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Posted On Tuesday, 04.10.2012 / 1:52 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - Blues vs. Sharks series blog

Hitchcock downplays news of Elliott injury

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- Maybe Ken Hitchcock's selection of a goalie for Game 1 of the Western Conference Quarterfinal series against the San Jose Sharks became easier with the news of Brian Elliott's upper-body injury.

But Hitchcock said it's nothing that will alter a decision as to who starts, because Elliott is in play along with Jaroslav Halak. The injury is one that Hitchcock said, "is from weeks ago when he fell into the net."

The Blues had a double practice session that lasted 90 minutes. They split the time up and Elliott was on the ice for the first session. He took a good amount of work, but the team decided to keep him off the ice when they returned.

"He's got a little bit of an upper-body issue, day-to-day," Hitchcock added. "Rather than just try to squeeze the big, long [practice], we took him [out after] the short one and we'll get him back out here tomorrow or the next day and see how it is. He'll be fine, though.

"We didn't want to aggravate it. We've been nursing it for a week. We didn't want to take him too far down the lineup. He got a lot of work in the first 45 minutes."

Elliott led the NHL in goals-against average (1.56) and save percentage (.940) this season after going 23-10-4. Hitchcock said Elliott will still be up for selection for Thursday's opener.

"It's more maintenance," Hitchcock said. "We've been nursing this thing for a week now. It's not a big deal. We knew how long this day was going to be and we just felt like, 'Man, why cool a guy down?' If we're going to continue to practice at this tempo, we might bring a third guy in."

The team recalled Jake Allen from Peoria of the American Hockey League on an emergency basis but only to participate in the practices. Hitchcock has moved up a day for naming a starter after initially saying he would wait until Thursday morning.

"I'm going to move it up a day so you guys can write about something," Hitchcock said, joking. "I'll give it to you on Wednesday. I'm going to give you a little treat."

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Posted On Friday, 04.06.2012 / 2:31 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Smith's streak helps Coyotes remain in Pacific race

ST. LOUIS -- The Phoenix Coyotes, who are in the same situation as their counterparts Friday in the St. Louis Blues with much at stake, clinched a postseason berth Thursday night without the benefit of being on the ice.

Phoenix (40-27-13) got in when Dallas lost at Nashville, but there's still unfinished business for the Coyotes, who at 93 points trail both Los Angeles and San Jose by one point in the race for the Pacific Division title with a game in hand.

"We certainly have a lot to play for," Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. "We've got a game in hand on LA and San Jose. The division title is still within our grasp, which means home ice in the playoffs. It's certainly something to play for.

"We recognized at training camp that this is going to come down to a point or two. That's what it did, so the consistency and how our group continually prepares and makes sure that every point available, we try to get. You go through a year and there's some points that get away from you, but ultimately the consistency of which our group plays is probably one of our best assets. That being said, there's always times you want more, too. ... Everybody's striving for one of those eight spots. Now we're in the top eight and we want to get into the top three."

Added captain Shane Doan: "We feel like we've got a little bit left to do. We control our own destiny where we finish and we want to make sure we find a way to take care of that."

It's been the year of the goalie this season in the NHL, and Phoenix's Mike Smith is right at the top in success stories.

Smith, signed to a free agent contract last summer from Tampa Bay, carries a personal best shutout streak of 219:59 into this matchup Friday with the Blues including three shutouts. He's also stopped 155 consecutive shots, which is an NHL high since saves were first kept in 1976-77, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

Smith, who is 36-18-10 with a 2.25 goals-against average and .929 save percentage this season, was reunited with Tippett, who coached Smith in Dallas and has thrived in the desert.

"I had great hopes for him," Tippett said of Smith. "He's a player I had before in Dallas as a young player. He's a great athlete with a great attitude and I think we were just looking for an opportunity. He's taken the opportunity here and ran with it. You've seen what he's done the last three games for us. It's been phenomenal."

When the Coyotes lost Ilya Bryzgalov to free agency, many pundits panned making Smith, the 161st pick in the 2001 NHL Draft, the No. 1 guy, but he has seized the opportunity with Phoenix.

"You talk with the guys in Tampa in [Marty] St. Louis and [Steven] Stamkos, I'm friends with a couple of those guys [including Eric] Brewer, they were saying how great he is and how unbelievable of a team guy he is, a team player, a competitor, a legit No. 1," Doan said of Smith. "Obviously it's been a lot of fun to see him do what he's done."
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Posted On Friday, 04.06.2012 / 1:55 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues back in control of destiny for top spot

ST. LOUIS -- Thursday night couldn't have worked out any better for the St. Louis Blues -- and they didn't even take the ice.

