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Lighting The Lamp: Winding The Season Down

You might recognize the "Lighting the Lamp" feature from the Game Time paper. Rick Ackerman has been nice enough to send over his column for the website. "Lighting the Lamp" will be featured weekly every Thursday afternoon, as well as every home game day.

After tonight's tilt with the Phoenix Coyotes, the Blues only have five games left to play and there are only nine days left on the NHL schedule. Wow! The 2012-13 regular season surely went by quickly, didn't it? Yes, the playoffs start in less than two weeks on Tuesday, April 30, three days after the regular season ends. And it's looking pretty good for the boys in blue to qualify, despite continuing problems that also make it look pretty unlikely that they can capture the much desired number four seed and home ice advantage in the first round. Of course, be careful what you wish for as the Blues have a much better road record and might just be better off playing a majority of playoff games on the road.

The Blues' fate is in their own collective hands, however, and there is still plenty of time to pass Minnesota, San Jose and Los Angeles. With a game in hand on all three teams, St. Louis is only a point behind the Wild and three behind the Sharks and Kings.

Unfortunately for those desiring home ice advantage, Los Angeles and San Jose both figure to win at least three of their remaining five games, which means the Blues would have to earn at least nine points in six games, including tonight. To finish sixth (and most likely face Vancouver in the first round), the Blues will have to outpace Minnesota, which also figures to win at least three of their remaining five games (those against bottom-feeders Calgary, Edmonton and Colorado) and end up with at least 57 points.

In that scenario, the Blues need to win four in order to end up with 58 points.

Teams that could pass the Blues and even knock them out of the playoffs include Detroit, Columbus and Dallas. If Phoenix wins tonight's contest, they could be in the running, only trailing St. Louis by five points. The Coyotes have a tough five games remaining, though, playing at Chicago, Detroit, coming home to face San Jose, Colorado and then finishing at Anaheim. It's not likely they will win more than two of those games (or that the Blues will not win another game this shortened season), although stranger things have happened in past NHL races for playoff qualification. If the Blues win tonight, then it doesn't matter. And it's the same with Dallas. If the Blues defeat the Stars tomorrow night, Dallas would be at least five points behind with only four games left, at Los Angeles and San Jose, then finishing at home against Columbus and Detroit. It's unlikely they will win more than two of those games or get more than four points. On the other hand, if Dallas defeats Vancouver (at home tonight) and then the Blues tomorrow night, they are indeed capable of surpassing the Note in points. It's that close.

Of more concern are the Red Wings and Blue Jackets. Columbus is in the midst of a six game road trip that started quite well with two bonus-time victories in Minnesota and Colorado. After a tough game in Anaheim last night, they play in Los Angeles tonight, and then off to San Jose and Dallas. The Jackets end the season at home against Nashville, a team that has now lost seven games in a row and is out of contention, despite acclaimed goaltender Pekka Rinne, aka Blues-killer. Can they win more than two of those four remaining games? If they do and the Blues somehow cannot win at least two of six remaining, then we will all be surely singing the blues here in St. Louis. Detroit is more of a threat, with three of their remaining five games against teams lower in the standings than they are and with three at the friendly confines of Joe Louis Arena. They end the season at Dallas. Figure that the Red Wings can earn at least six more points, which means the Blues have to win at least half of their remaining games to stay ahead. That is certainly do-able, but by no means any kind of guarantee.

It all depends, of course, on the Blues suddenly impotent offense, including a pitiful power play. What happened? David Perron has not scored a goal since March 12 (16 games). Alex Pietrangelo, supposedly the Blues' best offensive defenseman, has not scored since March 19, a drought now lasting 18 games. Team scoring leader Chris Stewart has one goal in the last 12 games, the same as Alexander Steen. Patrick Berglund has one in the last 13 games. Captain David Backes has two goals in his last 22 games, the same as Andy McDonald in 16 games. Rookie sensation Vlad Tarasenko has cooled off, scoring only two goals (in the same game at Los Angeles) in the last 19 games. The Blues have scored two or fewer goals in nine of the last 12 games now. As January ended, the Blues had the top offense in the league, averaging just under four goals per game. They now rank 17th with 2.57 goals per game. And the power play is a mess. They have now gone 28 games without scoring more than one power play goal in any single game. At the end of January, the Blues had the number one power play in the league, operating at over 30% efficiency. They now rank 12th at 19.4%. Yikes!

Tonight would be a great night for the Blues to rediscover their offense and see the power play click more than once. In two previous meetings this season, the Blues have scored nine goals (and only allowed three against goaltender Jake Allen in both games, one a shutout). There is no reason they cannot continue that success tonight.