It’s just one word, but it’s visible everywhere in the Blues’ locker room. It’s on the players' faces, it’s evident in their play on the ice and it’s written in big, bold letters on the wall.
“That’s not there by accident. That word means a lot to our team,” said goaltender Chris Mason, a player whose own commitment has helped the Blues get back into the playoff race as the NHL season enters its final stretch. “It’s a long schedule, it’s a grind here, and we’re at that point where we need that commitment on every single play.”
And every single play, they’re getting it.
No one could see this coming.
Just before training camp began, franchise defenseman Erik Johnson injured his knee in a team golf outing. Captain Eric Brewer has missed significant time with a herniated disk in his back and flashy sniper Paul Kariya has been out since November recovering from a bad hip. Andy McDonald
, T.J. Oshie
, Jay McKee and D.J. King have all missed significant time as well. In fact, the Blues have lost a whopping 433 man games to injury as of Mar. 28.
Yet here they are, in a heated battle for one of the final two positions in the Western Conference playoff picture.
“I think you can go back as far as probably January,” said Oshie. “We’ve been playing the same way since then, trying to get points every night and get back into the playoff hunt. For the most part, (we’re) just bearing down and getting the job done. When it comes down to it, we were working hard and not winning before. Now, we’re finding ways to win and that’s what it takes.”
Dating back to the Mar. 20 game at Calgary, the Blues are on a four-game winning streak and show no signs of stopping. If they can clinch a playoff spot, it will be their first appearance in the postseason since 2004, and they will have done it playing “playoff” games for the last several weeks.
“For the last month and change, it’s been a battle and a must-win situation every time we step on the ice,” said veteran forward Keith Tkachuk, who has chipped in another 20-goal season, the 15th of his career. “It feels like we’ve been playing a Game 7 here for the last month and a half, so we’re just going to stay fresh and take care of business.”
|The word "commitment" is written above the dry-erase board inside the Blues' locker room. |
Truth be told, “taking care of business” might be an understatement.
The Blues, once occupying the last spot in the Western Conference, have gone 20-8-6 in their last 34 games to move into a tie for the final playoff spot. With six of their last seven games on the road, clinching a playoff berth won’t be an easy task, but consider this: in the last 10 road games, the Blues are 6-2-2.
“This is our playoffs,” said Mason, referring to the final stretch of games. “If we don’t have success right now, we’re not getting there. This is our time, and we’re going to do everything we can to get there.”
Columbus, Chicago, Detroit, Dallas, Phoenix and Colorado make up the team’s remaining iternary, and each game will offer a different challenge. While the Blues can’t realistically expect to win them all, the players promise they’ll make every effort to keep their playoff hopes alive.
“To get to this point, we’ve been committed to the Blue Note, to each other. That’s the bottom line,” said Mason. “I think we’re a true example of what the word 'team' means. It goes with the things that are important attributes here: commitment, loyalty, sacrifice…and we do that for each other.”
With this team, it’s more than just writing on the wall.