Blues eye deep playoff run after turbulent season

Blues eye deep playoff run after turbulent season

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Blues eye deep playoff run after turbulent season

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by Scott Bierman / HockeyStL

KMOV.com

Posted on April 24, 2013 at 12:48 AM

Updated Wednesday, Apr 24 at 12:05 PM

(HockeyStL) -- The St. Louis Blues solidified their spot in the playoffs with a 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche on Tuesday.

The thought of clinching a spot in the playoffs is nothing new for Ken Hitchcock, who will coach in his eleventh postseason and second with St. Louis this year.

“I said this last year, it feels normal for me. I just expect it,” Hitchcock said.

It’ll be hard for recently-acquired defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who has played 761 regular season games and none in the playoffs, to feel normal when the playoffs start next week.

“It’s good, I guess,” Bouwmeester said after his team clinched their playoff spot. “I mean it’s nice to know you’re going to get the chance to play. Right now we’ve still got a couple to play here at home for the rest of year and try to move up a little bit so I’m not going to get ahead of myself.”

A month ago, Bouwmeester was playing for the Calgary Flames with an outside chance of making the playoffs before Doug Armstrong struck a deal to bring the current Iron Man to St. Louis. Bouwmeester, who has played in 633 consecutive games, waived his no-trade clause for the chance to play for a contender.

“I looked at this team and I thought it was a good, young team,” Bouwmeester said. “I know from playing against them it’s a hard team to play against. I knew at the time that nothing was guaranteed, but we got on a little bit of a roll. I’m happy it worked out the way that it did.”

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His teammates are happy that it worked out for the 29-year-old veteran as well.

“He’s been phenomenal for us,” David Backes said. “His responsibility in the defensive zone, the way he can join a rush and make plays in the offensive zone have been phenomenal. He deserves this as much as anyone so it’s great to see him get in there.”

To get this point has been anything but smooth for St. Louis after a 6-1-0 start to the season. Goaltending woes, buying-in issues and, most recently, an anemic offense and power play were stepping stones for the Blues to clinch their first consecutive playoff berth since 2004.

“I can tell you that this season was as challenging as any season I've ever coached, to manage the peaks and valleys,” Hitchcock said. “We've had a number of peaks and valleys and this season has been very challenging on keeping a level head and getting guys through some very tough times.”

One of the tough times may have come to a close for the power play on Tuesday. For the first time since February 15, the Blues scored more than one power play goal in a game with goals coming from Chris Stewart and Patrik Berglund.

The Blues managed to score only seven goals in their previous 84 chances, a span of 31 games, with the man-advantage. They were 19-for-53 on the power play through their first 14 games this season.

“We're back,” Hitchcock added. “We saw signs of it two games ago. We could have scored a lot of goals on the power play in Colorado, a lot. But we didn't have the net presence. Today, (Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov) never saw the shots. It was good to see.”

After clinching a playoff spot, the Blues are hoping to take advantage of the next two games, Thursday against the Calgary Flames and Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks, to gain ground in the standings for home-ice advantage.

“Tonight we had a good game,” Alexander Steen said. “We’re looking forward, not behind us. What is done is done. We’re in the playoffs and now we’ve got to make sure we’re ready and have some fun in the postseason.”

The Blues enter this postseason with memories of their disappointing sweep at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in the conference semifinals last year. It’s a lesson this team, which has already dealt with its fair share of adversity, will hopefully learn from to go deeper this year.

“It’s good, but we can’t rest like we’ve accomplished something,” Backes said. “We tried that five years ago in Vancouver and we got to go home pretty quick that year. I think last season we thought we accomplished something after winning that series and same thing happened. Lessons have been learned and we’ll use those to hopefully to push us further and further in the playoffs.”

It beats the alternative option.

“We’ve had too many times in this organization in the past seven years since I’ve been here that the regular season is over and we’re heading home,” Backes added. “Those are not fun meetings to have and watching the playoffs on TV sucks so we’re going to hopefully put it together and stay playing the games rather than watching.”

The Blues will likely have to play either the Vancouver Canucks, Kings, San Jose Sharks or Anaheim Ducks in the first round of the playoffs.

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