Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Blues focused on task at hand of gaining points for entry into playoffs

Will play rival Blackhawks next two games knowing Chicago would love to 
help eliminate their biggest adversaries; Schmaltz brothers could square off

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Jake Allen heard Patrick Kane's comments about being motivated to help eliminate the Blues from postseason contention. Kyle Brodziak and Mike Yeo also read them/heard about them. 

But in a rivalry that matters not only whether both the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks are playoff teams, also-rans, or at the top of the NHL, these two upcoming games between the teams matter for different reasons matter because there's legitimate hatred there.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Brayden Schenn (10), Jaden Schwartz (middle) and Vladimir Tarasenko
(right) celebrate a goal against the Chicago Blackhawks earlier this season.

For the Blues (43-30-6), they are fighting for every precious point that could be the result of whether they extend their season to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, trailing the Colorado Avalanche by one with three games remaining (the Avalanche have two) or not. So the Blues control their own destiny). 

For the Blackhawks (32-37-10), they've known for weeks they will not be entrants into this postseason, ending a run of nine straight seasons.

But would the Blackhawks like to ruin their biggest rivals' chances of getting in? You bet.

And the Blues, who host the Blackhawks today at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM) in the regular-season home finale before playing the return game of the home-and-home set in Chicago on Friday, would expect nothing less.

"We've played them enough and that great rivalry and they've beaten us and we've beat them," said Allen, who is likely to make his 14th straight start tonight. "It's always going to happen no matter if they're out of the playoffs, we're in the playoffs, or the other way around. We'd be doing the same thing. We're going to expect their best tomorrow. They're still a good hockey team, they really are and you can't count out their experience and what they've gone through the last six or seven years. We're going to have our hands full.

"I think certain guys have teams they love playing against. It's always fun playing the Hawks. I think they're just fun games, they're emotional, energetic, and I'm sure the next two will be the same."

The Blues don't want to get caught up in the rhetoric of ruining seasons or simply beating a rival, which they've done twice already this season, the most recent a 5-4 overtime win in Chicago on March 18. Plain and simple, these points matter for the Blues most for the sole purpose of getting into the playoffs, and they need to get them no matter who the opponent is.

"Obviously don't expect anything less," Brodziak said. "We've got to worry about what we can control and that's coming out and playing a good game. I don't think we can get caught up in whatever they're saying, whatever they want to do. We know what we need to do and what we want to accomplish and that's got to be our focus tomorrow.

"At this point, we don't want to focus on (the rivalry). Our focus has to be coming in, playing a good game, every guy playing their best game. As a team, we have to play our best game.That's got to be our focus. We can't focus on what they're saying. The rivalry is what it is but we have a job to do and that has to be our focus."

And that's why Yeo doesn't want the Blues to get caught up in any sort of extra motivation.

"I read the comments yesterday, but I didn't need to read the comments," Yeo said. "When we saw this on the schedule approaching, we said this last time we were in their building that of course, they'd love to hurt us, there's no question. That's a prideful group over there, it's a big rivalry. If we need that as motivation right now, then we'd be in trouble. Our group doesn't need that as motivation. We have plenty of motivation. We can use it to help prepare and understanding that they're going to be ready, but our motivation is on the bigger picture here.

"Obviously they're going to be motivated, we're well aware of that. They're going to want to put us out and we're well aware of that, but this time of year, you play well and you perform well if you're focused on yourself and you're prepared on your game. For me, it's all about getting excited about the challenge and then rising up to it. ... It's time that you can go out there and get her done."

Having control of their own destiny is what the Blues want, and after the disappointment of losing to the Washington Capitals, 4-2 on home ice Monday night, the Blues got the reprieve they needed when the Los Angeles Kings downed the Avalanche 3-1 later on that night to put their destiny back into their hands. 

Conceivably, the Blues can win tonight, have Colorado lose at San Jose Thursday, and possibly clinch a playoff berth with a win at Chicago Friday.

"If (controlling your destiny) helps anything, it's just motivating coming to the rink. It's exciting," Yeo said. "Obviously we'd love to have an X beside our name or whatever they put in the standings when you clinch. We'd love to have that right now, but we're playing meaningful games. These are exciting games. Young players are getting a chance to develop. They're getting a chance to play in pressure-packed, really important, hard hockey games and you develop quicker and you develop winners when you're able to go out there and do those things. Veteran guys and guys that have been here, they've got a chance to go out there and do something that they can really feel proud of as far as making the playoffs and being a team that has made the playoffs for a number of years in a row (seven) and have a chance to compete for the Stanley Cup. That's what's all in front of us here. We should be really motivated, but now you have to make sure you use that motivation and use it wisely and be prepared the right way."

One player who could perhaps be motivated to play for not just the playoffs but facing his younger brother is Blues defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, who could face Blackhawks forward Nick Schmaltz in a meaningful game at the NHL level for the first time.

Jordan has missed the past two games with an upper-body injury sustained in an overtime loss at Vegas last Friday but skated on Tuesday and would love nothing more than to face little brother with such high stakes for the Blues. They faced each other at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament prior to the 2016-17 season.

"These are big games," Jordan said. "We need all we can right now. No better person to beat than your little brother."

The Schmaltz brothers had dinner together Tuesday night and if Jordan is able to play will perform as opponents in front of their parents, Mike and Lisa Schmaltz.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko (91) will likely see plenty of Chicago
defenseman Duncan Keith (2) the next two games.

"It’ll be weird but it’ll be a lot of fun at the same time," Nick said. 

Knowing his brother stands in the way of trying to help eliminate the Blues, Jordan said he'll be prepared. 

"There's a little bit on the line even there," Jordan said. "They're not really playing for much. They're playing to beat us, so it's going to be a good couple games."

* NOTES -- Schmaltz and forward Nikita Soshnikov, both dealing with upper-body injuries, skated during the optional on Tuesday and could be available for the game tonight.

Neither Schmaltz nor Soshnikov were very forthcoming for their respective availabilities, but both feel better. Soshnikov has missed the past six games since being injured against Boston on March 21.

"I feel better every day," said Soshnikov, who has skated six days now, including four on his own while the team was on the road. "I don't know (about playing), it's hard to say. It's hard to say now. So we'll see. Taking it day by day. 

"There is a lot of pressure and a lot on the line. I'll try to do my best in terms of getting back. We'll see tomorrow. Just take it day by day."

All Yeo would said is, "there was progress made today and so we'll see tomorrow, but today was a positive step."

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