A good team's work is never done, and less than 24 hours after punching their playoff ticket, the Nashville Predators still have plenty to play for tonight in St. Louis, against a Blues team which finds itself on the outside looking in for the 5th time in six seasons. A win in regulation play or overtime would lock up 4th place in the Western Conference, which brings with it home-ice advantage in the first round. Anything less than that leaves open the possibility of being passed by Phoenix, Los Angeles, Anaheim or Chicago.
Oh, and if that's not enough pressure, the Preds need to make sure they bring a good effort for the diehards from Cell Block 303 who are making the bus trip out to St. Louis for today's game.
Crazy? You betcha. But just wait until next week...
St. Louis Blues
The Blues have gone 5-1-2 over their last 8 games, so they're not simply rolling over like the teams driving for those lottery picks in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. Much like the Predators, St. Louis was decimated over the course of the season by injuries to key players, but they didn't have the organizational depth and/or team structure necessary to weather such storms.
A young team facing such adversity and falling short of the playoffs is somewhat understandable, but what took fans in St. Louis (and around the league) by surprise was the big trade the Blues made with Colorado, shipping out defenseman Erik Johnson in exchange for beefy winger Chris Stewart. He provides, along with David Backes, formidable scoring punch charging down the right wing, with Backes having topped the 30-goal mark twice, and Stewart potting 28 for the 2nd straight year. Can the Blues surround those two with the requisite playmakers and defense to lift this team back into contention in the foreseeable future? That's the big question.
|2010 - Jaroslav Halak||56||3234||26||21||7||136||2.52||1494||1358||.909||6|
The conventional wisdom lauded St. Louis for swinging an off-season trade with Montreal to land playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to take over in goal for Chris Mason. The results, however, show the risk of getting too excited about a single playoff run. Still under contract for three more seasons, Halak will have to rebound next year if the Blues hope to move up in the conference.
The big question heading into this game is just how hard the Preds will push. Do you dress J.P. Dumont and let one of the regular forwards rest? After Steve Sullivan returned to the lineup last night, is Cal O`Reilly also ready to shake off a little rust prior to the playoffs?
And lastly, do you let Anders the Giant get one last start in order to make sure he's sharp just in case he's needed during the post-season?
|2010 - Anders Lindback||22||1131||11||5||2||49||2.60||576||527||.915||2|