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Division Race Heats Up as Blues Host Jets

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS - The race to win the Central Division is heating up.

And so is the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, as a matter of fact.

At the time of this writing, the Blues (87 points) sit four points behind the Nashville Predators (91) and Anaheim Ducks (91) with three games in hand on both. A win tonight against the Winnipeg Jets would move the Blues to within striking distance of the overall NHL lead.

And what better way to make up ground than by collecting points during a three-game home stand?

“All these divisional games are big. Winnipeg is a team that is chasing us, so we’ve got to keep these teams behind us,” said Blues forward Ryan Reaves. “We’ve got to start chasing teams above us. Everybody’s ramping up, everybody’s going to be playing playoff hockey. It started a couple weeks ago and it’s only going to get more intense.”

The Jets come to town tonight as the final Wild Card team in the Western Conference. At 33-21-12, the Jets sit three points ahead of the Los Angeles Kings. On Saturday, Winnipeg beat the Predators, 3-1.

Blues Head Coach Ken Hitchcock said the Jets are physical and because of that, they skate hard. The Blues will need to be ready to match that effort.

“I like these games. They’re fun to coach in, and I think the players enjoy playing these games,” Hitchcock said after the morning skate. “Really for two years now, every game is really close, there’s not much difference between the teams. They give you great evaluation postgame of what you like and what needs to get worked on. They’re games that are great barometers of what our team play, strengths and weaknesses are.”

“When they initiate, I feel like they get teams on their heels a bit,” Reaves added. “You find yourself trying to claw your way back into that game. So if we initiate, we get them on their heels and that would be a lot better approach for us.”

STATUS UPDATES

Hitchcock said Jay Bouwmeester, who didn’t play Saturday due to illness, would be available tonight.

Olli Jokinen, who left Saturday’s game with an injury, won’t play tonight. Hitchcock said he’ll be ready for Thursday vs. Philadelphia. Marcel Goc will center the fourth line against the Jets.

Kevin Shattenkirk and Zbynek Michalek also skated today during the optional morning skate.

“We’ve dealt with some injuries and different things throughout the year fairly well,” Bouwmeester said. “We have lots of depth - there’s always guys sitting out every night that on other teams, are everyday regular players. It’s a good problem for a team to have.”

BLUE NOTES

Fans who purchased tickets at stlouisblues.com/starwars will receive a limited Star Wars Night T-shirt tonight featuring Jaden Schwartz, Jori Lehtera and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Players will wear commemorative jerseys during warm-ups that feature the Mathews-Dickey bulldog logo. Jerseys are being worn to commemorate Mathews-Dickey co-founder Martin Mathews, who is retiring. The Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club helps teach children the importance of team working and building self esteem. Jerseys will be available for auction outside Section 119 and online at stlouisblues.com beginning March 11.

The Blues have won six straight games against the Jets and have points in 11 straight dating back to 2009 - when the Jets were playing as the Atlanta Thrashers.

Alexander Steen, who grew up in Winnipeg, has five goals, four assists and a +7 rating in his last nine games against the Jets. Reaves, also a Winnipeg native, has one goal and one assist in his last two against the Jets.

Since the start of 2015, Paul Stastny has 22 points (six goals, 16 assists) in 28 games. The Blues are 20-8-2 with Stastny records at least one point in a game this season. He is one of three NHL players to win more than 60 percent of his face-offs (Patrice Bergeron - 62%, Joe Thornton - 60.4% and Paul Stastny - 60.3%).

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