Since the beginning of March, the Blues have been eyeing the Presidents’ Trophy. Head coach Ken Hitchcock didn’t hesitate to admit it, and the team has been able to stay in the hunt by going 9-2-1 so far in the month of March. That’s a strong stretch of play, but there’s still plenty of work to do.There are 11 games left in the regular season, and following Tuesday’s matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs on the road, the Blues will play five straight games at home. For evidence of the importance of a five-game winning or losing streak, one needn’t look any further than the Leafs themselves.
Just 10 days ago they were firmly entrenched in a Wild Card spot. A five-game slide has them fighting for their playoffs lives. St. Louis has already clinched a playoff spot, but backsliding over the next six games would cost them a shot at the Presidents’ Trophy without question.
The games are winnable, but there’s not an easy contest in the bunch. Interestingly enough, a few of the games may even represent first-round previews for the Blues.
On Thursday the Minnesota Wild will come to town. Currently the seventh-place team in the Western Conference, the Wild will be hungry for two points. They have a small cushion over the Phoenix Coyotes and Dallas Stars, but going to sleep for a few days in the current competitive climate can be disastrous to playoff chances.
The last time St. Louis saw the Wild they were able to take down Ilya Bryzgalov in his debut for Minnesota.Following that contest the Wild, the Dallas Stars will be in St. Louis. Like Minnesota, the Stars are on the bubble in the West and will be in full-blown playoff mode. These two games will set the tone for the remainder of the homestand, which really doesn’t get any easier after visits from Dallas and the Wild.
To open the month of April, the Blues will have a chance to take out the Philadelphia Flyers in what could be a bit of a grudge match. Just this last weekend St. Louis fell to Philly in a somewhat embarrassing 4-1 loss, and Hitchcock would love to see the team respond with an emphatic and convincing win.
Like most squads in the NHL at this point, the Flyers are scrapping for their playoff lives. With Claude Giroux leading the way, Philadelphia has climbed to fifth place in the Eastern Conference on the back of an 8-1-1 record in their last 10. That’s three straight tough contests for the Blues before they get a small break against the Buffalo Sabres on April 3.
With less than a month remaining on the schedule, the Blues lead the Sabres by 55 points in the standings. It’s the most winnable game of the homestand and could be a must-win for St. Louis if they struggle through the first three contests or the Bruins continue to play at a ridiculous level.Rounding out the five-game stand will be a matchup with the Colorado Avalanche. The Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings appear to be St. Louis’ top threats in the West, but no one should be sleeping on the Avalanche. They are offensively dynamic and represent a pesky, speedy threat for the Blues.
Against top teams like Colorado, Hitchcock likes to utilize David Backes and Alexander Steen in shutdown roles, which could put more pressure on the depth players to get the job done in the offensive zone.
All told, it’s going to be an exciting rush to the playoffs for the Blues. By the end of the homestand we’ll have a less murky idea of what the postseason picture will look like. Could St. Louis be at the top of the NHL once again by their next road trip to Chicago? We shall see.