NHL

Before finishing stretch, Blues get extra work

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ST. LOUIS (AP)

(Eds: Updates.)By R.B. FALLSTROMAP Sports Writer

The St. Louis Blues are getting extra conditioning for players coming off injuries, and they are working out the bad taste that came from backing into the Central Division title.

Practice lasted more than 1 1/2 hours Monday, long enough that the Blues needed to resurface the ice. While there are no health issues, forwards Andy McDonald, Matt D'Agostini, Alex Steen and defenseman Roman Polak are rusty from layoffs.

Coach Ken Hitchcock said all four returning players have shown signs of fatigue.

Steen has three points in four games since recovering from a concussion that sidelined him on Dec. 30. D'Agostini missed 26 games with a concussion before returning Saturday and was minus-2 in 8:27 of ice time. McDonald missed six games with a shoulder injury, and had an assist in nearly 17 minutes. Polak had missed five games with a lower body injury.

''We're hoping D'Agostini, his next game's going to be better, hoping that Andy Mac's next game is going to be better,'' Hitchcock said. ''They're trying to get up to speed quickly. When push comes to shove, I have to make sure I know what I'm getting.''

The Blues were the first team to clinch a playoff spot and are second in the Western Conference with 106 points, one point behind Vancouver. They lost composure Saturday night in a 5-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are last overall in the NHL, but clinched their first division title since 1999-2000 anyway when the Nashville Predators lost to Chicago.

Forward David Backes said Monday's practice was ''much longer than usual, but for good reason, to jump start us back on track.''

''We need to make sure we're not easing into things,'' he said.

The previous game, the Blues lost in a shootout at Chicago.

''I don't see that as a lull, I see that as a lack of focus,'' Hitchcock said. ''I see that as a combination of `Haven't we done good?' and `Man, I can hardly wait to get to the end of the year and the playoffs.'

''Then when you get there, it's like `Oh, my god, what happened?'''

St. Louis has three games to go with the first two at home where despite the stumble against Columbus they're an NHL-best 30-5-4. The Detroit Red Wings come to town Wednesday and the Blues wrap up the home schedule Friday night against the Coyotes before finishing the regular season at Dallas on Saturday.

The Blues need one point to set a franchise record for home points, and if they win out they would set a franchise record for victories.

''I think he expects us to be going full force and not looking back,'' forward David Perron said. ''Today was a good day, a good practice, and hopefully it brings an edge to our next game.''

Tagged: Blues, Andy McDonald, Matt D'Agostini

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