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Blues cap run to playoffs by beating Columbus 3-1

by John Kreiser
The St. Louis Blues took the ice on Feb. 19 last in the Western Conference. They left it Friday night with their first playoff berth since 2004.

The Blues completed one of the great late-season playoff surges in NHL history by clinching a postseason berth with a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Keith Tkachuk scored twice and Chris Mason stopped 16 shots as the Blues assured themselves of a trip to the postseason for the first time in four seasons.

"It's just a special moment," said Tkachuk, one of only two Blues left from that last playoff team. "This is an incredible feeling to see what we went through over the last couple of years."

The Blues needed a win and a Nashville loss at Minnesota to lock up a playoff spot. The Predators' 8-4 loss to the Wild was completed with 8:41 remaining and the Blues leading by two. It was announced with about two minutes remaining, triggering a roar from the sellout crowd of 19,250 at the Scottrade Center that only grew louder as time ticked down.

"To do this at home is pretty special," Mason said after his 32nd consecutive start. "With one minute left, I could barely hear myself think. I can just imagine what the playoffs are going to be like."

The Blues got the jump on the Jackets with a pair of quick power-play goals.

Andy McDonald opened the scoring 3:19 into the game when he banged in Tkachuk's feed through the crease just 16 seconds after Kris Russell was called for interference. Tkachuk, by far the oldest Blue at age 37, made it 2-0 at 7:12 with a power-play deflection past Columbus netminder Steve Mason with Jared Boll serving a double minor for high sticking.

"Everybody was pretty calm in the locker room, but we did jump out," Tkachuk said after his first two-goal game since opening night and his first three-point performance all season. "We forced them to take penalties because we were moving, and we capitalized on it."

Columbus scored on the first shot of the second period, with Jiri Novotny scoring into a vacant net at 4:25 after Chris Mason was drawn out of position. The Blues answered at 8:07 on their first shot of the period when Jay McKee's shot from the left point hit Tkachuk and went into the net.

Andy Murray won his 100th game in 2 1/2 seasons as Blues coach, guiding a team that has been the NHL's best the second half of the season at 24-9-7 despite missing forward Paul Kariya as well as top defensemen Eric Johnson and Eric Brewer for all or most of the season. Beginning with a 2-1 win over Nashville on Feb. 19 -- one night after a 4-3 loss to Columbus dropped them to last in the conference -- the Blues have gone 16-5-3.

Murray said he didn't watch the scoreboard at all during the game. In the final minute the Blues' accomplishment gave him chills.

"You kind of choke up a little bit," Murray said. "I had to get off the bench pretty quick after the game, I'll tell you that. How can you not be emotional about something like that? People going crazy."

The Blue Jackets, who clinched the first playoff berth in franchise history on Wednesday, looked flat -- making for a short postgame conference with unhappy coach Ken Hitchcock.

"For most of the game, we were outworked," said Hitchcock, whose team needs a point in its season finale at home against Minnesota on Saturday to wrap up sixth place. "They wanted it more than we did."

Material from wire services and team online and broadcast media was used in this report.

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