Most believe the NHL season is long enough. The St. Louis Blues may wish it was a little longer.
After trading left wing Keith Tkachuk, the Blues look to record their season-high fifth straight victory Sunday when they face the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
Although it may not be enough for a playoff spot, the Blues (26-26-9) have been one of the league's hottest teams lately. They have won four straight and are 19-9-5 since Andy Murray took over as coach on Dec. 12.
Lee Stempniak and Doug Weight scored in the shootout, and Manny Legace stopped both attempts he faced Tuesday as St. Louis rallied for a 5-4 victory over Columbus in its fifth game in eight days.
Rookie David Backes, who made his NHL debut on Dec. 19, scored his seventh goal of the season in the third period.
"When I got here, spirits were pretty down," Backes said. "But with the way Andy's been coaching and the work ethic we've put in, I think some good things are happening here."
While a victory Sunday would give St. Louis five consecutive wins for the first time since a six-game run from Dec. 6-8, 2003, it will have to come without Tkachuk, who was traded Sunday to Atlanta forward Glen Metropolit, a first-round draft choice and a third-round pick in 2007, and a second-round pick in 2008.
In addition, if Atlanta re-signs Tkachuk, the Blues will acquire a first-round pick in 2008.
"We want to thank Keith for his time and dedication to the Blues organization over the past six years," said Blues president John Davidson. "We wish him and his family nothing but the best for the future."
Metropolit, 32, has career highs of 12 goals, 16 assists and 28 points in 57 games this season.
Now that Tkachuk has been traded, the Blues' offensive focus shifts to leading scorer Bill Guerin, who like Tkachuk, will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.
St. Louis did take two of its impending free agents off the market Saturday, signing defenseman Eric Brewer to a four-year, $17 million contract and goaltender Manny Legace to a $4.3 million, two-year deal.
"This is a big day for the Blues organization as we move forward," Davidson said. "Both players have had an excellent season and we felt it was important to keep them in the fold as we continue to build."
Chicago (22-30-9) hasn't had quite the same success since it changed coaches, going 15-18-7 under Denis Savard. The Blackhawks suffered their fifth straight loss and were shut out for the sixth time, 2-0 to visiting San Jose on Thursday.
"We've got to create some offense," Savard said. "It's no secret we've got to work, we've got to go to the net, work below the circles and pay the price. It's as simple as that."
This is the third losing streak of five games or more for Chicago, which dropped a season-high 10 in a row (0-8-2) from Jan. 4-26.
Patrick Lalime started for the third time in four games and stopped 21 of 23 shots Thursday. Lalime, who could be moved before Tuesday's trade deadline, has a 1.24 goals-against average this season.
The Blues posted a pair of 4-3 wins over the Blackhawks in October before Chicago took the next four meetings. St. Louis ended that four-game losing streak in the series with a 2-0 home victory Jan. 4.
The Blackhawks are 10-3-0 with three ties in their last 16 home games against the Blues.