Sunday, April 8, 2012

No Presidents' Trophy, top seed in West, no problem for Blues

Team turns focus now to Stanley Cup Playoffs for only second time since lockout

There would be no Presidents' Trophy nor a the Western Conference's top seed. The Blues saw the news come to fruition when they landed back from their regular season finale following a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars.

But as quickly as news filtered in that the Blues would be the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference Stanley Cup Playoffs, they quickly shifted focus to what's most important. A seed is just a number, and the Blues are in the tournament, which is all a team can ask for. The first step was putting a halt to their season-high four game winless skid [it reached 0-2-2] and go into the postseason with that confident mindset that propelled the team when Ken Hitchcock took over as head coach in early November.
(Getty Images)
The Blues finished the regular season 49-22-11, of which 43 of those wins
came under coach Ken Hitchcock.

The Blues finished the season 49-22-11, the second-most victories in franchise history [they won 51 in 1999-2000] and 109 points, two behind the Vancouver Canucks and tied with the New York Rangers. They will face the San Jose Sharks in the Western Conference quarterfinals beginning Thursday night.

"Now it's on to the real season," said Hitchcock, who finished 43-15-11 in his first season in St. Louis. "I think for me, when you win the Jennings [Trophy] and you get 109 points, you've done an awful lot of good things, so for me, I'm really happy for the goalies but everybody makes that commitment back for the goalies. The guys were great, the guys were really good.

"All of us are excited. We're proud. We're really proud of what's going on here. This will be fun. Who knows, this is the new season. Other people step up. Your best players have to be your best players in the playoffs. For me, it's good stuff. Really good."

The Blues did win the Jennings Trophy, which goes to the goalkeeper(s) having played a minimum of 25 games for the team with the fewest goals scored against. The Blues' Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott allowed 165 goals [1.89 per game], which was one off the New Jersey Devils' NHL modern record for fewest goals allowed in a season, which is 164 set in the 2003-04 season.

"It's pretty cool to be a part of it," said Elliott, who led the NHL in goals-against average [1.56] and save percentage [.940] and broke Miikka Kiprusoff's modern-day NHL record [1.69] for GAA in a season set in 2003-04. "There's a lot of names that you look up to on that one. But like Hitch said after the game, that's the biggest team award that you can get is lowest goals against. It's cool to be a part of that and for us to get our names on that is pretty special."

Added Halak, who finished the season 26-12-7 after beginning the season 1-6-0: "Obviously it's a great accomplishment to win anything. To win the Jennings Trophy ... you had some big names that won it before us. I'm happy about it, but one season is over and that's past. If you don't do anything in the playoffs, the whole season would be (an ordinary) season for us."

The Blues played themselves out of the Presidents' Trophy race after a 4-1 home loss to the Phoenix Coyotes on Friday to run their winless streak to 0-2-2. But they put themselves in a position to take the top seed in the Western Conference with a 3-2 win at Dallas Saturday. It forced the Canucks to earn at least a point against Edmonton, which they did with a 3-0 win.
(Getty Images)
Goalie Jaroslav Halak (41) and defenseman Alex Pietrangelo helped the
Blues win the Jennings Trophy this season for fewest goals allowed.

"It's great to have a win going into the playoffs," said defenseman Kris Russell, who scored his first goal in 35 games Saturday. "... Everyone's been waiting for this for a few weeks. It's a special time obviously.

"The regular season's out the window. It doesn't matter how many wins we have. We made the playoffs, that was our goal. It's a clean slate now and we have to build off of what we've done in the regular season and make sure that we're the team that comes prepared and comes out hard right off the gate."

Although some regular season goals fell short, the Blues are looking at the big picture as the postseason looms.

"We ended up with 109 points, that's going to be at the top or very close to the top," general manager Doug Armstrong said. "All teams have speed bumps. Ours just happened to come here at the end and at the beginning quite honestly. But we sandwiched probably 65 really good games in the middle there. I think this team is ready for the next challenge. We're looking forward to the next challenge."

Added team president John Davidson: "We saw a lot of good things this year, a lot of real good things. For the team award, the Jennings, it's really special. The two goaltenders, they earned it and had a great great year. Now it's a day off and a whole new season starts. Everybody's even and it's preparation time and ready to go."

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