ST. LOUIS -- When the St. Louis Blues were a Stanley Cup Playoff team three years ago, winger David Perron
said the game they clinched felt like they had just "won the Stanley Cup."
At the time, it was a natural feeling since it's one many on the team had never experienced before that day.
But when the Blues became the first team this season to clinch Saturday night after winning 3-1 at Tampa Bay, the feeling was more laid back.
"It's something we talked about briefly, but everybody was pretty calm about it and we know we have a lot more work ahead of us," Perron said. "That's what I told David Backes
, and I liked how the feeling in the room was. Yeah, we clinched a playoff (berth) but it was nothing more special than having a lot more work to come.
"Knowing we'll be in the playoffs is a great feeling. If you compare us to three years ago when we made the playoffs, it took all of our energies to make the playoffs. ... It was great, but at the same time, knowing there's a lot more work after you made the playoffs this time around is more our attitude."
And why is that?
Well, there's an added veteran presence that gives the Blues a 'think-big' mentality. Guys who have been there, done that, like Jamie Langenbrunner
(two Stanley Cups), Jason Arnott
(one Stanley Cup with New Jersey in 2000) and Scott Nichol
, who has a wealth of playoff experience playing for top-end teams.
"When you're the team on top, it's like you're looking at those teams and when you get a chance you want to show your best and really say, 'Hey, we can play with those guys,' " said Langenbrunner, who won Cups in Dallas (1999) and New Jersey (2003). "I hate to say measuring stick, but we are that now. I think that's great for us. That will prepare for what's ahead. It's new for some of these guys. It's a good spot to be. We haven't responded quite as well as we wanted to. I think the last game we're getting closer to the way we need to play. That will continue to build as we get into April.
"In our game, there can't be any letdown. If you do, you lose points and teams are too close together. When we're on top of our game it's a very tough game to beat. We want to make sure that we're at that point and we're playing our best hockey when April starts."
The Blues (46-19-8) have bigger fish to fry. They would love to win the Central Divsion title, holding an eight-point lead on both Nashville and Detroit. They would also like to win a Presidents' Trophy, which would be the Blues' first since the 1999-2000 season (51-19-11-1, 114 points).
The Blues, with 100 points, are three points ahead of the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents' Trophy and six ahead of the Vancouver Canucks in the race for the top spot in the Western Conference. Both the Rangers and Canucks have one game in hand.
Playing for home ice would be in the best interests of the Blues, who have the best home-ice record in the League at 29-4-4.
"I think it's definitely something we'd like to do," Perron said. "The more home-ice advantage that you can get in the playoffs, that's what playing the regular season is for. It would be something that we'd want for sure. At the same time, we'll just focus on playing our game. Whether we finish first, second or whatever, it's more about how we play. If we play the right way, the rest will take care of itself."
Even though teams have games in hand on the Blues, it would take a near perfect run to catch and surpass St. Louis.
If the Blues win just five of their remaining nine games, they would have 110 points. For the Red Wings or Predators to pass the Blues in points, one would have to take 19 of the remaining 20 points available to each team. For the Canucks, it would take 17 of the remaining 20 points to win the West. For the Rangers, they only have the ability to lose three of their final 10 games and still maintain hope of taking first in the League.
So the Blues appear to be in good shape standings-wise -- and there's a veteran presence in the locker room, along with a veteran coach in Ken Hitchcock that looks at more than the here and the now.
"I don't ever lose sight of the big picture," said Hitchcock, who coached the Stars to the 1999 Stanley Cup. "We're in the rarefied air of we know we have enough points to get in the playoffs. Do we want first place? Sure. Do we want to win the division? Yeah, you bet, (but) you can't lose sight of the big picture. The big picture is all about how you're playing.
"We did so many good things at Carolina (a 2-0 loss Thursday), but we still have to clean up some of the areas on scoring chances against. I don't want to ever lose sight of what the big picture is. ... I think what we're finding out is that we're wearing a target right now. We're getting everybody's A-game."
The Blues made the big run three years ago, only to be swept away by the Canucks in the Western Conference quarterfinals.
That's why there's more to accomplish.
"It's one thing to get into the playoffs and it's another thing to play well there and go far," defenseman Barret Jackman
said. "That's our goal.
"We're not just happy getting in. We want to make a statement."