Sunday, April 4, 2010

Blues to take ice tonight with ninth life in hand

Loss could eliminate them from playoff
contention; Jackman deals with pain, criticism

ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues were lying in a hospital bed and they woke up this morning, they would have seen that respirators were brought in ready to administer.

Or in other words, the final cord on that musical cello is all set to be cut, and that's what will happen officially to the Blues' miniscule playoff chances if they lose today's home game against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Scottrade Center. It's a 7 p.m. drop of the puck only on KMOX 1120-AM.

'Nine Lives' is down to the ninth life.

The Blues (38-31-9) won Saturday over Dallas 2-1 at home, winning their seventh home game in the last nine, to pull within four points of eighth place Colorado and Calgary (both had 89 points coming into Sunday). For one night, they did their part there.

Easter Sunday was a day of watching television, particularly scoreboard watching.

And one of the Blues' hated Central Division rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks, did them a favor by knocking off Calgary 4-1 in the Windy City. But as Sunday night rolled around, the Western Conference's top-seeded San Jose Sharks offered no help, losing 5-4 in overtime to the Avalanche, giving Colorado 91 points.

So the Blues wake up today six points in back of the Avalanche for the eighth and final playoff spot. There are only four games remaining, and a possible eight points maximum the Blues can obtain.

So the math is simple, win them all, and hope Colorado happens to slip in their remaining four games and St. Louis would miraculously get in, providing Calgary would also slip up.

Any combination of Colorado wins and Blues losses, and the curtain would fall for good. The Fat Lady would be wailing from the bottom of her lungs.

The Blues will be the only team playing in this very strange and bizarre playoff race, so at least for one day, their fate is in their own hands.

"One day at a time, one game at a time is the only way we can live by right now," said defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo, whose third-period goal Saturday provided the winning margin. "Obviously, we need a lot of help. Obviously, if we don't win our games, the help doesn't matter. Our focus is to win our games and then hope to get some help in other places. We can only control what we do out there and right now ... every game's a Game 7. That's the mentality we have to have."

So consider the Blue Jackets (32-34-13) the Blues' first-round playoff opponent and tonight marks Game 7 for both teams. A Blues win allows them to survive one more night. A Columbus victory -- which means nothing to the team from Ohio -- would give them satisfaction knowing they eliminated another fellow divisional opponent.

"It really is a roller-coaster," goalie Chris Mason said. "There's been points here in the last 10 games where we lose and we think, 'Oh, the season is done. We're this far out.' Then we put a good streak together and win three games in a row, and all of the sudden, we're right back in it. Then we lose a game, and all of the sudden, you're right back out again. We win (Saturday) and things just get more interesting.

"Basically, what I'm trying to say is you can never quit, and this team has never quit. We're bringing it down to the wire here and we'll do everything we can to try to take care of our business."

They better, because the Blues have no margin for error anymore. And it's real easy to go back and dissect through all those games the team allowed to slip away earlier this season.

How much would those points look good right about now?

Makes one wonder, doesn't it?

"Sure, but that's a perspective we'll save for a later time," said Blues coach Davis Payne, who's 21-14-4 since taking over for Andy Murray on Jan. 2. "We've got to take care of what's here and now. We can't change anything in the past. We've got to continue to get our wins here and scoreboard-watch as much as we can. If we get the help we need, then obviously Monday night's game becomes even bigger for us."

As long as there's a roll in the dice left, the Blues will continue to gamble.

"Obviously, if we didn't win (Saturday) night, there would be no chance," center Jay McClement said. "We're still alive and we'll try to do the same thing on Monday and see where we're at."

* Jackman dealing with upper-body injury -- Blues defenseman Barret Jackman, who's received some harsh criticism from fans in recent weeks, missed Saturday's game because of an undisclosed upper-body injury.

When Jackman, who along with Keith Tkachuk are the Blues' longest tenured players dating back to 2001, was listed as a scratch for the game Saturday, there were a number of the sellout crown that cheered the announcement.

"We always say that we have the best fans because of the support they give us, but to flip the switch on a guy like that, who's battled so hard, maybe we need a reality check," said a Blues player who asked not to be named. "To do that, without knowing the full story, it's definitely disappointing."

Jackman, 29, received tremendous props from Blues fans after it was disclosed that the veteran defenseman -- who did not miss a regular season or playoff game last season -- played with a broken foot and ligament strain in his knee.

It was disclosed that Jackman suffered the injury early in Thursday's loss against Nashville, a game in which fans voiced their displeasure in blaming Jackman for Nashville's final two goals. It's been reported that he is dealing with a separate injury suffered a few weeks ago.

But you wouldn't know it talking to the player known to his teammates as 'Jacks.'

"He's not only got a high pain threshold but a real high willingness to battle through it and give everything he can," Payne said. "A lot of times, people don't realize what exactly he's playing with. That gutsy determination to leave everything out there that he has ... sometimes you've got to pull back a guy like that but certainly value everything he gives us in that role.

"Internally, we know his value to us, and we have to make good decisions with our medical people and our training staff and us as coaches have to kind of sort through and know exactly what Jacks is willing to give us, which is everything. ... Sometimes, those decisions are tough."

Jackman said, "Right now is probably the worst time of all to be sitting in the stands. It's definitely killing me being out. But I've just got to be smart and do the right thing."

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