.
"I might have to go buy one of those books because I (stink) right now."
Needless to say, Arianna has brought some extra motivation for the Blues to perform well and win.
"It's Vladi's kind of thing, but yeah that was cool," Schmaltz said. "Any time you can entertain someone who's going through hard times like that, it not only brightens their day but for sure mine. It puts things in perspective.
"She's always got a smile on her face. Seems to be having a great time. If you can have a great time in a situation like that, our life isn't so bad. ... It definitely inspires you, gives you something to play for, with the playoffs and everything that's going on with that. It just maybe gives you a little extra motivation, get a couple wins for her."
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The Blues will go with the same 18 skaters tonight, which means defenseman Carl Gunnarsson (lower-body injury) will sit for a second straight game after skating on Thursday.
Gunnarsson did not skate Friday.
"Just keeping him off," Yeo said. "He skated yesterday, didn't feel quite great, quite 100 percent, so we felt might as well rest him when we can."
Dmitrij Jaskin skated again and seems ready but will miss a ninth straight game.
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Avalanche center Tyson Jost, the 10th pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, will make his NHL debut against the Blues.
Jost will be the second player this week to make his NHL debut against the Blues after Swansea, Ill. native Clayton Keller (the seventh pick in the 2016 draft) debuted for the Arizona Coyotes on Monday.
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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
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton 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 Avalanche's projected lineup:
Sven Andrighetto-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen
Gabriel Landeskog-Tyson Jost-Matt Duchene
Matt Nieto-J.T. Compher-Rene Bourque
John Mitchell-Carl Soderberg-Blake Comeau
Mark Barberio-Erik Johnson
Fedor Tyutin-Tyson Barrie
Francois Beauchemin-Anton Lindholm
Calvin Pickard will start in goal; Jeremy Smith will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Joe Colborne, Cody Goloubef, Patrick Wiercioch and Mikhail Grigorenko. The Avalanche report no injuries.