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St. Louis earns No. 6 seed

by Brian Compton
Two months ago, the St. Louis Blues were in last place in the Western Conference and looked like a team that had very little chance of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Since then, they've been one of the best teams in the NHL. Their reward? Sixth place in the conference.
The Blues clinched the No. 6 seed on Sunday afternoon thanks to a 1-0 win against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center. With the victory, they improved to 18-6-3 since Feb. 15, when they were looking up to 14 teams in the Western standings. This will be their first playoff appearance in five years.
''Our guys have worked hard all year,'' St. Louis coach Andy Murray said.
By earning the sixth seed, the Blues will face the Vancouver Canucks in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Had they lost on Sunday, they would have finished eighth -- which would have meant a date with the top-seeded San Jose Sharks. Instead, they finished with the best second-half record in the League at 25-9-7.

Vancouver clinched the Northwest Division on Saturday, edging out the Calgary Flames for the No. 3 seed. The best-of-seven series will begin on Wednesday or Thursday night at General Motors Place.

"It's tough to talk about the series right now, coming off the emotion of this game," Blues coach Andy Murray said. "We wanted to finish sixth, not because we felt any better playing against Vancouver than we did against San Jose, but your job in this sport is to finish as high in the standings as you can and to win the next game. Today was the next game. We know we face a real tough opponent in Vancouver."

Brad Boyes scored the lone goal for the Blues, which came exactly six minutes into the game. Chris Mason, who has been sensational down the stretch, stopped all 28 shots he faced for his sixth shutout of the season.

"We probably didn't play our best game, but we got the job done," Mason said. "We're excited to finish in sixth. It's unbelievable. Now the real fun starts, and we have a tough opponent in Vancouver. It's going to be exciting."

And difficult. Mason knows once the series gets underway, he's going face-to-face with one of the world's top goaltenders in Canucks captain Roberto Luongo.

''I don't think they have a weakness in their game,'' Mason said about the Canucks. ''We're going to have our work cut out for us. It's going to be a big challenge for us.''

St. Louis finished the regular season by going 9-1-1 over its last 11 games and 5-1-1 on the road. The Blues clinched a playoff spot on Friday night with a 3-1 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, who spent the majority of the second half of the season in sixth place. Columbus, now the No. 7 seed, will face the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. With 91 points, the Anaheim Ducks finished eighth and will head to San Jose.

"I think we surprised some people in the regular season, and we'd like nothing better than to do the same thing in the playoffs," Murray said. "It's just going to be so exciting to bring this team back to St. Louis for some playoff games."

Meanwhile, the Avalanche (32-45-5) finished last in the Western Conference for the first time since moving to Denver from Quebec in 1995. They were forced to play much of the season without star forwards Joe Sakic and Paul Stastny, as well as veteran defenseman Adam Foote.
''This wasn't what any of us wanted. It wasn't fun,'' Hejduk said. ''I never want to go through a season like this.''

Colorado coach Tony Granato hinted changes may be in store before next season.

"We're excited to finish in sixth. It's unbelievable. Now the real fun starts, and we have a tough opponent in Vancouver. It's going to be exciting." -- Chris Mason
''We have to find ways to improve our team,'' Granato said. ''I've got a lot of pride in this organization, I like it. We'll get ready to do our work in the summer.''

Material from broadcast media was used in this report.

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