One month ago, any questions about the St. Louis Blues being in the playoffs were being redirected toward Jim Mora (Playoffs? You wanna talk about playoffs?). But now, the Blues are only one point out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
An impressive 3-1 homestand this past week showed that the team has the heart to win, but do they have enough gas in the tank to finish the run?
With 13 games to go, Blues fans have plenty of reason to hope. A month ago, the Blues sat in the cellar of the Western Conference and many national and local hockey reporters had written them off for dead. But a 13-5-4 record since Jan. 31 has brought the team a mere one point away from the postseason.
If the Blues are to finish this remarkable turnaround, they will need to do it away from home. The Blues (19-13-5 at home) play 10 of their remaining 13 games on the road, and all against Western Conference opponents. Many of those games come against Columbus, Edmonton, and Dallas—teams all within six points of each other, and all fighting to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot.
Furthermore, the Blues' MVP this season, Chris Mason, seems to be showing the fatigue of 20 consecutive starts. The NHL's No. 3 star in the month of February showed on back-to-back days that he is human after all.
A dismal second period Saturday against Detroit, in which the Wings scored three goals on three shots in less than a minute, quieted the crowd, which was anxious to see their team move into a tie for eighth place. A fourth goal later in the period sailed by Mason, who never saw it, and ultimately chased him from the game as Ben Bishop was in net for the third period.
The Blues bounced back the following day versus a Minnesota Wild team who was neck and neck with them. The Blues came out and scored three power play goals and led the Wild 4-1 entering the final period. The third period saw the Wild come out and score twice, drawing to within 4-3 before Brad Boyes sealed the 5-3 win, pocketing an empty-net goal with just under a minute remaining.
Mason again looked a little worn out in the third period. No doubt the rigorous schedule has taken its toll on him, as it would any NHL goalie. The question now is, do you give Mason a night off? Knowing that they have 13 games left, and that nearly every one of those games is against teams that are either directly above or below you, where do you schedule Mason for a rest?
The Blues' fate is in their own hands, as much as it can possibly be. One point out of the playoffs, and with their remaining schedule filled with fellow midpack Western Conference teams, all the Blues need to do is win.
One thing is for certain: No matter if this team completes its push to the playoffs or not, Mason has proven to be a good pickup. T.J. Oshie has proven to be worth the wait that Blues fans have sat through. Andy McDonald has already started to show why he was worth signing to a four-year extension.
The Blues have nothing to hang their heads about if they fall short.