ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI - JANUARY 3: Patrik Berglund #21 of the St. Louis Blues looks to pass the puck against Rostislav Klesla #16 of the Phoenix Coyotes at the Scottrade Center on January 3, 2012 in St. Louis, Missouri. The Blues beat the Coyotes 4-2. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
The Blues' future is up to them, as winning the last two games of the season puts them first in the West and in contention for the Presidents' Trophy again. The Coyotes will be a tough test.
As odd as this is to type, the Blues haven't been playing well to close out the season at all. They have but three wins in their last ten games, are on a three game losing streak (though two of those losses came in the shootout), and have seen their grasp on first place in the NHL slip from their grasp. Luckily for them, the Vancouver Canucks have left a door open that the Blues can still sneak through to finish first in the Western Conference. Their fate is in their own hands.
That's why tonight, while as it stands could be a playoff preview, might just as well go by the wayside. The seeding in either conference isn't set yet, and the Coyotes still have a lot of potential to clinch their first division title. Two wins gets them the Pacific, while two wins gets the Blues the Western Conference. And yet... the Blues don't seem to be playing like the conference matters. They already have home ice locked up, they already have the Central Division locked up, so they see no reason to worry. That's disconcerting. What's even more so is that they think that they did a "pretty good job" for most of the game against Detroit. Sure, Wednesday night's loss was a tough one to swallow because they did look improved, but that's not the point - the point is that blown defensive zone coverage led to both of Johan Franzen's goals. Looking good while losing, especially to a team that annually owns the Blues, is immaterial.
Looking good won't get them points against Mike Smith, who is on a three game shutout streak (the last of which was an NHL record 54 save shutout of the Columbus Blue Jackets). The fact that the Blues've outscored the Coyotes 11-3 this season in their three previous meetings is well and good, but the key words there are "three previous meetings." The Coyotes are playing like they want the points; the Blues're playing like they think coasting into the playoffs does any good. They owe it to the fans to close out the regular season with a win, but more importantly they owe it to themselves and their playoff future to do so.