By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues know the situation and are fully aware of what they have to do.
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues know the situation and are fully aware of what they have to do.
Win and they're in.
No outside help, no relying on anyone else to help them achieve their goal, which is to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They're three points ahead of the Arizona Coyotes for the fourth and final spot in the West Division, and the Blues (23-19-7) get get to open a two-game home set with the last-place Anaheim Ducks (16-29-7) at 7 p.m. (BSMW-Plus, ESPN 101.1-FM).
On paper, these are games the Blues should win, but what they have to take into account is the fact that the Ducks are playing for jobs, and sometimes teams playing younger players who are trying to make an impression for next season can be dangerous, and the Ducks came into Enterprise Center the last time and won both games after the Blues won the first four matchups at Honda Center earlier this season.
So they can't afford to take anyone lightly.
"They should know better, but we discuss it for sure," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "I look at the way they played against the LA Kings the last three games. They've played really good hockey. They've got a lot of young guys in their lineup that are doing some real good things. They look good to me and they're going to give us a tough game. Obviously their team's changed since the deadline and things like that, got a lot more youth in there. We're going to have to be good.
"They're loose, they go play and they're obviously playing for different reasons than we are, but in the end, they're trying to prove themselves."
Anaheim won two of the past three against the Los Angeles Kings, another team playing out the string even though the Kings haven't mathematically been eliminated, but it's an opponent the Blues want to take seriously.
And coming off a three-game stretch of taking five of six points against the Minnesota Wild, the Blues want to build on the 4-0-1 run they're on.
"I think we definitely did a good job in Minnesota getting five of six, but it's kind of we want to come in and approach each game and make sure that we're ready for each game," defenseman Colton Parayko said. "I think if we do the right things, we prepare the right way, we play the way that we can in each game and we get kind of geared towards playoffs, I think that things will take care of themselves. Obviously you're aware of the situation that we're in with the points in the standings, at the end of the day, it's on us to prepare the right way, just be ready for each match and the rest will take care of itself.
"It's on us to show up each night to make sure we do what we've got to do to get the two points each night and get into the playoffs. Game by game, make sure we approach it the right way and just try and get into the playoffs and build something. It's about building something these last seven games too and making sure that going into the playoffs, we're ready and we have something going, a little bit of momentum."
The Blues have their fate in their own hands, which is what they want.
"It doesn't really matter where the other teams are," forward Jaden Schwartz said. "We've got to focus on us and they're obviously a big, big two points that are available tonight and we're going to approach it the same way. It doesn't matter who we're playing.
"That's our goal is to get in. These are big points and these are fun games and we're really coming together as a team. We've got a lot of gamers on this team, guys that like raising their games at the right time. It's a lot of fun doing it that way, so we're excited for the opportunity that's in front of us."
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It appears that Vladimir Tarasenko will return to the lineup after missing the past two games with a lower-body injury.
Tarasenko took part in his second straight morning skate but was working with the top power-play unit on Monday. He also took part in the morning skate Saturday but did not play.
The Blues hope Tarasenko can return to the game he was building before sitting out the last two.
"There's a good chance it will play; we'll see in warmup," Berube said. "I thought that he was getting better looks. I liked that line before he got hurt. I thought they were doing some good things. Power play-wise, he was doing a good job at the net front, got a goal, just being at the net, he's a guy that can make plays down there at the goal line and he's strong and he can find rebounds around the net. He's a big body. He's effective down there."
As for defensemen Torey Krug and Vince Dunn, they are not ready to come back in.
Krug will miss his second straight game with an upper-body injury and was not on the ice Monday, but Dunn (upper body), who missed the three-game series with the Wild, was on the ice and showed some encouraging signs.
"I think he's doing well," Berube said of Dunn. "I think you can see him in the lineup this week, I would think, but right now, I'm not sure. I think him being out there today with us is positive. We'll get him to get some contact here, hopefully tomorrow, and go from there."
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Blues forward David Perron will dress in his 900th NHL game tonight, including his 600th with the Blues.
Perron has 599 points (238 goals, 361 assists) and needs one point for 400 in his Blues career (165 goals, 234 assists), which has accounted for 10 of his 14 NHL seasons.
