The St. Louis Blues are suddenly becoming a major factor in the crowded Western Conference playoff race while the Phoenix Coyotes continue to fall off the pace.
The Blues look for a third straight win Saturday night when they try to beat the Coyotes for the second time this week.
St. Louis (27-26-8) has quietly been one of the better teams in the West in recent weeks, and its 5-1-1 stretch since Feb. 13 has pulled it within three points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
The Blues have two games to go before the trade deadline, and team president John Davidson indicated earlier in the week that his club may not be a seller compared to previous seasons.
It's a decidedly different mood for Phoenix (27-30-5), although it is only six points behind the eighth spot. The Coyotes were in better position about a month ago before losing 11 of their last 14, including a 4-1 defeat at Nashville on Thursday in which coach Wayne Gretzky was critical of the effort.
"The first period would have been 5-0 if not for the goaltending. We got outskated and came out flat," Gretzky said. "We're paid a lot of money to play the game, and you should at least give an effort."
The lethargic effort capped a trip in which the Coyotes dropped two of three, including a 2-1 loss at St. Louis on Tuesday night. Phoenix went 0-for-7 on the power play during the road stretch.
"I thought we had a good effort in St. Louis and I don't think our effort was quite the same tonight," right wing Steven Goertzen said after Thursday's loss. "They came out banging bodies and we need to respond."
The Blues have taken both meetings with the Coyotes this season, also winning 4-3 at home Dec. 6. In Tuesday's victory for St. Louis, Phoenix failed to convert on four power plays and allowed Jay McClement's short-handed, go-ahead goal in the second period.
There may be some bad blood carrying over from Tuesday since Blues forward Cam Janssen left his feet on a high hit on Coyotes defenseman Zbynek Michalek in the first period. No penalty was called, but Janssen was later fined $2,500.
St. Louis' Chris Mason made 24 saves in that victory and had an even better effort Thursday in a 3-1 win at Dallas. He finished with 42 saves - his second-highest total of the season.
"We've been climbing (in the standings) and it's been fun to be a part of," Mason said. "Every game means something. There's no team out of it. Every game is a playoff game."
Mason has led the way for the Blues, playing in 17 straight games and going 10-3-4 with a 1.59 goals-against average in that span.
"It all started with Mason," rookie center T.J. Oshie said about Thursday's win. "He definitely made a lot of saves that he probably shouldn't make. He's really what kept us in the game until we got our legs under us and started feeling better."
Oshie scored the go-ahead goal in the third period, and McClement and rookie Patrik Berglund also scored. The Blues had played seven straight one-goal games before Thursday.