In the remaining 11 games before the Olympic break in mid-February, only one has major significance for the Blues quest for home-ice advantage in the Western Conference playoffs, and that game is tonight against the visiting Anaheim Ducks. In the other three significant games this month, the Blues did extremely well blanking Los Angeles 5-0, yet fell short in Vancouver with a tepid 1-2 loss, much like they did at home against the Kings two days ago in the 1-4 debacle in which Jaro Halak took the Blues out of the game in the third period with a major stick-handling gaffe that led to Trevor Lewis' shorthanded goal and what proved to be an insurmountable lead for the tight-checking squad from the City of Angels.
After tonight's contest with Anaheim, the Blues play Eastern Conference clubs eight times, three at home, five on the road, and only twice against rival Western Conference clubs, both at home against Nashville and Winnipeg. So, if the Blues hope to catch and pass Anaheim any time soon, it is imperative they take this "four-point" game tonight with a solid, 60-minute victory over the high-flying Ducks. A poor first period, which has become an all-too-common habit for the Blues during the last several weeks, will simply not do if the Blues are to establish themselves as the "best in the West" this season.
Anaheim has had it share of mega-stars, including Jarri Kurri, Scott Niedermayer, Sergei Federov, Bobby Ryan and current players Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Saku Koivu. The list of stars also includes players who wore the Note in St. Louis, such as Adam Oates, Doug Weight, Terry Yake, Scott Young, Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald and Chris Pronger. Arguably, no one was as important to the Ducks Stanley Cup championship in 2007 than Pronger.
Pronger, of course, joined the Blues in 1995 from Hartford in exchange for Brendan Shanahan, HoF 2013. From the start, Pronger lacked motivation and direction, quickly remedied by coach Mike Keenan, who insisted the lanky defenseman improve his conditioning and defensive play. In Pronger's third season with the Blues, he was named team captain (previous captain Brett Hull had left for greener pastures in Dallas) and made the All-star team. It was during the playoffs in 1998 against the Red Wings that Pronger was hit by the puck in the chest and suffered a brief cardiac arrest. Two years later Pronger recorded a career high 62 points and earned both the Norris (best defenseman) and Hart (most valuable player in the regulation season) Trophies, the latter by one vote over Jaromir Jagr. Pronger was also named to the first All-star team. Following the 2004-05 lockout, a cash-starved, revenue-impaired Blues management was forced to trade the expensive defenseman to Edmonton for defensemen Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch and Jeff Woywitka (and no first round draft choices). Blues' owner Bill Laurie was planning to sell the team and he rather foolishly thought Pronger's high salary would discourage potential buyers, so he forced a trade, which, naturally, turned out to be a huge mistake, one that Edmonton took advantage of. The Oilers quickly signed Pronger to a five year $31.25M contract.
The Oilers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006, losing game seven to the Carolina Hurricanes. Pronger scored a team-leading 21 points in 24 games with a plus-10 rating. However, the fans' elation at playing in the Finals turned to gloom when the Oilers lost, and then to doom when it was revealed that Pronger requested a trade during the summer of 2006, apparently for personal reasons, which was reported to be due to his St. Louis-native wife's unhappiness with the over-all quality of life in Edmonton. Edmonton fans were extremely upset when Anaheim acquired the all-star defenseman that summer for Joffrey Lupul (now with Toronto), Ladislav Smid (now with Calgary) and a first round draft choice, #30, later traded to Phoenix who selected highly touted defenseman Nick Ross, who is currently playing in Austria. Ross never played a single game in the NHL. Also included in the trade was a conditional draft choice, which turned out to be Jordan Eberle and a 2008 second round choice that was later traded to the Islanders.
With Pronger, the Ducks reached the Finals in 2008, his second appearance in two seasons. Previously that season, Anaheim set a then NHL record for remaining undefeated in regulation for the first 16 games of the season. They went on to win the division title, and then ran through Minnesota, Vancouver and Detroit to face the Ottawa Senators for the Cup. Pronger was suspended one game against Detroit for elbowing Tomas Holmstrom, and then again in game three of the Finals for elbowing Dean McAmmond in the head. Anaheim easily won the series four games to one. Pronger would only record one assist (in game five), yet led the Ducks (tied with center Samuel Pahlsson) with a plus-6, finally getting his name engraved on Lord Stanley's Cup in his 13th NHL season.
After the disaster against the Kings Thursday, the Blues are indeed somewhat desperate for a regulation victory tonight against the Ducks, who currently lead the Blues by eight points, not including the Ducks' game last night in Chicago. A vitalized, high-energy first period against a travel-weary flock of quackers will go far in winning the game and working towards home ice advantage in the upcoming playoffs.