ST. LOUIS -- It's a homecoming of sorts for Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Curtis Sanford, who will get the start tonight against the St. Louis Blues.
Sanford, 32, got his NHL career started here in St. Louis, playing in parts of three seasons (2002-03 and 2005-07) that were certainly lean years for the St. Louis franchise.
He was 5-1-0 in eight games in 2002-03 with a 1.96 goals-against average and .912 save percentage in limited duty for a Blues team that was 41-24-11-6 and used seven goalies that season.
But from 2005-07, Sanford was part of some tough teams that labored through some tough moments and the records certainly reflected them. He also spent time in the Blues' minor league system
However, Sanford was 21-25-10 in those two seasons and did his part to keep the ship afloat for the Blues to get to where they are now.
"That's a hard thing for franchises to accept that sometimes you have to go through lean years to really cherish the good times when they do come," Sanford said. "You take a look at teams around the league, a lot of teams have had to do it and build from within and they've done that. They've done an extremely good job.
"It's been a while (since his time in St. Louis), but I'm just trying to enjoy this experience again and make the most of it. You just never know when it's going to end, so you make the most of it."
Sanford, who is 10-15-4 with a 2.61 GAA and .912 save percentage with Columbus this season, is making the most of an opportunity after some tough and mentally draining years laboring behind Roberto Luongo in Vancouver and then having to shuffle around playing in the AHL.
"I didn't play a lot when I went to Vancouver," said Sanford, who played with current Blues Barret Jackman, David Backes and Roman Polak here in St. Louis. "Obviously Roberto played a ton there, so starts were hard to come by. Then I had to go down to the minors for a couple years in Hamilton with the Montreal organization.
"It's been a tough go, but just basically I've tried to stay on top of my game, not get too down on myself and just look at the positives in life. … I've tried to make the most of the opportunity. I didn't know what the start of the year was going to bring. I just wanted to make sure that I was prepared to play at this level when I was called upon. That's basically the way I've looked at it. It's been a tough year, but on a personal level, I've enjoyed the experience and play as well as I can."
Sanford, who has since added two more sons to the household since his playing days in St. Louis and has three boys, is a busy dad.
"It's a crazy household," Sanford joked. "Being away from them has been the tough part to deal with because I didn't know what was going to happen at the beginning of the season, but they've been great."
The Blue Jackets are currently riding a four-game winning streak, their longest winning streak since winning five in a row in November of 2010. For a team that has had to endure the turmoil of a horrendous start to the season, all the trade rumors of captain Rick Nash and dealing Jeff Carter to Los Angeles for a package that included defenseman Jack Johnson, it's been a pleasant change of pace for interim coach Todd Richards.
"Having won four games in a row with the teams that we've beat, how we've won the games, there's a confident group in the room," Richards said. "We respect our opponents, a lot of respect for the St. Louis team coming in. This will be a great challenge, but I think the guys are feeling good about themselves and are ready for that challenge."