The 2015-16 regular season is coming to a close for the NHL. The last game on the schedule for the St Louis Blues is tonight against the Washington Capitals. The Blues (49-23-9, 107 points) are in a tie for the first place in the Central Division, and the Western Conference, with Dallas. Both teams have identical records except that the Stars have the tiebreaker with more regulation and overtime wins. The Blues will need to win tonight if they have any hope of taking the Division and Conference titles. St Louis already has clinched home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs with their last win. The Blues are guaranteed to not fall below 2nd place in the Division. Washington (55-17-8, 118 points) on the other hand, clinched first place in their Metropolitan Division as well as the Eastern Conference a couple of weeks ago. They are a team that has been setting all kinds of records. Tonight’s puck is set to drop at 8:00 PM ET/ 7:00 PM CT.
Preview: This is the second of two meetings between the Blues and the Capitals in the regular season. The first game took place on March 26 in DC and ended with a Blues 4-0 shutout of the Capitals. With the way the Capitals had been playing, I don’t think anyone saw that one coming. The game was Troy Brouwer’s first game back in DC since being traded, unfortunately TJ Oshie had the flu and was not able to play. The Blues had goals from Kyle Brodziak, Colton Parayko, Vladimir Tarasenko and Patrik Berglund. It was St Louis’ 4th shutout in a row.
The Blues, in theory, have a chance to win the Division and Conference titles today. They will need some help from the Nashville Predators in their game with the Dallas Stars. Because the Blues and the Stars are tied in points (and Dallas has the tiebreaker), St Louis will need to end the day ahead of Dallas. This is easier said than done. Word has come out that Nashville has decided to scratch their best players. Mike Fisher, Shea Weber, Mike Ribeiro, Pekka Rinne and Roman Josi are all sitting out tonight. That will make it much more difficult for the Preds to beat the Stars, and thus help the Blues. So, it looks as if the Blues will more than likely be facing the Blackhawks in the first round of the playoffs. Get ready everybody, this will be a bumpy ride.
Robby Fabbri is returning after missing 4 games with a lower-body injury. Fabbri was injured March 29 in the game against Colorado. He has been anxious to get back in a game before the playoffs, and has been skating with the team and working hard to reach this goal. “I think that’s what I wanted, to get at least one game in,” Fabbri said. “Get the speed, the timing, get all that back. Hopefully hit my stride and get that back for Game 1 of the playoffs.” (blues.nhl)
Brian Elliott will be in net for the Blues tonight. He is ending the season hot. Elliott has tied Brent Johnson’s franchise record of 11 straight wins. Elliott did not get those wins in 11 straight games, Jake Allen was in goal to break that up a bit, but Elliott has recorded 11 straight wins. Hopefully he can keep this up come playoff time.
This will be TJ Oshie’s first game back in St Louis since being traded to Washington for Brouwer. This morning he was at the Blues’ practice to visit with his former teammates and friends. “It’s going to be weird going up against some of my really good buddies, guys that were standing next to me at my wedding, but it’ll be fun. It’ll be a good battle,” Oshie said earlier. Since being in Washington he has recorded 26 goals and 24 assists.
The Capitals have one more game remaining on their schedule. Originally tonight was to be their final game of the season, but the blizzard that hit the DC region this winter resulted in the rescheduling of their game with the Ducks. The Caps will have to travel home and play the Anaheim Ducks tomorrow to close out their season with back-to-back games.
Early in the season the Caps were burning up the rinks, winning 44 of their first 58 games (44-10-4). They have been dropping off lately and enter tonight’s game on a 3-game losing streak (0-1-2). This is the first time all season that Washington has lost 3 games in a row, and they are not going to want to enter the playoffs with an extended losing streak. That being said, it’s not surprising that they could not keep up that torrid pace they had going early in the season. Since they have their Division and Conference titles wrapped up, these last games don’t actually mean much to the Capitals. Most of the games recently for the team have been about setting personal and club records. (dumpnchase)
Goaltender Braden Holtby has been trying to tie or beat Martin Brodeur who holds the record of 48 wins in a single NHL season. Brodeur set the record in the 2006-07 season with the New Jersey Devils. Holtby won his 47th game a week ago in Colorado. He’s so close to this record he can taste it. Three times in the past 10 days the Capitals have lost games while Holtby was in net. Holtby is expected to start one of Washington’s two remaining games. (dumpnchase)
Injury Report: Jake Allen and David Backes are both out with lower-body injuries. Steve Ott is on LTIR after hamstring surgery and now also colitis.
Let’s Go Blues!
Review: On Thursday the Blues were in Chicago facing the Blackhawks in what could be a first round match-up in the playoffs for both teams. Jay Bouwmeester returned for the Blues after missing several games with an upper-body injury. Vladimir Tarasenko entered the game having tied his career-high of 37 goals scored in a single season.
A lot of this game did not look like it would go in the Blues’ favor. The Blackhawks would win battles and then the Blues would turn over the puck. This was repeated over and over.
Finally with 7:20 remaining in the second period, and while the teams were on 4-on-4 play, the inevitable happened and Chicago scored. First came a cross-ice pass from Patrick Kane, then came the shot from inside the dot through the 5-hole from Jonathan Toews. The Blues were trailing 1-0.
With 4:24 remaining in the second, a brief fight broke out between Ryan Reaves and Chicago’s Brandon Mashinter. It didn’t last long as Mashinter fell to the ice, but the fight got everyone to their feet. Both, of course, got 5 minute fighting majors.
The third period was going on with no goals scored and this game started to have the look of a 1-0 match. Late in the period (4:58 remaining) the referee made a questionable call and gave the Blackhawks a penalty shot. It wouldn’t be a game against the Hawks without one of these calls, right? Andrew Ladd came in on a breakaway and Bouwmeester gave him a bit of a hook. Ladd was able to get his shot off cleanly, so it should have never been a penalty shot. It should have been a penalty for hooking though. In any case, Brian Elliott made the save as Ladd tried to fake early then shoot high. The game was still 1-0.
St Louis pulls Elliott for the extra attacker with 1:19 remaining in regulation. And for once it works for the guys in Blue. Elliott makes it to the bench as Alexander Steen dumps the puck into the Chicago zone. Kevin Shattenkirk sends a hard shot that rebounds off of goaltender Scott Darling to Vladimir Tarasenko. Tarasenko grabs the rebound and shoots the puck past Darling’s stick side into an open net. The Blues tied the game with 1:16 remaining on the clock, 1-1.
The Blues were fired up as this game went to overtime. There was the usual back-and-forth play between the teams. Then with 1:23 on the clock, Paul Stastny enters the zone and passes back to Alex Pietrangelo. Pietrangelo skates up to the goal and passes behind him to Tarasenko. Darling was set up for a shot from Pietrangelo and was not ready for this extra pass. Tarasenko had an empty net to shoot at, and he wasn’t going to miss. The Blues win this in overtime. The Final: Blues 2, Blackhawks 1.
This game secured the Blues would have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. It also secured that Chicago is firmly in third place in the Central Division and no longer a threat for the title. The Blues are still in the hunt for the lead in the Division. It will come down to a winner-take-all for the title against the Stars on Saturday.
Tarasenko now has a new career-high of 39 goals scored in a single season.
Feature Image Courtesy Of Dinur / Flickr