CHICAGO - After playing a league-most 51 games, including 15 in the last 28 days, a lengthy break will be most welcome for the St. Louis Blues.
But before the club can begin an eight-day sabbatical for the All-Star Game, they have one more game tonight against the division-rival Chicago Blackhawks (6 p.m., FSMW, KMOX).
A win tonight would see the Blues leap ahead of the Dallas Stars for second in the Central Division and would move the club just two points behind the Blackhawks for the top spot in the Western Conference.
And when you consider the injuries the club has sustained this season, that’s something the Blues can be perfectly content with as they head to break.
“I think we’ve faced a lot of adversity, a lot of injury issues where we’ve plugged holes and had different linemates,” Blues captain David Backes said. “We’ve had to go with the flow and ad lib on the fly. The way we’ve stuck together and built character, I think will pay off in droves as we go down the home stretch.”
The Blackhawks, meanwhile, have recently surged to the top of the conference standings thanks to a league-best 12-game winning streak. But, the Blackhawks have lost their last two games: 2-1 on Jan. 21 at Tampa Bay and 4-0 on Friday night in Florida.
“Tonight is a good opportunity against these guys to gain some ground,” defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. “It’s important timing for us. We have a pretty big break here, so to end on a high note would be special. If you don’t play well, you’ve got 10 days to (think about it). Let’s play well, finish strong and give us peace of mind for the break.”
The Blues and Blackhawks have split the first two games this season: St. Louis erased a three-goal deficit to earn a 6-5 overtime win in Chicago on Nov. 4 (roar bacon, anybody?) while the Blackhawks took a 4-2 win at Scottrade Center on Nov. 14.
“The first game here was absolutely crazy. Neither team looked like they could defend against the other team,” Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said. “I thought the game back in St. Louis was more the structure and discipline both teams can play with.
“Both teams, in their own unique way, are tough to handle,” Hitchcock added. “They’re tough for us because of their motion and mobility on two of their lines, and we’re tough for them because we can grind it out down low and effectively and get the puck to the net. It doesn’t look like either team is in much control of each other.”
700 FOR BACKES
Backes will become just the fifth player in Blues history to play in 700 games with the franchise tonight, joining Bernie Federko, Barret Jackman, Brian Sutter and Brett Hull.
“It’s gone by pretty quick,” Backes said after the morning skate. “It feels like yesterday I was flying to Pittsburgh for my first game. It’s been a heck of a ride, with hopefully a lot more to go and hopefully more success to come.”
The Blues’ captain also ranks high in many other categories, including seventh in franchise history in goals (197), eighth in assists (246) and seventh in points (443).
“I told him he was looking like he’s played 700 (games). He’s moving a little slow this morning,” Pietrangelo joked. “But it’s great. For a guy that’s done what he has for this organization, to be the captain now… He’s real important to us, real important to the city, and most importantly a good teammate.”
Alexander Steen - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Patrik Berglund - David Backes - Ty Rattie
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Dmitrij Jaskin
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson - Kevin Shattenkirk
Joel Edmundson - Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott is slated to make his eighth consecutive start since Jake Allen (lower body) was injured on Jan. 8 in Anaheim. Elliott is 5-1-1 in his last seven games and has posted a 1.86 goals-against average and a .944 save-percentage.
The Blues have points in five consecutive road games (2-0-3), which sets a new season high.
David Backes has three goals and two assists over his last five games vs. Chicago.