GLENDALE - The St. Louis Blues began their five-game road trip with a tour through some of the Pacific Division's toughest teams - the Los Angeles Kings, Anaheim Ducks and San Jose Sharks - winning two of three games and collecting four of a possible six points.
Thanks in large part to winning six of their last seven games, the Blues now have a four-point lead on the Los Angeles Kings for the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference playoff race. The club has 12 regular season games remaining and only two of those games are against teams currently in the playoff picture (March 25 vs. Calgary and April 2 vs. Nashville).
The Blues' remaining schedule includes three meetings with the last-place Colorado Avalanche (43 points) and three with the Arizona Coyotes, who are second-to-last in the Western Conference with 61 points.
So clinching a playoff spot should be pretty easy, right?
Not so fast.
Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo said his club would be foolish to think that things are going to be any easier down the stretch, especially tonight against the Coyotes (8 p.m. CT, FSMW, KMOX).
"It would be a huge mistake on our part to say we've gotten through the tough part of the schedule," Yeo said. "These are teams, that generally from March on, are .500 or better hockey teams because they play without fear, they play loose and those games could get dangerous. It's a different challenge. You have to be focused as far as how you're going to play with the puck. You can't turn it into a track meet or a game where it could go your way or could go the other way. You have to make sure you have the respect you need for your opponent and be prepared."
"Arizona beat LA (on the road) not too long ago, so we can't take anything for granted," added Blues forward Magnus Paajarvi. "We've still got to play desperation hockey because that's when we play our best, when everyone is on their toes.
"We've got 12 more games and nothing can be taken for granted."
The Coyotes have collected points in their last five games entering tonight's contest at Gila River Arena, with wins over the Avalanche, Kings and New Jersey Devils.
The Blues, meanwhile, have been awfully stingy. The club isn't give up many goals - just four in the three games thus far on the road trip - and they're not giving up many shots, either.
"Even when we're not winning games, we're not giving up a whole lot," said defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. "At this time of year, that's a big thing. If you're not giving up much, playing those tight games getting down to the stretch and into the playoffs, that's what it's all about. I think we're pretty comfortable in games like that."
So, as the Blues enter their final 12 games of the season, they're confident they won't be overlooking any teams - regardless of whether they're in the playoff picture or not.
"We need to be getting points just about every night to keep pace and keep ahead of teams behind us and try to catch Nashville," Bouwmeester said. "I don't think you can really focus on who you're playing, but it's about taking care of your own business. When it comes down to it, there are no bad teams anymore. Anybody can beat anybody."