The St. Louis Blues and the playoffs? Who saw this one coming?
A few weeks ago when you asked a Blues fan about the playoffs the response you got was more akin to Jim Mora than to optimism. Yet here we sit, the week of the deadline, three points out of a spot.
How did we get here you ask? Well an 8-2-4 record in February will definitely help. As would the return of setup man Andy McDonald, who has tallied three goals and five assists since his return on Feb. 10th.
This week the Blues posted a perfect 3-0 record against teams they needed to beat to keep climbing the standings.
Tuesday Feb. 24 vs. Phoenix:
After a crushing defeat the previous Saturday to Nashville, the Blues needed to come out and take it to a struggling Phoenix team. Unfortunately that isn't what happened and it looked like the Blues would not even get a point in this one.
Shane Doan took a centering pass from Joakim Lindstrom to put Phoenix up 1-0 with 6:14 to go in the first period. The play started with Chris Mason flubbing the puck behind the net giving it right to the Coyotes.
The period finished up with Phoenix outshooting the Blues eight shots to four but also out hustling them to every puck.
The second period was more of the same until 6:58 when David Perron threw a harmless dump in on Illya Bryzgalov. The puck bounced off the ice and somehow slipped in past the Coyote netminder tying the game at one. Perron was on the bench and had no idea it went in until he heard the horn going off.
Two minutes later, with Phoenix on the power play, T.J. Oshie blocked a shot and brought the puck out with Jay McClement on a 2-on-1. McClement buried the shot giving St. Louis the lead for the first time in 5 periods of hockey.
The shorthanded goal was McClement's third shortie of the year, which is two more than last year's penalty kill specialist had all year.
St. Louis survived a barrage of chances in the third en route to the 2-1 victory.
Thursday Feb. 26 @ Dallas:
The last time the Blues played Dallas Marty Turco was abysmal and the Stars were off to the worst start in franchise history. The Stars have remarkably turned it around and are now fighting with the Blues for a playoff spot.
In this game the Blues saw why the Stars were back as they got peppered with 42 shots, while the Blues only managed 22. But luck was on their side yet again as five posts were hit throughout the game.
Jere Lehtinen tipped in a shot from Mike Ribeiro to give Dallas the lead early in the first period and almost gave them a two-goal lead five minutes after the first. But Mason stood tall and denied Lehtinen on a breakaway as well as denying the rest of the attempts that came his way.
Jay McClement scored for the second game in a row to tie the game up in the first. The period ended with the Stars outshooting the Blues 15-8.
In the second period the Blues started to take control of the game. The forecheck ramped up and, though they did not score, the Blues had multiple opportunities to take the lead.
After not playing together for more than two weeks, Andy Murray reunited the Kid Line in the third period and it immediately paid dividends.
After outbattling two Stars players on the boards, Patrik Berglund got the puck to Oshie in the corner. Oshie than walked out and was challenged by Marty Turco giving Oshie little room to work with. Turco was unaware of the small hole he left in the upper corner of the net and Oshie roofed the puck for his ninth goal of the season.
They kept the hot streak going the next time the line was on the ice. An errant clearing attempt was intercepted by Barrett Jackman to keep the play alive in Dallas' zone. David Perron took a pass from Jackman behind the net and fed it through the crease to Patrik Berglund who lined a shot past Turco for a comfortable two-goal lead.
But it wasn't as comfortable as the Blues had hoped. In the last 10 minutes the Blues had to fight off a four minute high sticking call, a two minute hooking call in the final two minutes, as well as multiple failed clearing attempts that resulted in three posts hit.
When the horn sounded Chris Mason and the Blues drew a collective sigh of relief and got out of big D with two BIG points.
Saturday Feb. 28 @ Phoenix:
The Blues wrapped up the week by visiting the Phoenix Coyotes, looking to stay three points out of the playoff spot. This game was as tightly contested as the first game was and it was McClement, again, who got things going for St. Louis.
In the second period, McClement took a pass from Alex Steen and skated down the right side of the Phoenix zone on Ed Jovanovski. At the faceoff circle McClement cut to the center of the rink and pulled a shot back across his body to beat Illya Bryzgalov for a 1-0 lead. It was the first time in five games that the Blues had scored the first goal.
Early in the third period Perron put the Blues up 2-0. With Ken Klee in the box for high sticking, Perron took a feed from David Backes, walked in and wired a shot that Byrzgalov didn't even see.
Mason's shut-out bid was ruined by Olli Jokinen when his sixth power play goal of the season found its way between his pads. Now down only one the Coyotes upped the forecheck pressure for the first time in this game.
With this added pressure the Coyotes looked like they were going to get the tying goal relatively soon but McDonald would have none of that. With a minute to go in the game McDonald and Keith Tkachuk broke out on a two-on-one and, after some nifty passing, McDonald netted his third goal of the month for the two goal lead.
A year after going 0-4 against Phoenix, the Blues are now 3-0 against the Great One's Coyotes and will look for the sweep on April 7 in Phoenix.
While this past week has done wonders to get this team back into the playoff hunt, it's going to take more off the same over the next month to get them there. The Blues will have 17 of their final 20 games against playoff or playoff potential teams.