Still in the hunt for the Western Conference's top seed and the Presidents' Trophy, the Blues were vaulted back into position to claim both after the Vancouver Canucks and New York Rangers lost their respective games.

The Blues (48-21-11), who play host to the Phoenix Coyotes (40-27-13) Friday at Scottrade Center (7:30 p.m. EST on NBCSN), control their destiny in the West. If they win Friday and against Saturday in Dallas, the Blues will claim the top spot in the conference and not have to worry about when the Canucks play host to Edmonton on Saturday.

If they win out and the Rangers lose at home Saturday to Washington, the Blues will earn the Presidents' Trophy.

"I think our players recognize that," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "As coaches you try not to react one way or the other or overreact, [but] it's nice.

"Winning the division was one goal and then the conference was the other. We're in complete control of it. I think the players recognize that and I think there's lots at stake for both teams. Phoenix has got lots at stake ... home-ice advantage and all the things that matter there. It should be a real good game."

The players had shifted gears earlier in the week. The most important aspect for the Blues is finishing strong and playing well going into the playoffs. But now that there's still more to accomplish, the scope has certainly changed.

"Any accomplishment during the year is cool and something to be proud of," veteran winger Jamie Langenbrunner said. "Winning the Central's obviously a big step for this organization. Whatever we can do here in the next two games could definitely add to that. It's something you look back on when you're done and say, 'Yeah, we did that.' It's definitely something worth noting.

"That should be our focus, is to make sure we're playing well. Obviously we control our future, but the most important aspect is to play well."

Added winger Matt D'Agostini: "We want to be playing our best hockey in the playoffs obviously. ... It's come down to the wire and we wouldn't want to it to be in any other position right now.
"That's definitely something we can be proud of. We know what's at stake and we want it pretty bad, so we'll be fighting hard the next couple games."

The Blues are 3-0-0 against the Coyotes this season. They will be shooting for their first season sweep of Phoenix since 2008-09 and would be the only the second time in franchise history sweeping the Coyotes franchise dating back to their days in Winnipeg.
But Hitchcock is guarded against the success.

"We haven't played their 'A' team," said Hitchcock, whose team has outscored the Coyotes 11-3 in three games this season. "Every time we seem to play them, we get the backup goalie or they've got four or five guys out with injuries. There's reasons. That's why I'm curious to see [this game]. This is their best group, this is our best group. Let's play.

"At the end of the night, I think we're going to get a good read. Phoenix is one of those veteran teams that doesn't beat themselves. They've got a lot of older veteran guys that know how to play. I think they've managed their team really well this year as far as keeping an energy level about them and now it's right in front of them. They see the significance of home-ice advantage and I think we're going to get a real push tonight."
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Posted On Wednesday, 04.04.2012 / 1:36 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues looking to play up to poential entering playoffs

ST. LOUIS -- Instead of solely focusing on finishing in a particular position as the season winds down, the Blues are more geared towards getting their game in order and playing their best hockey when all is said and done by the end of the night Saturday.

From then on, let the chips fall where they may.

"I think that's what we're thinking now, just get back to how we play," center Patrik Berglund said before the Blues faced the Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday night. "I think everybody's been talking about that stuff (top seed in the Western Conference and Presidents' Trophy) for so long and we've come off it for a little bit. That's why we're focused on that team game and play solid hockey overall."

Added winger Chris Stewart: "We can't worry about anyone else right now. It's all about the St. Louis Blues. We control our own fate. We're going to take it one game at a time and we've got three tune-up games before the big dance. We've got a big opponent tonight in Detroit, then Phoenix and Dallas. Those are all teams fighting for their lives. Those will be good tests for us."

For Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, the task is keeping his lineup focused while evaluating who plays more when the playoffs roll around.

With the Blues an injury-free team, the bodies are plenty but only so many spots in the lineup.

"This is the deepest we've been. This is the most potential," Hitchcock said of his 48-21-10 team. "This is a chance to get to another level than where we're at, but there is going to be some short-term pain going through this trying to see if we can get these guys up to speed. This lineup that's playing tonight, this is the highest skill level we've been able to put on the ice since I've been here. This is it.

