The Blues have long had issues resolving the season series against their rivals, the Detroit Red Wings. They've faltered in doing so three out of the last four seasons, and with a win tonight could do no more than equalize the series 3-3. Usually it's a point of pride for the Blues to defeat the Red Wings, as the Wings are the litmus test for the Western Conference. This season, however, the emphasis isn't on how the Blues play against the Wings -- it's how the Blues're playing entering the playoffs.
A win against Detroit isn't an equalizer. It's a step towards making sure that the division champion Blues are on the right path. They need to shake off two losses that saw the team play some of their sloppiest hockey all season long -- and anyone will tell you that doing so entering into the playoffs isn't exactly the best time to do so. Their 5-2 loss on Saturday night put the Blues behind the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers in the hunt for the Presidents' Trophy, and with both of those teams winning while the Blues were sitting, the Blues're now three points out of winning the league's best record. What caused that 5-2 loss? Surprisingly, it was the return of injured player Matt D'Agostini and the overthinking of Chris Stewart that didn't help the Blues. Scott Nichol was the sole remaining portion of the usually effective fourth line, and he was centering two linemates who just last season were tops of the pops in scoring. This season? Not so much.
Luckily, coach Ken Hitchcock has more than enough options when it comes to tweaking the lines. He'll also be able to figure out who needs to stay put in the line-up, and who will be hanging out in the very crowded press box in the playoffs.
"The players themselves will determine their status, whether they are starters or fill-ins or replacement players or whatever," Hitchcock said after Tuesday’s practice.
"My concern is that the players that are coming into the lineup from long-term injury — they are good players that are coming back — I want to get them up to speed so they become full-time players. That’s a focus for me.
"But the bigger focus is how do we fit and how do we look?"
They need to look better than they did Saturday night if they want to make it past the first round. Are they capable of doing so? Of course. Will Ken Hitchcock fix the problem? Probably -- and tonight is a great night to do it.
Brian Elliott will be back in net tonight; Elliott has three shutouts in a row and has defeated the Wings twice at home. With three games left on the schedule, the starter for the playoffs isn't decided as of yet, and chances are very good that it won't be decided after tonight.