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Stakes Keep Rising as Blues Host Jets

by Chris Pinkert / St. Louis Blues

ST. LOUIS - If the Blues sweep their three-game home stand, they are guaranteed to win their second Central Division title in four years and snag home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.

In fact, the club could clinch home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with a win tonight against the Winnipeg Jets and a regulation loss by the Chicago Blackhawks.

“When you’re in control and you go lay it on the line and play as well as you can, you get rewarded. That’s extra motivation,” said Ryan Reaves after today’s morning skate. “Home ice (advantage) is huge. We want to play in front of our hometown, we like playing here, we like the hometown fans behind us, so that’s a big thing for us right now.”

Winning the division (and home-ice advantage, for that matter) is easier said than done, though. At this time of the year, nothing comes easy. The Blues’ three remaining games are all against division rivals hellbent on securing better playoff positions for themselves, or in Winnipeg’s case, just trying to get in at all.

The Jets currently sit in the final Wild Card position in the Western Conference. Their 2-0 win last night against the Minnesota Wild moved them past the Los Angeles Kings, who fell 2-1 in a shootout in Vancouver.

“They had a big win last night, they’re going to be guns-a-blazing again trying to get off to an early start like they normally do,” said Steve Ott, who plays in his 100th game as a Blue tonight. “For us, we’ve matched their physicality, we’re a hard team to play against and we need to make sure our game pushes forward like it has. When we’re playing our big body style, we’re tough to play against.”

For Head Coach Ken Hitchcock, beating the Jets is about not letting them dictate the game.

“I think the biggest key for us is the first period,” he said. “They have a very strong push in the first period and we have to negate that. That’s what’s given us our success - we haven’t allowed them to dictate as much as they do in most games.

“You can see what’s at stake for everybody right now,” Hitchcock added. “You see players doing things that in the middle of the season, there’s no way they would go down and block the shots they are, but they’re doing it now. Everything matters, every shift matters and you can see it.”

ALLEN STARTS

Hitchcock said after Monday’s practice that he was sticking with the hot hand. After a 38-save performance in Sunday’s 2-1 win against Chicago, Jake Allen will be between the pipes tonight against the Jets.

“It’s amazing when you’ve got two goalies you can rely on so heavily like we can,” Ott said. “(Brian Elliott) has been fantastic, (Jake) has been fantastic as well. Whoever is in net, we have the same respect for both guys and when you have that type of ‘controversy’ you want to call it, or ‘competitive balance,’ it makes for a strong team.”

Allen’s win Sunday was the 30th of his career. He joins Roman Turek, Brent Johnson and Rick Wamsley as the only goaltenders to reach 30 wins in their first 50 games with the Blues.

PROJECTED LINEUP AND INJURY NOTES

Below is the projected lineup for tonight’s game. Subject to change, of course.

Forwards

Jaden Schwartz - Paul Stastny - T.J. Oshie

Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Patrik Berglund

Olli Jokinen - Jori Lehtera - Ty Rattie

Steve Ott - Marcel Goc - Ryan Reaves

Defense

Kevin Shattenkirk - Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester - Zbynek Michalek

Barret Jackman - Carl Gunnarsson

Goalie

Jake Allen

Alexander Steen (lower-body) has been skating with the team but won’t play tonight. Vladimir Tarasenko (lower-body) isn't ready yet and Robert Bortuzzo, who is dealing with a pre-existing upper-body injury, won’t play either.

CENTRAL DIVISION UPDATE

The Blues, Predators and Blackhawks all have three games remaining and are separated by just three points as the season enters its final week.

1. St. Louis - 79 GP, 49-23-7, 105 PTS
2. Nashville - 79 GP, 47-22-10, 104 PTS
3. Chicago - 79 GP, 48-25-6, 102 PTS

“I think everybody wants to be in the position that we’re in right now,” said defenseman Zbynek Michalek. “Everything is in our hands, and hopefully we can finish it off, get the division and get home ice.”

BLUE NOTES

All fans in attendance at tonight’s game will receive the 2014-15 team poster courtesy of Fry-Wagner. Fan Appreciation Week, presented by Buffalo Wild Wings, is underway and all fans in attendance this week will receive a scratcher ticket for a chance to win great Blues prizes.

The Blues have won seven of the last eight against Winnipeg and have earned 13 straight (10-0-3) dating back to Oct. 8, 2009. The Blues have never lost to the Jets on home ice, posting a 5-0-0 mark since the franchise moved to Winnipeg.

Due to the postponement of the Cardinals game, tonight’s game will be available on FOX Sports Midwest and KMOX 1120 AM.

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