DENVER — One of the most grueling stretches of the season should have left the St. Louis Blues struggling to stay in the playoff hunt.
Instead, they thrived through adversity and are comfortably in the postseason picture.
The Blues (38-28-5) played six games in nine days, including two back-to-back sets, and twice had three contests in four days. It was a punishing schedule that they capped with a 3-0 win at Arizona on Saturday, improving to 5-1-0 in that stretch.
St. Louis looks to continue this successful string with a win in Colorado against the Avalanche on Tuesday night. The Blues have beaten some quality teams — there was a 5-1 win at Pacific Division leader San Jose on Thursday — and now they need to take care of business against the worst team in the NHL.
If the first meeting of the month is any indication, the Blues should be just fine. They shut down the offensively challenged Avalanche for a 3-0 win in Colorado on March 5, and look for more of the same despite a hectic couple of weeks.
St. Louis has stayed fresh thanks to coach Mike Yeo’s plan to rest his team when he can and save the players’ legs for more meaningful games.
“Mike’s doing a good job being smart, letting us manage our energy,” captain Alex Pietrangelo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the win over the Coyotes. “It was an opportunity to get some rest here. This has been a tough trip — time change and travel and back-to-back (games). It’s good to get through this stretch.”
The Blues will take on a demoralized and angry Avalanche team coming off two straight losses, with the last one being particularly painful. Colorado took a 3-1 lead on Chicago in the third period Sunday at the United Center but had a meltdown after the Blackhawks scored a controversial goal midway through the third period.
Jonathan Toews scored at 10:17 to make it 3-2, but the Avalanche challenged that the Chicago captain was offside when Richard Panik brought the puck into the Colorado zone. Replays appeared to show the puck not on Panik’s stick as it crossed the blue line and Toews clearly in the offensive zone.
However, the goal was held up when the NHL Situation Room determined that there was “not conclusive evidence in determining whether Jonathan Toews tagged up at the instant the puck was on Richard Panik’s stick when Chicago entered the attacking zone prior to the goal.”
Bednar didn’t necessarily agree with the ruling.
“I guess I don’t necessarily fully understand it, but it’s a tag-up rule,” he said. “They were saying (the puck) was on his stick. That is what it is. For me, it’s 3-2, 9 1/2 minutes to go, that gives them life.”
It sure did. Chicago scored two more goals 17 seconds apart and Colorado went on to lose 5-3, and Toews’ goal becomes a secondary problem.
“It’s what we do after that bothers me,” Bednar said. “That call for me is the least of what bugs me of the way that game finished.”
It added to a season of misery for the Avalanche (20-48-3), who were the first team eliminated from the postseason more than a week ago.
Now they have to play the surging Blues, who have shut out opponents seven times in the last 29 games and have won five of their last six road contests.
“We’re all here with the same goal,” Blues right winger Scottie Upshall told the Post-Dispatch. “This has been a long year, but we’re a good group. We know what we’re capable of right now. We’re getting leadership, everyone’s pulling their weight. This time of year, it’s huge.”