"That's our big focus right now: to get our game in order defensively and puck management-wise ... puck management more than anything. can we get on the same page again. The second thing is where are these guys up to that are coming back? Can we play them where they were up high in the lineup, are they good enough to play there, do they have the energy, do they have the moxie to go there again or do we need to scale them back. We're trying to evaluate that right now."

------------

One of the players being evaluated is winger Matt D'Agostini, who will play his second game since returning from a concussion that forced him to miss 25 games. D'Agostini, who played on a fourth line with Stewart and Scott Nichol on Saturday, will be elevated to play with Berglund and Andy McDonald against the Red Wings (47-27-5).

"I'm just going to try to go out there and skate," D'Agostini said. "I think my game goes right when I'm moving my feet and getting to the places I need to be. Those guys will put in the work. If we play hard and we move our feet, as a line we're pretty quick and can protect the puck and have some success.

"Both their styles, they're easy to play with. Bergy's good at holding onto the puck and using his big body down low. Mac's just good with his speed and he's a smart player all over the ice. Both guys complement my game well. ... They have that they-can-draw-guys-to-them-thing, get defenses on the wrong side. Whenever there's space opened up for me, it's always a better thing and more room for me to handle the puck and move my feet."

Hitchcock said D'Agostini is effective on the go.

"I think just awareness and playing give-and-go ... this is Game 2 for him, let's see how much further he's up to speed so we can evaluate him," Hitchcock said of D'Agostini. "I think the right side makes him more comfortable. He uses his speed more. He sees the ice better."

D'Agostini is still getting his game in gear after missing so much time. He feels he's getting up to speed.

"We've had a lot of practices to kind of get back into the swing of things," D'Agostini said. "I've been feeling better day in, day out. With the game shape thing, it takes a while to play a couple games to get into the mix. Hopefully I can get into one tonight."
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 2:13 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues refocus with hard practice

ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock warned after a 4-3 shootout loss Thursday at Chicago that maybe the St. Louis Blues needed a good, hard practice Friday.

True to his word, that's exactly what they got.

But instead of fretting over what was to come at St. Louis Mills' Ice Zone on Friday afternoon, the Blues embraced a good old-fashioned refresher course on what has made them successful and why they have been able to maintain that edge.

If they're able to follow through on it, the Blues (48-20-10) will clinch the Central Division for the first time since 2000.

"We deserved what we got [Thursday] night and I think we deserved what we got this morning," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "It was good for everyone to get out there and get whipped around a little bit. Personally, I know I needed a little bit of it, especially with a big game tomorrow and getting a couple days off in between games. I think it's going to be good for us."

And what was it that the team needed to be reminded of?

"I think just the sharpness and crispness of everything," winger Alex Steen said. "Yesterday was a slower, mediocre team performance by us. Today was just getting back to that quicker step, a little quicker decisions and crisper passes and all that good stuff.

"We play 82 games, we practice, what, 170 times a year? It's good to just get a little reminder. Last night we got away from what had made us successful. [Friday] we got a little quick reminder and we're back on track."

Added defenseman Kris Russell: "It's human nature to kind of get a little soft in some cases. That's where as a team, we've got to be better and recognize that sooner in games.

"It was a good day [Friday]. I thought we did a lot of good things. We worked hard as a team, we were competing hard against each other. If we bring that speed and work ethic in the games, we're going to be successful."

Hitchcock, who conducted a 48-minute practice, hopes so, because what he saw from his 48-20-10 team was out of the ordinary.

"We were rotten. There's no other way to describe it. We were flat-rotten," Hitchcock said of the game against the Blackhawks. "We played the whole game with our eyes. It was just an absolute shock for us. For a coaching staff, it was like, 'Whoa!' To go as well as we played and skated against Nashville [a 3-0 win Tuesday] to come in and play like that [against Chicago], it was like we were playing the friendly games and they didn't want anything to do with it. They hit us, they knocked us around, they were tough on us. We tried everything we could, but we couldn't seem to get a response from our own group. Our own group couldn't get a response from each other. I don't know what it was.

"It's a young team and when you don't practice, you don't play well, and that's where we're at. When we don't practice, it just comes back and bites us every time and it has all year. I think veteran teams can do it and get away with it. You can talk things through, but when we don't get tempo at practice or we don't get everybody on the ice or we get to this playing every second day ... the only time we were good in a pregame skate was when we gassed it and had a hockey practice before the Nashville game. But that's hard to do every time. [Friday] was good. [It] hopefully gets out tempo back where it was before."

