Lighting the Lamp With Rick Ackerman
It is hard to believe the regular season ends after tonight’s game in St. Louis with the best team in the Eastern Conference against the best team in the Western Conference. Even though the Dallas Stars will most likely win the Central Division championship (with a win tonight at home over Nashville) and most likely have more points than the Blues, the Blues won the season series against the Stars, winning four games to one, outscoring them 13 to 10. Yes, three of these games went to bonus time, the Blues winning all three, two in overtime. A small margin of victory is better than a small margin of loss, of course, especially concerning bragging rights.
The Blues were not guaranteed second place in the Central Division (and Western Conference) with a come from behind victory Monday over the tenacious Arizona Coyotes. The Coyotes forgot to show up Tuesday at the United Center in Chicago and were behind 5-0 before they knew it, ending up with a 6-2 loss and enabling the Blackhawks to get a little closer to St. Louis in the standings.
Since the contest Thursday between the Blues and Blackhawks was especially meaningful, the Note sent Chicago an extremely meaningful message by coming from behind to steal a 2-1 victory. And St. Louis was not satisfied with just earning one point to insure finishing ahead of Chicago. The Blues worked to earn that second point in overtime and still have a chance to win the division. Vlad Tarasenko was the scoring star with both goals and Brian "Moose" Elliott stood on his head making 24 saves, including a penalty shot by Andrew Ladd and two saves on shots by Patrick Kane early in overtime.
The win relegated Chicago to third place in the Central Division and earned the Blues home ice advantage if they meet the Blackhawks in the opening round. Of course, if the Blues win tonight (or even get one point in a overtime/shoot out loss) and the Stars lose their marquee match tonight in regulation, the Blues would finish first in the division and face the Minnesota Wild in the first round of the playoffs.
Although tonight’s contest has no particular significance for the Capitals, who would be wise to rest as many regulars as possible, it does matter to the Blues, who will continue to scratch and claw their way to the top of the division and conference and enter the post-season on a winning streak. The Blues have now won eight of the last nine games they have played, outscoring opponents 32 to 11. Yes, St. Louis has only allowed 11 goals against in the last nine games while scoring almost four goals themselves per game in that span.
By next week when you are reading the first playoff edition of St. Louis Game Time many questions will have been answered about the Blues’ chances in this upcoming marathon tournament. The Blues medical staff will answer the biggest questions concerning the status of three players crucial to post season success: Jake Allen, David Backes and Robby Fabbri. Since the Blues have adequate replacements for two of these players if unavailable (Anders Nilsson and Magnus Paajarvi or Dmitrij Jaskin), all is relatively well. However, there is no replacement for Captain David Backes, whose loss would be immeasurable. Brian Elliott won the honor of starting the playoffs with superior play the last two weeks of the season, so, unless Elliott is injured and unable to play, the possible loss of Allen may not be a factor at all.
It will also be interesting to see which players the Blues might recall from the AHL Chicago Wolves next week when rosters can be expanded. The Wolves will not be participating in the AHL playoffs. Diminutive winger Ty Rattie will most certainly be called up, as well as veteran defensemen Chris Butler and/or Andre Benoit. And if Allen is unable to play, one of Jordan Binnington or Pheonix Copley could be recalled.
And it just might be a good idea to recall rookie center Ivan Barbashev and rookie defenseman Jordan Schmaltz, too, and allow them to practice with the Blues and soak up some experience around the locker room and training facilities.
No matter the outcome of tonight’s game, the Blues will have a better road record this season (25-11-5) than at home (25-12-4 if they defeat Washington). More amazing is that the Blues have currently played 38 (of a total 81) games, almost half, decided by one goal. Even more incredible is that the Blues record in these contests is 25-4-9. St. Louis can also boast of a divisional record of 20-6-4, outscoring Central Division opponents 81 to 66. The Blues also have a record of 16-6-1 against Pacific Division opponents, including series wins over both Anaheim and Los Angeles. That means the Blues’ conference record is 36-12-5. Of course, this all bodes well for post-season play.
Although it is the Year of the Monkey on the Chinese calendar, it must be the year of the Moose on the Blues’ calendar. Elliott is 13-1-1 since the All-Star break and 12-0-1 in the Blues last 15 games with a 1.71 goal against average, a .940 save percentage and three shutouts. Elliott currently leads all NHL goaltenders who have played at least fifteen games with a .932 save percentage and 2.00 goals against average.
A victory over the Capitals would give the Blues 109 points, equaling last year’s point total, yet falling short of the record 114 points in the 1999-2000 season.
Let’s go Blues; Let’s go Predators!