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Central: Blues' Brewer still hurting, but trying to help

by Dan Rosen
If they let him, St. Louis captain Eric Brewer would help push guys over the boards during line changes, tape sticks or even fill water bottles. The veteran defenseman just wants to be part of the action he has so sorely missed for more than three months.

"That's the way it is," Brewer told "If you're not able to do what you need to, you are best to stay out of way."

Brewer, who played in the first 28 games this season, had surgery Dec. 19 to repair a herniated disc in his back and figured the absolute worst-case scenario called for him to be back in the lineup with about 15 or so games left in the regular season.

The Blues have 10 games left and still Brewer isn't even skating, but for good reason.

At the time of his surgery Brewer also was suffering from what he calls "nerve issues" in his back and those haven't gone away as he anticipated. As a result, he's still on the shelf and has no idea when he might be able to get off it.

"That's the question of the year for me," Brewer said. "From what I understand, and I have been told by a number of people, you really can't put a time frame on it. They have a parameter of roughly 10-12 weeks from surgery, but depending on how you progress and how you don't kind of changes that. When you put these nerve issues into it, it's very frustrating.

"You have now come to the type of rehab where you weren't doing something incorrectly, but you just have this issue and you can't do proper movements to get rid of it per se, like you would with a shoulder or a knee injury."

Brewer quickly said "nope" when we asked if the nerve problems in his back are career threatening. Doctors are telling him it's possible that one day he'll wake up and the pain will be gone, or it could be a gradual process before the tension is relieved.

Until that happens, Brewer won't be able to rehab the way he should in order to play, which is why he said he's in a "holding pattern" right now.

"We got to a point where I plateaued," Brewer said. "We're not making a whole lot of progress, but it's not getting worse."

He tried to skate a couple of weeks ago, but stopped when he realized it wasn't the right time. He still goes to the rink every day, but mostly does core workouts in order to stay in shape for his own health.

"I function as a normal, every-day person," Brewer said. "I just can't be an athlete now. I'm not in position to train like an athlete at this point."

Instead, he's turned into the Blues' biggest fan, because the longer they stretch their season -- St. Louis went into the weekend four points out of a playoff berth -- the better chance Brewer has of playing again this season.

"I'm waiting for the grand slam, but I'm prepared for anything," Brewer said. "I've been sitting for so long and I've pondered many questions and gone over many situations and that certainly hasn't helped. Now it's just dealing with it and staying positive on it and moving forward. I have very little control over the healing process time."

Pahlsson debuts, should help -- When Blackhawks General Manager Dale Tallon traded for veteran center Sami Pahlsson on deadline day, he knew the checking and faceoff specialist wouldn't play right away due to a bout with mononucleosis that he still was fighting.

That's OK. Tallon didn't get Pahlsson for games in early March; he got him for the important games that begin in early April and continue on into the playoffs.

That was the thought then, but with the Hawks mired in a mini-slump, Pahlsson's debut Wednesday night was a welcome sign. Chicago still lost at Columbus, 4-3 in overtime, but Pahlsson played 14:54, including 5:21 on the penalty kill. He won five of 11 draws.

"I just think we got an appreciation for what (Pahlsson) brings," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville told reporters earlier this week. "The energy, the way he competes and his thought process defensively is really good. I think he brings good emotion and intensity to our team."

The Hawks started a five-game homestand Friday night with a shootout loss to the Oilers, their fifth straight defeat, but with Pahlsson working his way into the lineup, goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin back and forward Patrick Sharp on the mend, things may be looking up.

"We're close to getting (Sharp) into contact, which will give us a clear idea of when he's able to play," Quenneville said. "He's not far away."

Osgood finds rhythm -- As GM Ken Holland and coach Mike Babcock expected, Chris Osgood looks to be solving the main issue plaguing the Detroit Red Wings for most of the season.

After Friday's defeat of Atlanta, the three-time Stanley Cup winner has won four straight starts and stopped having stopped 108 of the last 115 shots he's faced since giving up seven goals to Columbus on March 7.

Osgood beat the St. Louis Blues last Saturday, 5-2, by stopping 30 of 32 shots, including all 16 in the third when the Wings were limited to just three shots as they clung to a 4-2 lead before Henrik Zetterberg's empty-netter at 18:03.

He was back in the net the next day and posted his 49th career shutout while also exacting some revenge by stopping all 23 Columbus shots in a 4-0 victory. He made 24 saves in a 3-2 win against Philadelphia on Tuesday. He stopped 31 of 34 shots in Friday's 6-3 defeat of the Thrashers.

