A Tough Loss vs. Detroit; Scenarios for Tomorrow Night vs. Phoenix

With two days left in the regular season, the Blues could be playing one of three teams in their first round playoff series: The Sharks, the Kings, or the Coyotes. Moreover, the Blues could still finish first in the Western Conference if they win both of their remaining games, tonight against Phoenix at home and Saturday in Dallas. Vancouver, after a 3-2 regulation loss in Calgary on Thursday night, has relinquished its hold on the West. In a crazy game in Los Angeles, the Sharks beat the Kings in a shootout, which leaves the fate of the Pacific Division in limbo.

The Blues’ 3-2 shootout loss on Wednesday against Detroit was a bitter pill to swallow. Brian Elliott extended his shutout streak deep into the 3rd period, and after a shorthand goal by David Perron and a tally by Andy McDonald, the Blues led 2-0. Johann Franzen and the Wings came back with a fury as the Blues retreated into a shell. Franzen scored 2 quick ones with under 6 minutes to play to tie the game. It was a disturbing result for a Blues team that has been inconsistent of late, particularly struggling to finish games with the same intensity with which they start them.

Here’s what will happen after tomorrow night’s game against the Coyotes:

With a regulation win on Friday against Phoenix:

The Blues will move to 109 points, tying with Vancouver. By virtue of the Blues’ extra non-shootoout wins (ROW), they would own the tiebreaker for 1st in the conference. Phoenix would remain in 8th, with 93 points and would be slated for a rematch with the Blues in the 1st round, each team with 1 game left.

If the Blues win in OT or a shootout, they would still move into 1st in the West because of the ROW tiebreaker over Vancouver. Phoenix would then have 94 points, the same as LA and San Jose, but because Phoenix has an extra ROW over San Jose but not LA, so the Coyotes would move into 7th.

If the Coyotes win in regulation, they would move into first place in the Pacific, the #3 seed with 95 points to SJ’s and LA’s 94. The Blues would remain in 2nd in the West and would then find it very difficult to win the West. The Kings would slide into the #7 spot and the Shark #8.

A Coyotes win in overtime, and the Blues would gain a point and would then need to get 2 points against Dallas and need Vancouver to lose on Saturday against Edmonton to win the West. The Coyotes would still move to the #3 spot.

Phew. Now on Saturday, that’s where things get REALLY interesting. LA plays SJ at the Shark Tank and the Coyotes visit Minnesota.

While it’s interesting for us fans to think about, the Blues need to focus on winning their last 2 games of the season. Stumbling into the playoffs is a recipe for disaster, and that scenario has doomed too many Blues teams in the past to count. Brian Elliott could very well earn the starting job in game 1 of the playoffs with another shutout tomorrow night, although Jaroslav Halak will have one last chance to establish himself as the go-to guy on Saturday. It’ll likely be Halak, as it should be, but Ken Hitchcock is taking nothing for granted. The Blues can go a long way toward righting the ship (3-3-4 in their last 10) this weekend.

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Blues Dominated, Miss Chance to Clinch Central, Lose 4-3 (SO)

The Blues just can’t get it done in Chicago. Something about that building, those colours, that team, and that m**#^&$*@*ing goal song that signify doom for the Note. Whatever it is, it’s an annoying trend. Make no mistake aboot it: the Blackhawks dominated the Blues tonight at the United Center in Chicago, outshooting them 40-20 and winning 4-3 in the shoot out. Yes, the Blues come away with a point, but only on the strength of a 3rd period comeback that, in the grand scheme of the game, was undeserved.

Chicago started the scoring midway through the first on a long wrist shot by Brian Bickell that Jaroslav Halak should have stopped. Alex Steen responded 9 seconds later to tie the game. The 2nd period was sloppy on both sides, but the Blues especially were unfocused and unable to establish a forecheck. So it was unsurprising when the Hawks scored a couple quickies early in the 3rd to build a 3-1 lead.

If there’s one positive from tonight, it’s that the Blues never gave up. Jason Arnott scored on a wraparound midway through the 3rd and then in the last 2 minutes, David Perron tipped home a Kris Russel slapshot to force overtime. Again, the Blackhawks dominated OT but were robbed by several dramatic saves by Jaroslav Halak, the somewhat controversial starter after Brian Elliott’s 3 consecutive shutouts. Halak didn’t disappoint, turning away 7 Chicago shots in overtime, many of them high quality scoring chances.

The shootout…well, who cares? It was scoreless through 3 rounds, some loser for the Blackhawks scored in the 4th round, and Patrick Berglund rang his attempt off the post, and the Blues were denied the chance to clinch the Central Division. They’ll get to try again, this time at home, on Saturday night against the last place Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blues had better start rounding into playoff form, because tonight was bad, and they’ve been inconsistent here down the stretch. Roman Polak’s absence is really hurting this team. When he comes back, a lot of the problems should begin to fix themselves.