Saturday, April 2, 2011

Officially eliminated, Blues' goal is to finish strong

It will be fifth time in six seasons St. Louis on outside looking in

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- When the Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets face one another this afternoon, it will mark one more day off the 2010-11 calendar season. Once again, neither team will play beyond Game No. 82.

Both teams were playoff participants two seasons ago but since then have been on the outside looking in. It's a subdued feeling. 

For the Blues (35-33-10), it will be another missed opportunity, the fifth time in six seasons since the lockout. It became official Friday night when Chicago beat these very same Blue Jackets (34-31-13) and the Blues lost to Calgary.

"It's tough for me," rookie defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "This being my first year, the playoffs is definitely something I wanted to experience. I know a lot of guys who talked about it and it just seems like such a great time to be a part of the NHL, a great time for hockey.

"It's something that I kind of want to remember and keep this bad taste in my mouth for a little bit because it will definitely help us prepare for next year to be a playoff contender and a Stanley Cup contender."

In the meantime, both teams have just four games remaining and are playing out the string. It's never a fun time when one knows the season will end soon, but there's plenty of incentive to play well, play hard and finish strong.

"Everybody is playing for the same thing," said Blues coach Davis Payne, whose team is 3-1-1 in its last five games. "Whether you're fighting for the playoffs, in the playoffs or not, you're a professional hockey player. You're expected to work and compete and make sure you're doing the right things.

"It's not only our intention to get better but to work on things that will create success and the type of game we'll play. The further it gets engrained in us, the better off we're going to be. We're not just going to turn a switch and say we're going to have success. It's an everyday thing. The imprint every time you come to the rink is that opportunity."

The Blues are 3-2-0 against the Jackets this season, including wins in back-to-back games on March 7 (5-4 in a shootout at Scottrade Center) and March 9 (4-3 in overtime at Nationwide Arena).

"Any team you play, there's definitely a huge amount of pride there," Shattenkirk said. "We're not going to lay down for the rest of the year, the last four games, and they're not going to do it either.

"It's definitely going to be a hard-fought battle. Just because we don't have anything to play for, there's definitely some pride there at stake."

* NOTES -- Blues winger Alex Steen, who returned to action in Friday's 3-2 loss to Calgary, did not practice Saturday but Payne expects him to play today after experiencing some soreness. Steen missed 10 games after suffering a high ankle sprain when the Blues were last in Columbus.

"It was a maintenance day," Payne said of Steen after practice. "The ankle has to go though different stages. Obviously getting back into a game is one thing. There's some soreness there. We'll keep him off today, get him ready for tomorrow."

The Jackets will be without defenseman Jan Hejda for today's game after the league suspended Hejda two games for elbowing Chicago's Marcus Kruger during Friday's game.

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