It's been 16 games since the St. Louis Blues gave Manny Legace a day off. It will probably be a while before his next one.
The Blues intend to lean on the 35-year-old goalie in an effort to end a two-year playoff drought. Legace has started on consecutive days four times since Jan. 23, and he showed some resilience on Sunday with a strong game in a 5-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, less than a day after being pelted with 44 shots in an overtime loss at Nashville.
The Blues have had trouble finding a capable backup and coach Andy Murray envisions Legace topping 60 games. He's well on track, appearing in 47 of the first 58.
Murray hopes to save Legace by limiting his practice time, and said he hasn't overworked Legace compared to the rest of the NHL.
"That's what our plan is," Murray said. "What we've been doing is managing the energy levels of our team, particularly Manny between these games.
"We're trying to have our energy for the games."
Ten goalies have topped Legace's total of 2,633 minutes, but he'll soon top his career best of 51 games in 2005-06 with the Red Wings and has ongoing maintenance issues with a balky right knee that forced him out of the final 25 games last season.
Earlier this season, Legace said the knee might require additional surgery at some point. Thus far, he's been remarkably durable for a franchise needy at his position.
Hannu Toivonen, the backup most of the year, was demoted to Peoria, Ill., of the AHL five games ago after the latest in a series of shaky relief efforts. Chris Beckford-Tseu, the 23-year-old replacement, has yet to make his NHL debut.
That's because the Blues can't afford to squander any chances. A season-best three power-play goals in Sunday's 5-1 romp over Columbus pulled them into a tie for 11th place with the Blue Jackets in the Western Conference.
They were three games out of eighth place and a final spot, after finishing 10th overall in 2006-07 behind a strong second half after Murray was hired in December. After a 13-game trough that included only two victories, the Blues have won three of four to edge back into contention.
| Legace Named No. 1 Star |
Blues goaltender Manny Legace was named the NHL's No. 1 Star for the week ending Feb. 17.
Legace went 3-0-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average and .954 save percentage, stopping 124 of 130 shots. He made 25 saves in a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings Feb. 12, stopped 39 shots in a 4-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche Feb. 14 and turned aside 42 of 43 shots in a 2-1 overtime loss to the Nashville Predators, Feb. 16. He finished the week by making 18 saves in a 5-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets, Feb. 17.
The Blues (27-22-9, 63 points) are three points out of a playoff berth in the Western Conference. Legace has appeared in 47 games, posting a record of 22-15-6, with a 2.26 goals-against average, .915 save percentage and four shutouts.
Based on the past few seasons, Murray estimates the Blues will need 96 points to secure a playoff spot. That means they'll need 36 points in the final 24 games, including a difficult March when the Missouri Valley Conference basketball tournament and the NCAA Wrestling Championships will force them from the Scottrade Center for a nine-game trip.
Defenseman Eric Brewer, named captain earlier this month and coming off a career-best four assists against the Blue Jackets, said it's got to be playoff mode the rest of the way.
"We have to, or else the dream's over," Brewer said. "We still have to win those games and you have to win games on top of those just to keep above water.
"We're still not at that point, but we're clawing our way back."
Murray doesn't want players projecting the rest of the season, he just wants consistent effort.
"We're not chasing 96 points, we're chasing two points," Murray said. "We have to chase two points every night."
He's not much for the hockey cliche of a 4-point game against an opponent also fighting for a playoff spot, or for momentum either.
"I think this game is parked now," Murray said. "If we're worrying about momentum from this game helping us in the next one we'll be waiting.
"We've got to go out and start it again."
Almost certainly, with Legace in the nets. He's likely to make his third start in four days against the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday night.
"We've still got a long way to go," Legace said.