Saturday, April 9, 2011

Promising season comes to an end

Blues look for one more strong outing
as the 2010-11 campaign concludes tonight

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- A season filled with so much promise and so much anticipation will come to a disappointing conclusion tonight.

The end has arrived, and for the Blues, it's a disappointing climax.

Why? Nobody wants to shut it down after Game No. 82, especially since the Blues have been playing well for the last month or so.

They still have one more game together and one more battle to go through together before the regular season comes to an end after hosting the Nashville Predators at Scottrade Center tonight.

But the Blues, at 37-33-11, will not be a participant in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons since the lockout. And since they will not be participating in the postseason, the Blues will give it one last go-around and try to go out with a bang.

"That's the only attitude you've got to have," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "You've got to have the right mindset going into it. We've been playing some real good hockey over the last month. With one game left, you want to finish strong and carry the momentum into the summer and into next year.

"Once it's over, we step back, look over the year and think about things and make sure you remember the feeling. It's not a great feeling we have not playing in the playoffs, so we've just got to create that extra motivation for you to work extra hard in the summer and come back hungrier, get off to a good pace again and keep that pace of play for the whole season."

The Blues are 9-5-2 in their last 16 games, including 5-1-2 in their last eight. Instead of packing it in when they knew there was no realistic chance of making the playoffs and they were too far off the pace, the Blues accepted their fate but still have attacked each and every game with plenty of meaning.

"It shows a lot of character the way we've played down the stretch here," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Any team could have just given up and said the challenge was too hard, but we've been playing great hockey and it's fun to see us come together over the last month or so. It definitely leaves us optimistic for next year.

"Tomorrow's a big night, not only for us but for the fans obviously. They've shown great support all year. We really need to come out and show them that we do appreciate that and have fun with it."

Unfortunately for the Blues, they will become only the second team since the 2000-01 Phoenix Coyotes to not make the playoffs after collecting 20 points in the first 12 games of the season. Seems like an eternity ago when the Blues began the season a franchise-best 9-1-2.

But that hasn't stopped the Blues from working and piecing together the winning recipe and trying to get that consistency down moving forward.

"Our guys have been working extremely hard over the last month," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "Special teams have been good, goaltending's been good, we've played smart hockey on the road, we've played the same way here at home.

"It's a good group in here and you feel like there would be lots of hockey left in these guys, lots of motivation. But knowing what we've had to go through over this last little bit is going to pay off based on how we've approached it."

The character in the locker room has never swayed for the Blues, even when times were rough and injuries piled up in bushels.

"It says a lot," Colaiacovo said. "I think it says how much guys really care in here. It's a good sign when you're playing ... you hate to call them meaningless games, but when you're not playing for a playoff spot and you're still coming out and giving it your all every night, it just shows that guys want to win in here, guys love to play the game, guys love getting better. That's the approach you've got to take."

The Blues, who are 3-2-0 against the playoff-bound Predators (44-26-11) this season, will have one last adrenaline rush before reality sinks in.

"It's definitely set in, but at the same sense, I've got a job to do out there and I've still got to continue to get better every day right until the end," Colaiacovo said. "When you come to the rink and you're watching NHL highlights, the teams in the race for the playoff hunt and you're not in those talks, not in those highlights, it's really tough to watch.

"It stings. It sucks. There's no better feeling in the world than playing playoff hockey, getting the chance to compete for the best trophy in the game."

* NOTES -- Blues players donated $12,500 to both Dream Factory and Camp Rainbow Friday at a presentation after practice at the St. Louis Mills Ice Zone. In addition, forward T.J. Oshie donated $4,000 to Dream Factory and David Perron donated $5,000 to both Dream Factory and Camp Rainbow ($2,500 of which Reebok donated on his behalf).

Dream Factory of St. Louis was founded in 1983 and more than 92 cents of each dollar contributed to the Dream Factory goes directly towards granting dreams for children in the St. Louis Metro Area and Metro East in Illinois. Camp Rainbow was founded in 1988 and provides free camping experiences to children undergoing treatment for, and survivors of, cancer and other blood-related disorders.

Tonight is the team's annual Verizon Wireless Fan Appreciation Game and as a special thank you to fans for their support this season, all ticket holders will have a chance to win prizes at nearly every stoppage in play.

Fans just need a Blues ticket to be included in the giveaways, as winners will be chosen by their seating location. Prizes include autographed Blues merchandise, a GLD Storm Air Hockey Game from Amini's, a Bud Light mini-fridge, an overnight hotel stay from Hilton at the Ballpark and much, much more. In addition, fans can get autographs from Blues Alumni during the first intermission outside Section 124. Plus, the event will be highlighted by the "Jerseys Off Their Backs," a postgame ceremony where 23 lucky fans will be selected to go on the ice after the game and receive a jersey directly from a Blues player. The jersey will be autographed on the spot and presented to the winning fan.

All fans will receive a free poster, a coupon good for a one-day free airport parking at The Parking Spot and a food or beverage voucher at McDonald's.

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