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Strong road trip has Blues' confidence rising

by Louie Korac

ST. LOUIS -- When the St. Louis Blues embarked on their latest trek around North America that encompassed 6,000-plus miles and six games, many pundits around the NHL thought it would be the defining stretch of games for a squad not accustomed to mingling with the upper-echelon of the League.

The question many had was whether the Blues could stand toe-to-toe with the best of the West or would they fall off with the rest of the pack.

After taking 10 of 12 points and winning five of the six games, it's safe to say the Blues (41-18-7) are for real and don't have any plans on vacating their current position of second in the Western Conference (first in the Central Division). In fact, the recent results only reaffirm their desire to fight for a Presidents' Trophy.

"I think it puts a realistic expectation going into our next road trip, too, on what we can accomplish," defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo said. "There's no second-guessing on our record and having that feeling of, 'what-if, what-if, what-if.' Now there's that mindset where we're going into those games feeling like we're going to win. That's the mindset we need to have.

"We were comfortable being uncomfortable, and I think it changed everything. There was a calmness on the bench and there was a calmness in our game. We didn't panic under pressure, we didn't make the puck somebody else's problem. We just started to play."
-- Ken Hitchcock

"We're one point out of first place overall and that's something guys have got to feel pretty good about and obviously know what we can accomplish if we can continue to play like that."

The Blues began the week tied with Detroit with 89 points, one off Vancouver's 90 for the top spot in the West. The New York Rangers lead the NHL with 91 points.

"Everyone's been kind of waiting for us to fall off ... when's St. Louis going to fall off," forward Chris Stewart said. "We've hung in there with the best teams in the League. There's no reason to think why we wouldn't."

Added defenseman Alex Pietrangelo: "That trip helped. We know we've got another (seven-game) road trip coming up. It's a pretty good feeling in here right now.

"We knew last month (the trip) was going to be important just because of all the home games we had. If you want to be a good team, you've got to win on the road. With the amount of road games we have coming up we know we've got to win those games to catch those teams."

The Blues accomplished much in wins against Nashville, Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton and San Jose; that 3-1 win at HP Pavilion on Saturday might have been the best game of the trip. It came on the heels of their only loss on the trip, a 2-0 setback in Vancouver that was the third game in four nights.


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The Blues shut down the League's top four power plays (Edmonton, Nashville, Vancouver and San Jose), as they were a perfect 12-for-12 killing penalties -- they've killed 27 in a row dating to Feb. 14 -- while going 5-for-16 (31.2 percent) on the power play themselves. Jaroslav Halak won all five games in goal, posting a 1.55 goals-against average and .939 save percentage.

"We were comfortable being uncomfortable, and I think it changed everything," said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who is 35-11-7 since taking over Nov. 6 and whose team is 33-0-0 when scoring three goals or more. "There was a calmness on the bench and there was a calmness in our game. We didn't panic under pressure, we didn't make the puck somebody else's problem. We just started to play. I think we were able to maintain a competitive level for every game that kept up the way we needed to play. It almost looked like we were playing on the road like we were at home."

Hitchcock, who said the Blues "didn't play well the first two games (in Nashville and Winnipeg) and still won," really got it together prior to playing Monday in Calgary.

The game came hours after the frenzy of the trade deadline. Once that passed, the calmness spread into the locker room.

"The trade deadline going and passing maybe helped alleviate some of the stresses some guys were feeling," Colaiacovo said. "At the end of the day, we're happy things stayed the way they were. We love the group that we have in here. Everyone battles hard for each other."

The Blues return to Scottrade Center for three games before departing on another seven-game trip that will be split over two weeks. It begins Sunday in Columbus and goes to Chicago, Carolina and Tampa Bay before the team comes home for three days, then heads to Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix.

"I don't think anybody coming in today doesn't feel good about what we've accomplished so far," Colaiacovo said. "Obviously going on the road, the concern was where we were prior to it and how our game was going to be and how tough a schedule it was going to be for us.

"At the end of the day, we dug down deep and we battled through adversity. We found ways to win and we played some good hockey on the road. It's a great sign and great feeling to be part of going into this important stretch of the season."

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