Every game counts, but that is more visible now than at any other point in the season. The two points available tonight are worth the same amount as the ones in January, but these seem more meaningful because there are precious few of them left. A regulation loss by Colorado, coupled with a win by Minnesota against Winnipeg tonight, will eliminate the Avalanche from the wild card race. On the other hand, if the Blues lose in regulation and the Stars beat Anaheim tonight, the Dallas Stars will lock up the top spot in the Central. While the Blues aren't so desperate for the win, it's not like there's nothing to play for, either. There is something gained from winning tonight.
Winning has been a tough task for the Avs lately. They've gone 5-5-0 in their last 10 games, and not really scoring much during that run. Part of that has been due to injuries - top scorer Matt Duchene has just returned from injury, having missed 6 during this crucial stretch. The Avs are still missing Nathan MacKinnon, who is second behind Duchene in both goals and points, due to a knee injury. The offense is half dead. Add to that a tough schedule - all of Colorado's remaining games are against playoff-bound teams - and it doesn't look good for the Avalanche. Nonetheless, the Avalanche website is already selling playoff tickets. But even with all of that, those two points are never quite free.
The Blues are starting to get healthy on the other hand. Although they are not playing tonight, defensemen Carl Gunnarsson and Jay Bouwmeester are skating and close to returning to full duty. Robby Fabbri and Steve Ott are likewise skating and will be coming back soon as well. This is the best position that the team has been in this year. There's no better time for the team to be healthy and somewhat rested than right now, on the brink of the postseason. Add to that being hot: the Blues just lost a game to end their 5-game winning streak, but having had that streak to begin with bodes well right now. A large part of that is the offense really kicking into high gear. Since getting shut out in Nashville on 02/27, the Blues have failed to score at least 3 goals only once: a 1-0 win in San Jose. Keep that up, and the job of the defense and goaltending gets a lot easier.
In regards to netminding, it looks like the Avalanche will have Semyon Varlamov to start the game. This year he has posted a .917 save percentage, but has been a Blues killer in games past. In his career, he has .940 save percentage against the Blues, with 3 shutouts. For St Louis, it will be Jake Allen in net. He'll be backed up by Anders Nilsson, while Brian Elliott rests up back in St Louis.
The focus will be on (good
Ontario Missouri kid) Paul Stastny, who is on a tear right now. He has points in 4 straight games, and 16 points in the past 11 games. It's good to see him add some balance to our attack. The Avs will welcome a goal by anybody right now, but Jarome Iginla is one shy of matching Bobby Hull for 16th in All-Time Goals with 610. You can be sure he'll give it the old college try tonight.
Both teams have something to play for tonight, so it should be an eventful game. If the Blues win, they still hold a chance to win the Central Division (and therefore the Western Conference). Even if they don't win the Central, the Blues will want to separate themselves from Chicago. They will likely have to beat the champ in the first round, so why not take home-ice advantage into that match-up?
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Final Verse: The puck drops at 7:00 St Louis time, with the GDT dropping shortly beforehand. This is the last national broadcast of the regular season, NBCSN with the honors tonight. The radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. Please do join us for the GDT, even though it is a crowded sports day in St Louis. Besides this match, it's opening day for the Cards and also Wrestlemania.