ST. PAUL - Blues goalie Jake Allen called tonight's game between the St. Louis Blues and Minnesota Wild the "biggest test of the year."
That assessment couldn't be more accurate.
In fact, tonight's divisional showdown at Xcel Energy Center (7 p.m., FSMW, KMOX) will be a big game for both clubs. The Blues are trying to distance themselves from the Los Angeles Kings to strengthen their grip on the final Wild Card spot in the Western Conference while also trying to catch the Nashville Predators to claim third place in the Central Division. The Wild, on the other hand, have a one-point lead over the Chicago Blackhawks for first place in the Western Conference and are hoping to maintain that top spot.
"It's definitely big," said Blues forward Kyle Brodziak. "We know how good of a team they are and how hard they work. We're in desperation mode now and we need to make sure we bring that to the table tonight and see where it pans out.
"We know it's going to be a tough challenge tonight, and in the room, I think we feel pretty confident as a group that when we play our best game, we're capable of beating anyone," Brodziak added. "It's going to be a big test and hopefully we bring our A-game to see how we match up."
The Blues have split the season series with Minnesota thus far, winning the first two games but losing the last two - most recently a 5-1 loss at Xcel Energy Center on Jan. 26.
The Wild are scoring by committee and have six players that have scored more than 40 points this season. Mikael Granlund leads the club with 59 points (21 goals, 38 assists), while newcomer Eric Staal is second with 48 points (19 goals, 29 assists) in 63 games played. The Blues, by comparison, have just one player over 40 points, and that's Vladimir Tarasenko (56). But the Blues have been very stingy of late, earning six shutouts over their last 14 road games, which is more than 14 teams in the League have posted all season - both home or away.
"Division games are always tough, they're always emotional," said Blues forward Paul Stastny. "We play these guys a ton. We know what we're capable of, and if we play the way we want to play, control what we want to control and play our systems, we give ourselves a chance to win."
With 18 games remaining, the importance of a win against Minnesota can't be underestimated. A win tonight against the top team in the West would be a huge confidence booster for the Blues down the stretch.
"It's a great team, a great challenge coming into a tough building. (Winning) would give us a reason to head home feeling good about our game and feeling good about the road trip we've had," said Blues Head Coach Mike Yeo. "We don't look for moral victories this time of year. We're pros and we don't need that type of thing. But it certainly is a good challenge and would give us confidence moving forward."
Yeo's son, Kyler, is a senior at Hill-Murray School in Minnesota and scored a goal in a 6-3 win last week, helping to send his school to the state quarterfinal game on Thursday afternoon at Xcel Energy Center. With back-to-back games in St. Louis on Friday and Saturday, Mike Yeo won't be able to attend the game in person but says he'll be watching on TV from St. Louis.
Tonight's game will be Yeo's first against his former club since being named head coach of the Blues. With Minnesota, Yeo posted a 173-132-44 record and guided the club to back-to-back appearances in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Blues Assistant Coach Rick Wilson also served as an assistant coach in Minnesota from 2010-16.
Jordan Schmaltz played 15 minutes and 7 seconds in his NHL debut on Sunday in Colorado. He won't be in the lineup tonight, though, as Robert Bortuzzo draws back in.