Blues take advantage of final homestand before Olympic break

It wasn't pretty, but the Blues did manage to grab seven of eight possible points during this four-game homestand to take over the top spot in the Central ahead of the Blackhawks, who also have 84 points but have played three more games.

The Blues' bench congratulates T.J. Oshie after his shootout goal Saturday afternoon.

Chris Lee / Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- Somewhere in the bowels of the Scottrade Center on Saturday afternoon, Blues goalie Brian Elliott and forward Vladimir Tarasenko had a brief conversation.

"Before the third period Tarasenko was next to me at the urinal and he was saying 'Keep going' and I said 'Go get one for me' and he did in the end," Elliott said.

Before long the Blues had coughed up a third-period lead for the fourth consecutive game, went to overtime for the fourth straight game and then emerged with a 4-3 victory in the shootout after T.J. Oshie and Tarasenko netted goals.

That TMI snapshot, courtesy of Elliott, from the St. Louis locker room -- apologies for the mental picture -- adds to the strange final days of the Blues (39-12-6) before the Olympic break.

Those would now be your Western Conference Central Division-leading Blues, who now have 84 points in 57 games after earning seven points in a wild four-game homestand.

"The last couple weeks have been real strange hockey for us," forward Brenden Morrow said. "There's parts of our game we're going to have to clean up down the stretch but this is the point of the season where there's some sloppy things happening. You've just got to grind it out and find ways to collect points that are going to be huge."

The Blues went 7-2-1 in their final 10 games before the Olympic break to take over the top spot in the Central ahead of the Blackhawks, who also have 84 points but have played three more games.

St. Louis was able to celebrate another victory Saturday despite going fruitless on eight power-play opportunities that stretched a dubious streak to 0 for the last 20 on the advantage.

The recent lack of success on the power play may explain, in part, some of the problems the Blues have had with putting teams away when they've had leads in the third period.

This, of course, a team with some concerns going forward despite its success. But all in all they feel good about where they are at right now, which is currently second in the Western Conference behind Anaheim.

The last couple weeks have been real strange hockey for us.

-- Brenden Morrow

"You take the good with the bad," said defenseman Barret Jackman, who played in his 700th NHL game Saturday. "I think this team had really learned from some mistakes. We've given up some leads here in the last few games but found ways to hang on and get a point or two. When teams are struggling it's tough to get those points but we've been doing it and you have to be happy with first in our division right now."

That was a goal that the Blues set going into these final few games. They knew they could make up some ground on the Blackhawks and coach Ken Hitchcock had said on several occasions that they needed to accumulate as many points as possible during this stretch.

It wasn't pretty, but they did grab seven of eight possible points during this four-game homestand. That will make for happy flights as the roster disperses for either the Winter Olympics in Russia or wherever the rest of the guys go for a little rest and relaxation.

"I think it's been a very difficult challenge for the players to maintain a hard focus and they deserve a lot of credit for every time we got pushed and shoved we answered the bell," Hitchcock said. "I think the third period, for me, where we started to control the game. We took a couple penalties, but for the most part we controlled the hockey game in the third period when we needed to. ... I think everybody knows we've got a whole other gear we're going to have to play at and we've got another gear we can play at but to get points every night is pretty important right now." 

The Blues have 25 games remaining.

They don't play again until Feb. 26 at Vancouver and then at Anaheim two nights later. Those games are part of a stretch that includes six of their first seven games after the break away from Scottrade.

That won't be easy, but they know that.

"I told the players tonight when we come back March and April is for them," Hitchcock said. "They have to really grab it coming back. So my concern now is the process to get the team playing its best hockey at the right time. I think we've played awful well. We've been really resilient all year. We've responded to challenges all year. But it's going to really get dialed up when we get back. Our players recognize that and I think some guys are really looking forward to it. ... I think there's a whole other level of emotional engagement that we'd like to see from our team and I think come March we're going to get it."

You can follow Nate Latsch on Twitter (@natelatsch) or email him at natelatsch@gmail.com.