(Sports Network) - The St. Louis Blues are hoping to make up some ground in the chase for a playoff spot and could have Jaroslav Halak back in net this evening when they visit the Florida Panthers, who start up a five-game homestand with this meeting at BankAtlantic Center.
The Blues have been without Halak for the last two games after he suffered an upper-body injury in practice last week. However, St. Louis assigned goaltender Ben Bishop back to the American Hockey League on Monday, signaling that Halak is ready to return in at least a backup role.
The netminder was also rested in St. Louis' final game before the All-Star break, meaning Ty Conklin made his third straight start in Sunday's 4-3 overtime setback at Tampa Bay.
Conklin played well and stopped 36 shots, but did give up the game-winner with 6.7 seconds left in overtime.
"[Conklin], just amazing for us all night, no fault of his," said David Backes. "It just would have been nice to have a chance at another shootout."
Backes, Patrik Berglund and defenseman Nikita Nikitin scored the goals, with Nikitin getting the first of his NHL career, for the Blues, who have lost five of six and 11 of their last 14. Though second to last in the Western Conference with 54 points, they are just seven back of a playoff spot.
Alex Steen posted his second straight two-assist game and has a point in 21 of his last 26 games. He will look to help St. Louis halt a four-game road losing streak tonight.
Florida begins its homestand tonight having lost three straight as the host, but did snap a three-game overall slide on Friday with a 4-3 overtime victory in New Jersey. Mike Santorelli tied the game with a short-handed goal in the third period and Rostislav Olesz had the game-winner on a wrister two minutes into the extra session.
"I think we deserved that win tonight," said Florida head coach Peter DeBoer. "We've been playing some good hockey lately and haven't been getting the bounces. We played good tonight and we deserved those two points."
Florida improved to 2-3-4 in its last nine games and is six points back in the playoff race.
Dennis Wideman and Chris Higgins also scored and Tomas Vokoun made 28 saves for the Panthers, who could be without Cory Stillman tonight due to an upper- body injury suffered in practice on Monday. The club is already without Evgeni Dadonov (broken finger) and Shawn Matthias (broken right ankle).
The Panthers have won two straight and four of their last five versus the Blues, with Vokoun notching a 34-save shutout in last year's 4-0 victory at St. Louis in the lone meeting between the teams.
The Blues have lost two straight in Sunrise.