BLUES (31-26-9) at BLUE JACKETS (27-30-11)
St. Louis 6-4-0; Columbus 5-3-2
Fifth of six meetings this season between these Central Division rivals. Columbus has won three of the first four matchups, including 3-2 on a Kris Russell
overtime goal in the most recent game on Jan. 30 in St. Louis. R.J. Umberger
recorded a hat trick in a 5-2 win on Nov. 30 and leads the Blue Jackets in scoring. Paul Kariya and Alex Steen
have two goals apiece to pace the Blues.
St. Louis has won three of four since the Olympic break and six of its last seven overall, conjuring up visions of a second consecutive miracle march to the playoffs. But for that to happen, the Blues will have to continue piling up the points -- they enter Saturday still six behind Nashville and Calgary for the final two Western Conference berths.
Winning on the road has been a strength for St. Louis this season -- a good thing, considering the Blues came out of the break facing a six-game road trip and play eight of their first nine in March away from the Scottrade Center. After a hiccup in Colorado, where the Avalanche routed them 7-3, they rebounded Thursday night for a 2-1 shootout win over the Islanders. T.J. Oshie
and Brad Boyes scored in the penalty-shot tiebreaker.
"We needed that point. It was big," goalie Chris Mason said after stopping 29 shots and two shootout attempts. "With the teams winning around us, we have to keep pace."
With its deficit to get into the playoffs now in double digits, spoiling other teams' chances is about the best Columbus can achieve at this point. The Blue Jackets have been doing just that this week, winning 5-2 in Anaheim and returning home for a 2-1 victory over another desperate team in Atlanta. Mathieu Garon played back-to-back strong games in net.
"I don't think anybody wants to be a spoiler," Umberger told the Columbus Dispatch. "Nobody wants to be in that situation this time of year.
"Our chances are pretty much slim to none. We know that. If we need something to play for, it's playing the role of spoiler, playing for each other and playing for the city."
Mason has been in net for every game during the Blues' current run and has started nine straight overall. Steen has three goals and four assists during a four-game points streak. Patrik Berglund
has three goals and three assists during a six-game points streak.
Garon has stopped 84 of 89 shots in his last three appearances for the Blue Jackets, a .944 save percentage. Jakub Voracek has two goals and nine assists in his last nine games.
St. Louis will be without forwards Keith Tkachuk (finger) and Cam Janssen (undisclosed). … Columbus is missing defenseman Rostislav Klesla (groin) and forwards Rick Nash
(lower body), Kristian Huselius
(upper body) and Derek MacKenzie
The Blues' 19 road wins are their most in a season since they compiled 27 in 1999-00. … The Blue Jackets have scored the first goal in 11 of their last 12 games.
"You never want to be in the situation we're in right now with regard to the playoffs," Garon told the Dispatch. "But we're going to play a lot of teams who are in the races the rest of the way, and we're not going to let them simply have those points.
"We're going to put up a fight for them."