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Playing the Blues

by Staff Writer / Anaheim Ducks

This probably won't be happening tonight against Brian Elliott. That's because Jaroslav Halak is starting in goal.

Remember that eight-game, 15-day road trip the Ducks had last month? The one we called do or die? Make or break?

That's got nothing on what the Ducks are facing right now.

Starting tonight in St. Louis, Anaheim faces three games in five days, all three of which come against teams - the Blues, Stars and Avs -- already securely in playoff position or knocking on the door. And at a time when the Ducks can afford few losses with 15 games to go, they need something special on this trip to make that hopeful charge into postseason contention.

Remember how that eight-game day trip started in Detroit, which felt like starting the LA Marathon with a run up the Coliseum bleachers? Even though Detroit hadn't lost at Joe Louis Arena in 18 games (and went on to win a record 23 straight), the Blues' actually have more points at home than the Wings do this season. At the Scottrade Center, they've only lost in regulation four times.

And as much as we've been reveling in the Ducks' stellar record since January 1 (19-7-4 for 42 points), the Blues have been a little better since that time (21-6-2 for 44 points). The difference is, St. Louis was already looking pretty good going into the new year, having made a coaching change in early November that completely turned their season around.

After starting the year 6-7-0, the Blues brought in Ken Hitchcock, a Stanley Cup winner in Dallas who was fired after the 2009-10 season by Columbus. Since he came in, the Blues have gone 36-11-7. Thanks to a stretch in which they've won six of seven, they are now in first place in the Western Conference, one point ahead of Vancouver and two ahead of Detroit in the Central Division.

"They're big," said Bruce Boudreau, who wasn't all that happy with his troops during an early practice yesterday before hitting the airport. "They're strong. Well coached. They've got great goaltending. Other than that, they (stink)."

The Blues have gotten equally good goaltending from both Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott, both of whom have goals-against averages under 2.00. But Halak will get the nod tonight (obviously in reaction to the bad goal Elliott gave up to Corey Perry during All-Star Weekend). The Ducks will start ... alright, you know the answer to that.

This is the third of four times the Ducks and Blues will play each other, as they both have earned 4-2 victories at home this season. They face off again March 21 at Honda Center, a time Anaheim can only hope they're still fighting for their playoff lives. After this trip, they face a rivalry-laden trifecta of Detroit, LA and Nashville at Honda Center.

They go into tonight six points behind San Jose for the eighth spot.

So we can look at this one of two ways: 1. This is going to be an incredibly difficult road for the Ducks to get into the postseason or 2. If they do pull it off, they'll be the hottest playoff team in the NHL. 

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