Avalanche-Blues Preview

Although the St. Louis Blues admit they have their sets sight on the Presidents’ Trophy, they first need to capture the Central Division title.

They can make that a foregone conclusion Saturday by continuing their dominance over the second-place Colorado Avalanche, who arrive in St. Louis a bit banged up but surging toward the playoffs.

The Blues (52-17-7) defeated Buffalo 2-1 on Thursday to set a club record for victories. The previous mark belonged to the 1999-2000 team, which won the franchise’s last Presidents’ Trophy.

”It’s in back of our minds a little bit,” backup goaltender Brian Elliott said of securing the top record in the NHL. ”We definitely want to be the best. It’s all about keeping your head down and working and carrying that momentum into the playoffs."

St. Louis is excelling in that department with five wins in six games. It’s tied with Boston for the most points in the league with 111.

The Avalanche (49-21-6), seven points back of the Blues with six games to play, are also barreling toward the postseason with wins in five straight – their best since a six-game run Oct. 19-Nov. 2.

Each of Colorado’s last five victories have been by one goal and four have come in overtime or a shootout. The Avalanche are 28-4-6 in one-goal games, best in the league.

”What I like about it is we’re playing with a lot of confidence right now,” coach Patrick Roy said after Thursday’s 3-2 shootout win over the New York Rangers. ”The most important thing is, no matter what happens to us we believe in ourselves.”

The Avalanche stayed hot despite losing another forward. Already playing without points leader Matt Duchene, Colorado’s Cody McLeod suffered a left ankle injury Thursday.

”He’s a tough guy and he wants to play in the next game,” Roy said. ”For now he’s day to day."

Colorado is seeking 50 victories for the first time since the Stanley Cup-winning 2000-01 team won 52, and is trying to hold off Chicago for second place in the Central Division.

”That’s big for us,” said center Paul Stastny, who assisted on Tyson Barrie’s tying goal in the final minute of regulation. ”For us, home ice (in at least the first round) is pretty important.”

The Avalanche begin a crucial stretch with five of their final six games on the road, and although they’re pushing for home ice, they are an NHL-best 23-10-3 on the road.

Colorado has been unable to beat the Blues in any arena.

St. Louis has outscored the Avalanche 13-5 in winning the season’s first three meetings, and it’s seeking its first season sweep of the Colorado franchise since 1988-89, when the team was located in Quebec.

The Blues, 10-1-2 in their last 13 at home, have also won the last five matchups in St. Louis.

David Backes and Alexander Steen have powered St. Louis offensively against Colorado, with each scoring three times.

Steen, who has a team-high 33 goals, sat out Thursday with an upper-body injury and is listed as day to day.

Ryan Miller also didn’t play in what would have been his first game against his former team. He was given the day off after making 31 saves in Tuesday’s 1-0 shootout win over Philadelphia.

Miller stopped 26 shots in a 2-1 victory in Colorado on March 8.

Semyon Varlamov has a 2.29 GAA in winning the last five games for Colorado, but he’s lost all three matchups with the Blues this season while posting a 3.25 GAA. He needs one victory to tie Roy’s single-season franchise record of 40.

Gabriel Landeskog and Ryan O’Reilly, tied for the Avalanche lead with 26 goals, have combined for one score against St. Louis.