Time is running out for the St. Louis Blues to make the playoffs.
Only two games remain in the regular season for St. Louis (43-31-6), which is on the outside looking in when it comes to the Western Conference playoff race. The Blues have a chance to move past the Colorado Avalanche for the second wild-card berth, but they can’t afford to stumble in the next 48 hours.
In other words, the pressure will be squarely on the Blues’ shoulders Friday night when they visit the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center.
St. Louis trails Colorado by one point for the second wild-card spot with a game in hand after the Avalanche lost at San Jose 4-2 on Thursday. The clubs meet Saturday in Denver with a victory by the Blues over the Avalanche putting them in the playoffs. There could be other scenarios for St. Louis to reach the postseason pending Friday’s result in Chicago.
The Blackhawks (33-37-10) already have been eliminated from playoff contention for the first time in a decade. But it is safe to assume that a pride-filled Chicago roster — not to mention a raucous crowd — is energized at the possibility of crushing the postseason hopes of its longtime division rival.
“It’d be nice to see them miss the playoffs,” Blackhawks right winger Patrick Kane said to the Chicago Sun-Times this week. “So it’d be nice to have a hand in that.”
The animosity was apparent Wednesday night as Chicago stormed back from a two-goal deficit for a 4-3 victory over St. Louis. Defenseman Duncan Keith scored in the final seconds to complete the comeback and weaken the Blues’ playoff chances.
St. Louis goaltender Jake Allen took the blame for the loss. Other Blues players said nerves might have played a role.
“If you’re going to play nervous, then you better play smart,” St. Louis coach Mike Yeo said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The team vowed to perform better on the back end of its home-and-home series with Chicago.
“It (stinks), but at the end of the day, we have to stay positive,” Blues center Brayden Schenn said. “Two-game winning streak here to get into the postseason.”
Allen is expected to get another chance in net Friday for St. Louis. The 27-year-old is 27-24-3 with a 2.74 goals-against average and .906 save percentage in 58 games (55 starts) this season. He is winless in his last four contests.
In 14 career games against Chicago, Allen is 8-5-1 with a 2.53 GAA and .915 save percentage.
The Blackhawks most likely will counter in net with Jean-Francois Berube, who made 31 saves during Wednesday’s victory. Berube is 3-5-1 with a 3.84 GAA and .893 save percentage on the season. He has made three career appearances against the Blues (1-0-1, 3.39 GAA, .901 save percentage).
The game could mark the final appearance at the United Center for Blackhawks forward Patrick Sharp, whose contract expires at the end of the season. The 36-year-old has avoided specifics when asked about his future plans. He won three Stanley Cup championships with Chicago in 2010, 2013 and 2015, and has scored 249 goals in 747 games with the franchise.
Although Sharp’s future is up in the air, coach Joel Quenneville and general manager Stan Bowman definitely will be back. Team president John McDonough announced Thursday that he planned to retain both despite missing the playoffs.
“We might have to reinvent ourselves a little bit,” McDonough said to The Athletic. “We might have to be a little bit creative. We might have to dial it up a little bit more. But I’m confident this is a group that’s going to do it. I’m certainly disappointed where we are right now.”