"He's had a long road," Schwartz said of Perron. "He's been on a couple different teams and a few different stretches here. It just never seems to bother him. He's believed in himself. He's a guy that really works hard. You can see him in practice, he works on little things and in games, he's very, very competitive. I think that's one thing where separates him a lot is how competitive he can be, how strong he is on the puck. His skill level's as good as anyone, I think, as far as his puck handling and seeing the ice. When he's got the belief in himself and he's confident, he's a hard guy to stop. As he gets older, he's still learning, he's still looking to get better and you can see it games how much he's improved."
Perron, drafted by the Blues in the first round of the 2007 NHL Draft, leads the Blues with 49 points (15 goals, 34 assists) in 49 games this season.
"Since I've had him, I've really liked him a lot," Berube said of Perron. "I talk about how competitive he is as a player. There's not many guys that have been around that are more competitive than him. He's got some real good ability obviously with his stick and the puck skills, but I think his game all around has gotten better for me since I've been here coaching him, just the defensive side of things and the care defensively and the care of managing the puck, putting it deep, just driving that team game. I think he does an excellent job of that. I really do. He stressed it on the bench constantly and he puts pucks in deep constantly and forechecks and works.
"We all like guys that have some jam and energy. They bring that out in the game and they drag other people into it for sure."
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Former Blues captain and second-round pick David Backes, who has hinted that this season, his 15th, may very well be his last in the NHL.
Backes, drafted by the Blues in 2003, is playing in the final year of a five-year, $30 million free agent contract he signed to join the Boston Bruins in 2016. The 37-year-old has played sparingly for the Ducks this season, just 14 games (three goals, one assist).
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said there is a chance Backes will play in one of the two games in St. Louis, but it doesn't appear that tonight will be the night.
The Ducks also play here Wednesday.
"The one thing I'll add on Backes is, I know what he has meant to the St. Louis organization in the past," Eakins said. "Obviously being a captain and I think really setting a standard for leadership, character and work ethic. Even though he has been limited in the number of games he has played for us, he has not relented with his leadership, with his character or with his work ethic. I think he has been a real shining light for our veterans on how to conduct yourselves through adverse times and I think he's been an inspiring figure for our younger players. I just can't say enough about that young man on not only how he's handled himself throughout his career, but just how he's gone about his business with our organization, his interactions with me, our staff and our players over this year."
Backes has played in 964 games, including 727 with the Blues, and has 561 points (248 goals, 313 assists), of which 460 points (206 goals, 254 assists) have come with the Blues in 10 seasons.
"He's a guy that played hard every night," Schwartz said. "He was the captain when I came in. He's a guy that really cared about his teammates. He helped me out a lot as a young guy. He was a guy that you could ask questions and learn from. He's a guy that played a lot of hard minutes. He played power play, penalty kill, he played other teams' top lines. That's not easy to do is shut down other teams' top lines and be counted on to produce. He did a good job of that. We had some good runs in the playoffs. We ran into some good teams. We were like one win away a lot of times from moving on. He was obviously a big part of this organization for a long time. I glad I got to play with him, get to know him. He was a guy that when I think about him, he did everything he did to win."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Jaden Schwartz-Tyler Bozak-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jordan Kyrou-Robert Thomas-Mike Hoffman
Sammy Blais-Ivan Barbashev-Zach Sanford
Marco Scandella-Torey Krug
Jake Walman-Colton Parayko
Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. Healthy scratches include Mackenzie MacEachern and Steven Santini. Torey Krug (upper body) and Vince Dunn (upper body) are out tonight. Carl Gunnarsson (knee) and Oskar Sundqvist (knee) are out for the season.
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The Ducks' projected lineup:
Max Jones-Ryan Getzlaf-Sam Carrick
Alexander Volkov-Isac Lundestrom-Rickard Rakell
Max Comtois-Trevor Zegras-Troy Terry
Nicolas Deslauriers-Derek Grant-Danton Heinen
Cam Fowler-Jacob Larsson
Haydn Fleury-Jamie Drysdale
Simon Benoit-Kevin Shattenkirk
John Gibson will start in goal; Ryan Miller will be the backup. Healthy scratches include Anthony Stolarz, Sam Steel, Chase De Leo and Andrew Agozzino. Sonny Milano (upper body), Carter Rowney (knee), Andy Welinski (lower body) and Josh Manson (upper body) are out. Adam Henrique was removed from COVID-19 protocol on Sunday but is a healthy scratch.
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