When the Blues implement that familiar tempo again against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday in hopes of clinching the Central Division title for the first time since 2000, they will do it with a full and healthy lineup for the first time in 160 games.

Hitchcock said Thursday that Andy McDonald (shoulder) would play against the Blue Jackets. Matt D'Agostini (concussion) was activated from injured reserve Thursday and Roman Polak, out the last five games with a bruised knee, is also back in the lineup.

So in practice Friday, there were 16 forwards, eight defensemen and two goalies.

"It's a team we put together in the off-season, the team that's been practicing and working all year as a group," Steen said. "To finally have everybody healthy is a great feeling. Just knowing that guys have their health is the big thing. Everybody in here is friends. We're like family together. You never want to see a teammate get hurt.

"The coaches have a lot of decisions to make for the lineups and stuff like that. It's a good thing to have. There will be a lot of competitiveness. Guys want to play and play a lot."

It means that six players will sit the remaining games as long as the lineup's in tact the way it is. That will make competition for the 20 roster spots tough to sift through.

"It's always good when you have a healthy team, but shows how deep our team is," Russell said. "We were having success when guys were out, but it's been key guys that have been out. [Polak's] a big part of our defense. He's a shutdown guy, plays heavy minutes, five-on-five and four-on-four. You get guys like [Steen] and [McDonald] back, they help run the ship with the forwards. It's good to have those guys back and the leadership they bring.

"No matter how much money you're making, you've got to be competing, you've got to be earning a spot on that ice. That's the good thing about our team. There's competition. You've got to be at your best and if you're not, there's going to be someone breathing down your neck looking for that chance to get in. We work hard as a team and we help each other out. I think that's why we've been so strong."

The Blues usually bounce back strong after these types of competitive skates, and they typically bounce back strong off a loss.

Nothing less is expected once again.

"We're a team that feels uneasy when we don't play our best and we haven't really poured it all in," Shattenkirk said. "I think once that happens, you almost feel guilty and play harder.

"We owe it to ourselves to put the best product out there every night. Some guys won't have it some nights, but if the effort's there, usually we end up on the right side of things."
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Posted On Saturday, 03.31.2012 / 1:26 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Blues finally healthy, face Blue Jackets

ST. LOUIS -- The probable lineups for a Central Division battle Saturday night between the St. Louis Blues and Columbus Blue Jackets from Scottrade Center:

BLUES

Alex Steen - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Andy McDonald - Patrik Berglund - David Perron
Vladimir Sobotka - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Matt D'Agostini - Scott Nichol - Chris Stewart

Kent Huskins - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell - Roman Polak

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

Halak gets his second straight start tonight in goal. He is 10-0-0 in his last 10 home starts with a .099 goals-against average and .960 save percentage, 13-0-1 at home dating back to Nov. 22.

The Blues will have their full lineup healthy and intact for the first time since March 3, 2010 (160 games). The scratches tonight will include forwards Jaden Schwartz, B.J. Crombeen, Chris Porter and Ryan Reaves as well as defensemen Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian Cole.

BLUE JACKETS

R.J. Umberger - Derick Brassard - Cam Atkinson
Vinny Prospal - Mark Letestu - Rick Nash
Ryan Russell - Ryan Johansen - Derek Dorsett
Colton Gillies - Darryl Boyce - Jared Boll

Jack Johnson - Dalton Prout
Brett Lebda - Nikita Nikitin
Aaron Johnson - John Moore

Allen York
Shawn Hunwick

York, who started in a 4-1 win Friday against Florida and picked up his first NHL win Wednesday over Detroit, could go again or it is possible Shawn Hunwick could make his NHL debut.

The Blue Jackets' injury report includes G Curtis Sanford (leg), G Steve Mason (head), D Fedor Tyutin (hand), D James Wisniewski (concussion), D Marc Methot (jaw), D Radek Martinek (concussion), C Derek MacKenzie (concussion) and LW Kristian Huselius (groin).

All are out indefinitely except for Mason, who is day-to-day. Moore limped off the ice Friday in the first period but returned to finish the game. Coach Todd Richards told reporters after the game Moore is questionable for Saturday and the team might be forced to recall a player from Springfield.
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:30 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Likely lineup for Blues

CHICAGO -- Tonight's lineup for the St. Louis Blues, who face the Chicago Blackhawks tonight at United Center.

