CHICAGO -- The magnitude of the St. Louis Blues' 2-1 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks at United Center on Sunday will determine a lot when the Central Division standings are finally decided by the end of the regular season next Saturday.
A Blues loss would have dropped them into third place, one point behind Chicago and the Nashville Predators with three games remaining for each of the three teams.
Instead, the Blues (49-23-7, 105 points) control their own destiny and thrust themselves into first place, one point ahead of the Predators and more importantly, three ahead of the third-place Blackhawks (48-25-6).
Whoever finishes in second and third place will be a Western Conference First Round matchup, something the division winner would rather avoid.
"It's huge," said Blues goalie Jake Allen, who made 38 saves and earned his 21st victory. "Our division's pretty crazy when you look at the standings and see how tight three teams are. Just one game at a time; we've got three games left on home ice to try and create some positive momentum going into the playoffs. Hopefully, the results will end up taking care of themselves in the conference."
The two critical points for the Blues came in a building that's been a house of horrors for them in recent history.
The win in regulation was the Blues' first here since Feb. 3, 2010. Their goalie at the time was Chris Mason; Cristobal Huet was in goal for the Blackhawks.
The Blues had lost 14 of 16 games in that time-frame, but the two victories over the past two seasons came in a shootout.
"It's two good teams and it was a well-played game," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I look at it more from the standpoint of how we're playing. This is two of the last three games we've played well. We've really played the right way and we've done it by missing our top two scorers (Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen). I think it's the confidence that you can win without the top players in your lineup, which is a good confidence-builder from all of us."
The Blues' other objective is to play solid hockey heading into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Last season, despite a plethora of injuries, they lost six in a row to end the regular season and it carried over into the Western Conference First Round against the Blackhawks, a series in which St. Louis lost in six games after taking a 2-0 lead.
"We like the fact that we're playing good hockey with three games left," said Blues captain David Backes, whose power-play goal in the second period tied the game 1-1. "We've won three in a row. We kind of backed into the playoffs last year and it was tough to turn it around there to play good hockey in the first round. I think we played alright in the playoffs last year, but if we're kicking on all cylinders, then it's a smooth transition rather than having to go to the infirmary and find some bodies and chuck them into the lineup and see what you've got there. Now we've got our two leading out right now, but we're finding ways and we're showing great character with the guys that are in the lineup."
The Blues and Blackhawks will play against each other again on Thursday in St. Louis. The Blues know the mission's not complete, and according to center Paul Stastny, it's simply a matter of looking at the next game, which takes place Tuesday against the Winnipeg Jets.
"I don't even know what the standings are," Stastny said. "You look at our next three games, they're all three potential playoff opponents. They're three teams that are either playing for first, for home ice or for playoff spots. They're all going to be tough games and I think for us, it's just enjoy this one and get ready for Winnipeg."