(HockeySTL)-- One wouldn’t think that, with a 50-16-7 record and 107 points, the St. Louis Blues would need to be worrying about grabbing momentum. But that is exactly what the team is searching for as the season winds down.
With nine games to go, the Blues are a lock for the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but that is not nearly enough to satisfy the club at this point. The Blues are in pursuit of their second Central Division title in three seasons, as well as their first Presidents’ Trophy since the 1999-2000 season. Both are certainly looking like accomplishable goals for the team. It’s setting those types of goals that will lead to overall success.
“I think the most important thing is how we are playing come the last game of the year,” said Blues forward T.J. Oshie. “We want to make a statement around the League that we deserve to be where we are at. We want the target on our back and we want the (Presidents’) Trophy.”
Currently, the Blues are leading the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, which would give them home ice advantage for the entirety of the playoffs. They lead their only real opponents, the Boston Bruins, by a single point in the League standings. But with six of their nine remaining games being played on home ice, where the Blues have dominated opponents this season, there are few excuses for this Blues team as they begin preparing for the postseason.
“I look at what’s coming up in the next nine games and I don’t want us getting too far ahead of ourselves, but I look at the next nine games as strong prep and getting ready for the postseason,” said Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock.
Hitchcock’s team is certainly trending in the right direction with their hot play of late. The Blues have at least one point in 12 of their last 14 games and have won two straight. They have four consecutive games on home ice before a short trip to Chicago, and they will look to use their home ice as a catalyst for momentum-building. The building of that momentum, however, will be started by the veteran players and will have to end with a full-team following for success to follow.
“The postseason means a lot for those (veteran) guys,” said Hitchcock. “They’ve been here a long time. You have to be playing well going into the playoffs and they want to set a good tempo for us.”
Momentum, or lack thereof, going into the playoffs can, and often does, decide an entire season for a team. Last year’s Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks built up momentum throughout their season and never let it evaporate. The season before that, the Los Angeles Kings finished their season with points in nine of their last 14 games, and went on to become Champions, despite barely squeaking into the playoffs. There are few things more important than establishing said momentum before the regular season ends.
“I’ve seen it once, maybe twice maybe where a team has limped in and played well,” said Hitchcock. “Every player knows you have to play well going in to build momentum. You can’t start the playoffs searching for your identity. You’ve got to have a lot of things going for you.”
Right now, the Blues do look like a team driven to succeed in the postseason. Despite a lack of playoff success in the past two seasons, the Blues are regarded by many around the League as the best team in hockey. A high regard such as this one can often become a distraction for a young team like the Blues, who are so eager to prove themselves. But the message following Thursday’s dominant performance was anything but conventional.
“We are not going to run and hide from being a good team,” Hitchcock said. “We are not going to be overwhelmed because we are the favorites in a playoff series or we are expected to win a playoff series. We are not going to run and hide from that. We are going to embrace it.”
With their 50th win of the season on Thursday, this Blues squad is set to make history, sitting just two wins away from a new franchise high. To the players, that means little if the success doesn’t translate into April, May, and ultimately June. So, over the final stretch, the players will be looking to grasp hold of anything that will give them a postseason advantage. It comes down to more than a record.
“If we’re 8-2, 9-1, 10-0 or 5-5 (the last 10 games), maybe that’s a side note,” Blues captain David Backes said. “How we’re playing, four lines rolling and getting our game to where we want it be going into the playoffs, is our main goal.”
While there will be some standings-watching over the next few weeks by the players, there will also be some looking in the mirror for the Blues.
“The focus is on how we’re playing, and results will take care of themselves,” Backes said.
And as the most-important, chaotic time of the season approaches, there is some excitement in realizing what they have accomplished this season, stacking it up against the accomplishments of past Champions, and then asking, why not us?
“I look at the opportunity in front of us and it’s a great opportunity,” Hitchcock said. “I think the players want to embrace that. I think they look at this as why not use? Why not give ourselves a chance? Everybody talks about our inexperience at getting further in the playoffs. But those other teams had to start off somewhere, too. So, why not us get a chance to see how far we can go?”