David Perron - David Backes - T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz - Patrik Berglund - Chris Stewart
Alex Steen - Jason Arnott - Jamie Langenbrunner
Vladimir Sobotka - Scott Nichol - Ryan Reaves

Carlo Colaiacovo - Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk
Kent Huskins - Kris Russell

Jaroslav Halak
Brian Elliott

Halak will get his first start since March 21 at Anaheim, as Elliott has started the last three games -- all shutouts -- but will sit out tonight.

The Blues activated winger Matt D'Agostini, who missed the last 25 games with a concussion, but he will not play tonight. Also, Andy McDonald (shoulder) will not play, but coach Ken Hitchcock said after Thursday's morning skate McDonald would play Saturday vs. Columbus. Also scratched are right wing Chris Porter, left wing B.J. Crombeen and defenseman Ian Cole.

Defenseman Roman Polak (bruised knee) did not accompany the team to Chicago, but could return to the lineup Saturday as well.

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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:24 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Perron offers skating lessons for EA cover votes

CHICAGO -- David Perron and T.J. Oshie are going to battle.

The players were chosen as the St. Louis Blues' representatives to compete for the cover of EA Sports NHL13, which will be decided by fan voting.

Fans can go to NHL.com/covervote and vote for their favorite player to be the next cover star. Perron didn't waste any time spicing up the offer for fans if they vote for him. Perron said if he wins the voting, he'll randomly select one fan to receive a 60-minute private skating session from him, as well as a jersey, stick, gloves and helmet that Perron uses, courtesy of Reebok.

"It's only an hour of my time and a few pieces of equipment," Perron said. "The point is to give back to the fans who are going to vote on you to maybe be on there. It's having fun with it more than anything. I talked with my agent [Allan Walsh] about it and we thought it was a good way to be maybe be a little different from the other guys.

"I was surprised by [the selection]. I think it's a cool way for the fans to vote for whoever's going to be the next guy on there. ... Hopefully the fans enjoy it and it's something I thought about for a while to do it and it's important to do it."

When told of Perron's giveaways, Oshie thought he'd chime in with an idea of his own:

"Hopefully they can just watch my play and hopefully that's enough to win the fans over," Oshie said. "I'll be like Wal-Mart, who says they'll match it. You bring in the better offer and they'll match it, so I'll match [Perron]. Whatever he wants to do, I'll do.

"I might just stay old-fashioned and let the play decide."

Oshie even went as far to say he helped Perron with his idea.

"In the morning, I saw him at breakfast and I made sure he knew what to stay," Oshie joked. "I told him to look at my tweet if he needed any ideas and I guess he wanted to one-up me and go above and beyond and start offering skating lessons ... I don't know what he threw out there."

Both players are quite familiar with the EA Sports collection of games and said they grew up playing them. Both said they're grateful to be part of the voting process.

"It's going to be fun for me and Perry [Perron] to go back and forth even though in the end, if one of us doesn't win, we want the other one to win," Oshie said. "... It's a fun thing, fun thing to be a part of for the fans. EA Sports is a good game. I grew up playing their games all the way up -- NHL, NFL, NBA ... you name it. It's a fun thing for the fans, fun thing for the players."

Perron said the EA hockey games were the only ones he requested for Christmas from his parents.

"I bought every single game ever since it started that I can remember," Perron said. "That was the only Christmas present I would ask for and I would get pretty much when I was growing up.

"I was really excited every year because as much as my parents were saying that they weren't going to get that, I just kind of knew that I would get it for every Christmas. My brother and I would play until we tried to win the Cup."
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Posted On Thursday, 03.29.2012 / 3:20 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Playoff spot in the bag, Blues go for division clinch

CHICAGO -- Step by step, the Blues have been presented with goals, and each time, they knock the door down and reach uncharted territory.

First, it was clinching a playoff berth for the first time since the 2008-09 season and only the second time since the work stoppage.

Next up is the Central Division title, and it's there for the taking when the Blues (48-20-9) play against a division foe, the Chicago Blackhawks (42-26-9) at United Center.

Coupled with Detroit's surprising loss at Columbus on Wednesday night, the Blues have the chance to wrap up their first division title since 1999-2000 with a regulation or overtime win over the Blackhawks.

"It'll definitely be a good accomplishment for us," winger T.J. Oshie said. "You look at the points that are in our division and the teams that are in our division ... even Columbus coming up with a big win (Wednesday). It's a tough division, and to be at the top of that would be a good stepping stone for this team. It would be a stepping stone because we want to get up to that big goal at the end, but it's definitely something we'd like to have on the resume."

