Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Blues head west for important California trip

St. Louis two points out of wildcard, haven't played since Saturday; 
Edmundson traveled with team, Soshnikov looks primed to play again

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Let's get it out of the way and state the obvious right off the bat: the Blues' upcoming California road trip could very well be make or break as far as the Stanley Cup playoffs are concerned.

The Blues (35-26-5), who haven't played since a Saturday matinee 3-2 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars, headed west Wednesday for games at San Jose on Thursday, Los Angeles on Saturday afternoon and Anaheim on Monday.

At the start of the day on Wednesday, the Blues trailed the Kings by two points for the second and final wildcard spot out of the Western Conference, they were four points behind the Sharks and five behind the Ducks. Of course, whichever of those teams finish second and third in the Pacific Division is of no use as far as the Blues are concerned but chances are they will have to track down one of them in order to gain a spot in as a wildcard. 

The Blues trail Dallas by five points for the first wildcard and the Minnesota Wild by eight for third place in the Central Division.

"It's important," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We obviously know that we're trying to catch LA, Anaheim and San Jose. They know it's important, too. It'll be a big weekend for all the teams. ... All these games are important. We're trying to catch them and they're trying to separate."

Call them proverbial four-point games, because if the Blues happen to win two of three or perhaps even all three games, they will be in a good place heading into the final 13 games of the season season, and of those 13, eight will be against teams currently sitting outside the playoff cutoff line.

"I don't want to say that this has been a tough stretch for us, but we've played a lot of really good, quality opponents and this is three more good, hard teams that we're playing against here," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "After this road trip, we do play a lot of teams that would be out of the playoffs, so we have a chance to put ourselves in a position here, but obviously teams we're trying to catch, we're going head-to-head with on this trip. Big games.

"These are teams that we're chasing. They're going to want to keep their spot, they're going to want to build on that and we'll face intensity, we'll face their best games, but we have to get excited about this. This is what you love to do, to go into another team's building when the season is pretty much on the line and find a way to come out with a win. That's why you play the game."

The Blues haven't fared will against the California foes this season. They're a combined 1-4-0 in five games on home ice, with the lone win over Los Angeles on Oct. 30. So they'll try to redeem themselves in the most important time of year.

"You never like a trip unless you win," Yeo said. "This is obviously a big trip for us."

* Edmundson will travel; Soshnikov ready -- Defenseman Joel Edmundson was a full participant in practice Wednesday for a third straight day and traveled with the team for the upcoming trip.

Edmundson sustained a fractured right forearm blocking a shot on Feb. 8 against the Colorado Avalanche and has missed the past 10 games; he's unlikely to play against the Sharks but all bets are on moving forward.

"I don't anticipate him being in the lineup tomorrow," Yeo said of Edmundson. "Now if he came knocking on my hotel door tonight and said, 'I'd like to play tomorrow,' then that might change things. I don't think he'll be in tomorrow, but certainly he's getting closer and hopefully we'll see if there's potential on this trip."

Needless to say, the Blues could use Edmundson; they're 2-6-2 without him.

"It's good to see [Edmundson] get back out there," Pietrangelo said. "... He brings an element, obviously the physical play, consistency, plays in all situations. Any time you miss a guy like that and even a guy like 'Bouw,' tough things but it's got to be next man up.

"It's good to see [Edmundson] out there with us," Parayko said. "Obviously he's a big presence. He brings a lot to our d-corps, a really good player so we're looking forward to having him back. ... He's very hard to play against. He's a good guy that eats a lot of minutes."

Forward Nikita Soshnikov, who missed Saturday's game in Dallas, appears ready to return after a neck issue sustained on Feb. 27 at Minnesota.

"Yeah, he looks like he's ready to go," Yeo said. 

Soshnikov skated on the fourth line at left wing with Oskar Sundqvist in the middle and Tage Thompson on the right.

Here's how the Blues skated in practice on Wednesday:

Alexander Steen-Ivan Barbashev-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Dmitrij Jaskin

Vladimir Sobotka-Kyle Brodziak-Patrik Berglund

Nikita Soshnikov-Oskar Sundqvist-Tage Thompson

Chris Thorburn was the extra forward

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko

Jordan Schmaltz-Robert Bortuzzo

Joel Edmundson was the extra d-man

Expect Carter Hutton to get the start in goal Thursday.

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