Monday, February 15, 2010

Blues take a break with winning streak in hand

Three wins in a row has team feeling good heading into Olympic hiatus

ST. LOUIS -- David Backes sat slumped in his stall, tired and exhausted after Saturday's thrilling shootout win over Washington that ended another chapter of Blues games compressed in time.

The 4-3 victory was the Blues' seventh game in 11 days, something not all that uncommon in this 2009-10 season.

Welcome to the National Hockey League schedule Olympic Edition.

With the XXI Winter Olympics commencing in Vancouver, NHL players knew such challenges were forthcoming: lots of games over a short period of time to take a two-week hiatus for the Olympics.
The Blues have momentum now, after having won their last three games heading into the break -- all at home, where they're now 12-16-5, including 6-2-2 in the last 10.

Is it a good thing to get away now after sustaining this kind of urgency?

"We need the rest here," said goalie Chris Mason, who backstopped all three wins after a sub-par game last Monday in Denver. "It's been a pretty grueling schedule with all the travel and the condensed schedule here. I'd love to keep playing, but that's not going to happen."

No, it isn't, but one wonders what could happen if they did.

"You wonder if you're glad there's a break for us or you're not glad because you seem to be picking up steam," Backes said. "We can't forget what got us these wins, how we're playing and keep that up when we get back."

Backes, Erik Johnson and Roman Polak will not have the luxury that most of their teammates will have spending time on lavish beaches or taking time off doing whatever it is they're doing. These three have packed their things, grabbed the families and jetted off to Vancouver to represent their respective countries in the ice hockey competition.

"After seven games in 11 nights or whatever it was, even though we play Tuesday or so in the Olympics, it's going to be nice to have a travel day with my wife (Sunday) and a late practice on Monday, which I'm sure will be flow drills and get-to-know-each-other type of deal and get to it on Tuesday," Backes said Saturday. "(Blues owner) Dave Checketts said, 'Good luck, but I want you to rest a little bit, too.' Our off-time will be spent resting and enjoying a little time away and enjoying the festivities and hopefully win gold and come back here and get back on the streak we're on."

Forward T.J. Oshie, who was a Team USA snub, has taken the high road regarding Vancouver. The rest suits him just as well.

"I think we're excited to take a couple weeks off," said Oshie, who has 17 points in 22 games since the roster for Team USA was unveiled. "There's always bumps and bruises in the game of hockey. Everyone has a little thing here or a little thing there. It's tough to get through a couple games without having something bothering you. ... I think when we get back, there'll be that jump, that excitement. We'll try and pick up where we left off."

The Blues were beginning to fade fast after beginning their pre-Olympic stretch of seven games by losing three of four. In racing terms, the Blues were falling fast around the turn.

But as they head into the stretch run of 20 games, they sit four points in back of eighth place and fully entrenched in the battle for a postseason berth.

"It just shows our resilience. We're committed here," Mason said. "We still believe in our team and we still believe we're going to make the playoffs. I think that just proves the belief in the room."

The Blues will begin the post-Olympic schedule with another grueling stretch -- six straight away from Scottrade Center, but hey, the road has been kind to this team the entire season. They just need to keep that taste of beating Washington as they move forward.

"It leaves us with a positive feeling, leaves us with a belief in the process, leaves us with work to do," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "We've got to make sure we take this break, recharge mentally, recharge physically and make sure we understand that these last 20 games are going to be an all-out sprint for us and we've got to be ready for that."

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