The St. Louis Blues could be facing a playoff preview on this road trip, but that’s only if they can wrap up the Central Division.
The Blues could clinch the division crown Thursday night with some help as they try for a 10th straight victory over the playoff-bound Minnesota Wild.
St. Louis (52-20-7) has dropped three straight in regulation and leads Colorado by two points in the Central. The Blues could clinch the division with a victory over the Wild and a regulation loss by the Avalanche in Vancouver later Thursday.
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Ken Hitchcock’s club has scored three goals in this losing skid, falling 4-1 at home to Washington on Tuesday. Alexander Steen returned from a three-game absence with an upper-body injury but failed to add to his team-high 33 goals.
”I think it’s across the board,” Hitchcock said. ”When you’re not scoring, you need to shoot, but it’s more the execution after we got down.”
The Blues will be without second-leading scorer David Backes, who has 27 goals but is out with a lower-body injury. Backes will travel on this two-game trip and no decision has been made on him for Friday’s contest against Dallas.
If St. Louis wins the division, it will play a wild-card opponent determined by whether it finishes with the first or second seed in the Western Conference.
That means this trip could feature a first-round preview since Minnesota (42-26-12) is locked into the first wild-card spot while the Stars hold the second one.
The Blues haven’t lost to the Wild since a 3-2 shootout defeat Nov. 19, 2011.
Minnesota figures to be brimming with confidence after defeating the league’s best team to clinch a second straight playoff berth. Ryan Suter’s goal with 65 seconds remaining in regulation tied the game and the Wild went on to post a 4-3 shootout win over Boston on Tuesday.
”The message was, ‘Let’s not wait for anything. Let’s not back our way into anything. Let’s not come through the back door. Let’s go charging through the front door,”’ coach Mike Yeo said. ”And what a better way to do it against a team like Boston.”
The Wild are 5-0-1 in their last six games, beating powerhouses Los Angeles and Pittsburgh and losing a shootout at defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago.
"We want to build our game right now," Yeo said. "And I said it at the time, I’m glad we’re playing teams like Boston and Pittsburgh and L.A., all these teams. Listen, if we want to have a chance of doing anything, we’re going to have to beat teams, we’re going to have to be at our best."
Yeo did not rule out resting players down the stretch in order to prepare for the postseason.
T.J. Oshie had his first career hat trick in St. Louis’ 5-1 win over the Wild on March 27, and a team-high five goals in the season series.
The Blues have outscored Minnesota 12-4 in four meetings, and the Wild are 0 for 23 on the power play in the last six matchups.
Zach Parise has eight points during the Wild’s last six games and Jason Pominville has six after he had two goals and an assist versus the Bruins. They have combined for three points against the Blues.