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Blues, Jackets set to conclude season series

by Pete Jensen
BLUES (35-33-10) at BLUE JACKETS (34-31-13)

TV: Fox Sports-Midwest (HD), Fox Sports-Ohio.

Last 10: St. Louis 4-5-1; Columbus 2-4-4.

Season series: Sunday afternoon marks the sixth and final clash of the season between these Central Division foes. St. Louis has taken three of the five head-to-head matchups this season, and swept a home-and-home series with Columbus last month. The Blue Jackets gave the Blues all they could handle in both contests, but the efforts of two St. Louis forwards proved to be the difference. Andy McDonald notched two goals in a 5-4 shootout victory for the Blues on March 7, and Chris Stewart kept the momentum going with two tallies of his own in a 4-3 overtime triumph on March 9.

Big story: The Blues and Blue Jackets have been eliminated from playoff contention, but both teams took Western Conference contenders to the brink on Friday night. Two days later, these division rivals meet one final time at Nationwide Arena to culminate what has been a spirited 2010-11 season series.

Team Scope:

Blues: Heading into Friday’s clash with the playoff hopeful Calgary Flames, St. Louis was on a roll offensively, scoring a total of 22 goals in their previous four games.

That trend continued for most of Friday night, as Matt D'Agostini and David Backes lit the lamp to give the Blues a 2-0 lead and all the momentum late in the second period. But Flames captain Jarome Iginla countered quickly with a goal, which turned the tide of the game. St. Louis would then succumb to the pressure of playing spoiler against a desperate Flames team, allowing two more goals – including Iginla's game-winner – in a 3-2 home defeat.

"It starts to magnify itself," Blues coach Davis Payne said. "Finding an opportunity to get that final buzzer to go with an even hockey game based on your smart puck decisions gets you that one point and to overtime. There's lots of lost opportunity there. In the tough learning experiences we go through – managing the puck against a veteran team like that – we have to be 100 percent when we have those lead situations."

Blue Jackets: Columbus, like St. Louis, will be missing the playoffs for the second straight season. But on Friday night at a vibrant Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets were locked into a back-and-forth duel with the defending Stanley Cup champion Blackhawks.

Chicago jumped out to a 2-0 lead less than six minutes into the game, but Columbus bounced back, and rallied to take the lead after Samuel Pahlsson's go-ahead tally in the third period. But Bryan Bickell tied the game for the Blackhawks in the final minutes, and the Blue Jackets continued their post-overtime struggles, dropping their seventh shootout in their last eight tries.

"I think we're close [as a team]," coach Scott Arniel said. "We work to tie a game up, especially in situations against great teams when we're tired, like tonight. We've done a great job of learning how to play under pressure."

Who's hot: Blues' winger David Backes has 5 points in his last four games, including a goal and an assist in Friday night's narrow loss to Calgary. … Columbus rookie Maksim Mayorov, after netting the shootout winner last Tuesday against Florida, scored his first career goal in Friday's loss to Chicago. Forward Antoine Vermette has also been a reliable option for the Blue Jackets, compiling 5 points in his last four games.

Injury report: Rick Nash (undisclosed injury) will likely miss his third consecutive game for Columbus. Defenseman Grant Clitsome (knee) has not played since March 19, but could make his return to the lineup Sunday against St. Louis or Tuesday in Dallas. Steve Mason (undisclosed injury), Andrew Murray (lower body), Kristian Huselius (lower body), Chris Clark (lower body) and Ethan Moreau (foot) are expected to be out. Columbus defenseman Jan Hejda will miss Sunday's contest after being suspended two games for delivering an elbow to the head of Chicago's Marcus Kruger on Friday night. … Blues' winger David Perron remains out indefinitely with concussion-like symptoms.

Stat pack: Columbus defenseman Anton Stralman registered the first assist on all three goals by the Blue Jackets in their shootout loss to the Blackhawks on Friday night. Stralman is the first defenseman in franchise history to notch three primary assists in a game. The last Blue Jackets forward to do that was Rick Nash against Calgary on March 26, 2009.

Puck drop: The Blues and the Blue Jackets are separated by only a point in the Western Conference standings entering Sunday's action. With four games remaining in the regular season for each team, St. Louis and Columbus will battle for divisional bragging rights in the Buckeye State.

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