With three sets of back-to-backs left this season, backup Ty Conklin should see some time before the playoffs, but barring any more meltdowns, it appears Osgood has taken back his net.

"I think Ozzie's been real good," Babcock told the Detroit Free Press. "It looks like things are rounding into shape for him, kind of like we expected. It's good to have things going that way. I haven't talked to him yet, but we'll decide what the rotation is coming up."

Quick chemistry between Antoine and R.J. -- In his first six games with the Blue Jackets, center Antoine Vermette has 7 points, as does linemate R.J. Umberger. And Columbus is 5-1-0 as it continues to set franchise records en route to the first playoff appearance in franchise history.

"I function as a normal, every-day person. I just can't be an athlete now. I'm not in position to train like an athlete at this point."
-- Eric Brewer

"I've kind of been searching for it all year," Umberger told the Columbus Dispatch after he set up Vermette's overtime goal Wednesday night. "It was instant with Antoine. He kind of plays a similar game."

Vermette has points in five of the six games, including 4 goals and 3 assists. Umberger has three multi-point games, and totals of 3 goals and 4 assists since Vermette joined the club. Coach Ken Hitchcock had rookie Jakub Voracek as the right wing on their line Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Columbus' crack PR staff released these stats:

The Jackets entered the weekend needing only one point to break a franchise record for points in a season (80), and one more win at Nationwide Arena to break a franchise record for home wins in a season (23). Their 37 wins and 50 points at home already are single-season franchise bests.

Not bad, considering -- Leading goal scorer and captain Jason Arnott didn't play at all in Nashville's recently completed four-game road trip through the Pacific Division, and still the Predators picked up six of a possible eight points to hold onto their place in the Western Conference playoff race entering the weekend.

The Predators' 77 points are good for eighth entering Saturday's action, with 10 games remaining. Seven of those games are against teams that currently are higher than them in the standings, including two each against Detroit, Chicago and Columbus, and one against San Jose.

Meanwhile, defenseman Ryan Suter's career-best eight-game point streak (2-8-10) was snapped when he went pointless Thursday in San Jose. The streak was the longest for any Predator this season, topping J.P. Dumont's previous best of seven, from Oct. 17-Nov. 4.

Suter has now has 36 assists and 42 points this season, both career highs.

This and that -- Kris Draper joined Hall of Fame-company by playing his 1,000th game in a Red Wings uniform Tuesday night. Gordie Howe, Alex Delvecchio, Steve Yzerman and Nicklas Lidstrom are the only others to do so. Draper played in his 1,000th NHL game Feb. 2. ... The Blackhawks and team chairman Rocky Wirtz are finalists in separate categories for the 2009 Sports Business Awards, which are presented by Street & Smith's SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily. Joining the organization as Professional Sports Team of the Year finalists are the Boston Celtics, Cleveland Cavaliers, Milwaukee Brewers and Tampa Bay Rays. Joining Wirtz as finalists in the Sports Executive of the Year category are George Bodenheimer (President of ESPN/ABC Sports), Dick Ebersol (Chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics) and David Stern (Commissioner of the NBA). Only executives with a primary involvement in sports business and whose principal office is located in the United States are eligible. ... Columbus captain Rick Nash scored his fifth shorthanded goal of the season to give him the franchise records for man-down goals in a season and for a career (10). ... Nashville prospects Chet Pickard and Jonathon Blum have been rewarded for their strong play in the Western Hockey League this season. Pickard (Tri-City Americans), the team's second 2008 first-round pick, is the Western Conference finalist for the Del Wilson Trophy, which goes to the WHL's top goalie. Pickard won the award last season, as well as Canadian Hockey League goalie of the year. Blum (Vancouver Giants), the club's 2007 first-round pick, is the Western Conference's finalist for the Bill Hunter Trophy, which goes to the league's best defenseman. They both are first-team Western Conference All-Stars; Blum was a unanimous selection.

He said it -- St. Louis captain Eric Brewer talking to about the Blues' success in the second half of the season. They are 14-7-5 since the All-Star break following Friday's win in Calgary.

"I'm really happy for the guys to have been able to keep focused and give themselves every opportunity to get into the playoffs with multiple long-term injuries. It's never an excuse, but it is a fact. Having Paul Kariya, Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie and Erik Johnson out ... you can't take those players off other teams and continue to progress. They have done an admirable job, and let's put it this way -- if it wasn't for Chris Mason we wouldn't be in this position -- period. He has given us a chance to win every game."

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