The St. Louis Blues have been on quite a roll recently. They have won six out of their last 10 games, and have taken at least one point in nine of those 10. After defeating Colorado Saturday night 4-1, the Blues have crawled all the way back from seemingly nowhere to within five points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
This has a lot of fans shaking their heads, saying "How did they do it?"
Coming into this season, the Blues looked like a team primed to be a legitimite playoff contender after three miserable seasons that ended with finding something else to do than participate in playoff hockey. The team's cornerstone defenseman, Erik Johnson, was expected to take his game to another level after an above-average rookie season. Newcomers TJ Oshie and Patrik Berglund were expected to come in and provide an offensive spark that had been lacking in the last few seasons. The team signed goalie Chris Mason in the offseason to compete with 2008 All-Star Manny Legace for the number one goalie spot. Paul Kariya was looking to bounce back from a sub-par first season with the Blues and give them a scoring threat on the top line. And Andy McDonald looked to continue where he left off when he was traded to Blues halfway through last season, and help the Blues in the scoring department as well in his first full season with the team.
All of that changed...
The season hadn't even started yet when the team got word of its first major blow to the roster. Erik Johnson injured his knee in a freak golf cart accident on a team bonding trip and was lost for the season with ACL surgery. Then, about a month into the season, Paul Kariya injured his hip and opted to have surgery, costing him the season as well. The injuries continued to pile on from there, as Eric Brewer (back surgery), Andy McDonald (broken ankle), TJ Oshie (high ankle sprain), Manny Legace (groin strain, concussion), Roman Polak (broken ankle), Jeff Woywitka (broken ankle), DJ King (dislocated shoulder), Yan Stastny (broken thumb), and Jay McKee (broken thumb) were all lost for long stretches during the season. Brewer and King are out for the season, and Stastny, Polak, and McDonald have not returned to action since their injuries.
In all, the Blues have a grand total of 318 man games lost due to injury, the most in the NHL this season. But, there was a turning point in my opinion that got the Blues into the position they are in now.
The Blues were playing in Boston against the Bruins on Marting Luther King Day. The Bruins took a 1-0 lead early in the first period, and on that goal, Manny Legace tweaked his groin and had to be removed from the game. Chris Mason came in for the Blues in relief. The Blues had a 2-1 lead going into the third period, but a two-man advantage late in the game for Boston saw them take a 4-2 lead with under two minutes to play. Unlike past games during the season which saw the Blues crumble after something like this happen and skate off with another loss, the Blues fought back. David Perron's power play goal with 1:21 remaining cut the Bruins' lead to 4-3. Then, with 0.9 seconds remaining in the game, David Backes batted a Keith Tkachuk shot out of mid-air and past Boston goalie Tim Thomas to tie the game at four. The Blues would go on to win the game in the shootout, and in the process show what kind of fight the team had in them, but failed to show in past games.
Since that day, Chris Mason has been tapped as the Blues' number one goaltender, and he hasn't disappointed. Mason was named the NHL's goaltender of the month in January, and in his last seven games he is 4-1-2 with a goals against average of an astounding 0.85 and a save percentage of 96.9%. The Blues, with Mason as their goalie, have turned into a completely different team during this stretch. Despite all of the injuries, the Blues have fought their way back into the race for a playoff spot, and in the process, have seemed to gain the respect of their opponents as a team that is going to challenge and take them to the limit, contrary to what their win-loss record indicates.
It's pretty amazing to even mention the words "Blues" and "playoffs" in the same sentence, after everything that has taken place so far this season. They may be last-place in the Western Conference, but they are certaintly not playing like it. If the Blues are willing to make this pipe dream for fans a reality, it'll be a tough task. Even though they are only five points out of a playoff spot, they still have to jump over seven other teams to get there. Even so, four out of the seven teams ahead of the Blues are playing .500 or below hockey in their last 10 games. In other words, some of these teams aren't helping their cause. As a last place team, the Blues are 6-1-3 in their last 10, good for the best 10-game stretch in the Western Conference. If the Blues are able to keep this pace going, there might, and I stress the word might, be playoff hockey back in St. Louis coming in April.
Will it happen? I don't know, as the odds seem very slim. But, as of now, the Blues are holding up their end of the bargain, and are waiting to see how everyone else in front of them fares.
So far, so good.
A Blues tidbit: Goaltender Manny Legace cleared waivers yesterday and is headed to Peoria. If the Blues decide to re-call him at any point through the remainder of the season, he'll have to go through re-entry waivers. At that point, any team that decides to claim Legace will take on half of his remaining salary with the Blues ($900,000).