The Blues have a chance to knock the Red Wings off the perch for a change. Detroit, which has clinched a playoff berth for the 21st straight season, has owned the Central, winning it in nine of the last 10 seasons.

"This would be a good feeling for someone else to be able to do this other than those big two (Detroit and Chicago, which won the division in 2009-10) and maybe sometime down the road give them something to think about," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've got lots of goals in front of us now between the Jennings (Trophy), the division, the conference, the Presidents' (Trophy) ... they're all obtainable. They're in our control.

"We spent seven months getting to this stage. We want to just keep going. We don't want to give up something that we've earned and kept for a little while. We've got teams pushing us in every aspect. The loss for Detroit to Columbus opens up a door for us tonight, so hopefully we jump all over it."

For a team with so many younger players who haven't experienced what's been presented to them, the Blues have been even-keeled and not looked too far ahead and lost sight of what's in front of them.

"There's been a lot of patience with this team from the fans and management and players," defenseman Barret Jackman said. "To be in the position we are and contending for first place in the division and the conference and potentially overall, it's pretty gratifying and it shows the hard work we've put in this year.

"Everybody's smart enough in this room to know that the Presidents' Trophy isn't going to get you anything in the playoffs. It doesn't give you any freebies, any first-round byes or guarantees you're going to go to the Stanley Cup Finals. We all know the toughest part is still to come. We're excited about the potential, but you look at our game in Tampa Bay to be the first to clinch a playoff spot, we didn't bring out any champagne. It was business as usual and moved on."


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Posted On Tuesday, 03.27.2012 / 3:07 PM

By Louie Korac -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Consistency makes Trotz proud as milestone nears

ST. LOUIS -- With a point tonight, the Nashville Predators could become the next team in the League to clinch a playoff berth. Nashville is coming off a 6-1 rout at Chicago on Sunday night and are now 2-1 since getting Alexander Radulov back from the KHL.

It's pretty telling that a team as successful as the Predators have been this season is going into Game No. 77 still looking to ensure a spot in the postseason.

"That shows the parity throughout the League," defenseman Shea Weber said. "Ever since the salary cap, it's been tight every year. We know right from the beginning of the year that games at the start of the year might end up costing you when you get to that 70th-75th game -- that might be the one that could have had you up a spot or two."

With a victory tonight, it will also mark a milestone for Predators coach Barry Trotz.

Trotz is looking for career victory No. 500, quite a feat for a man who has only known one franchise as his employer.

Winning 500 games is quite a milestone, but Trotz will become just the fifth coach in NHL history, joining Al Arbour (New York Islanders), Lindy Ruff (Buffalo Sabres), Billy Reay (Chicago Blackhawks) and Toe Blake (Montreal Canadiens) to win 500 with one team.

And that certainly means something.

"There is, and trust me, you can't do it without leadership like (general manager) David (Poile). The next win that we have, David will be the only general manager in the history of the game that won 500 games with two franchises (Nashville and Washington)," Trotz said. "That's pretty elite. You look at things like that -- those are things I'm proud of. There's times when I was younger, he could have said, 'Hey, I've got to go in a different direction.' And he hasn't. Through thick and thin, David's stood by me and believed in what we do."

But Trotz, who's coached in 1,060 games, was not one for reflection for 500 wins in general.

"The only thing I've reflected on is the last game, or last two games really. Zero reflection," he said. "Whether you bring it up or someone else brings it up, it's the only time I reflect.

"It's gone fast. I'm more proud of the fact that we've been consistent as a franchise. I think we're only one of two teams to have 40-plus wins in the last seven years. I'm more proud about that than actually the number of wins because that shows that we've been consistent, a team that is in the mix. Organizationally, as a hockey community we've grown to be a fantastic hockey community. We've grown to we expect to make the playoffs, we expect to be there every year, and we expect to challenge for the Cup. It's the hardest trophy in the world to win. You just want to be in that position to have that opportunity to compete for it."

Added Weber, who's played for Trotz since 2006: "Obviously he's been here for a long time for a reason. He's done a lot of good things. When we're able to get that 500th win, it's going to be something special for him and I'm sure he'll remember it forever."

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Quote of the Day

Great players need great players to play with. That's why we'll have a training camp and we'll find who the best two guys are suited to play with Stamkos.

— Tampa Bay Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness on Steven Stamkos' potential linemates for the 2014-15 season