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The St Louis Blues’ hopes of claiming the regular-season Western Conference championship were dealt a blow on Saturday night at the hands of an unlikely source.
Separated by 22 wins and 45 points in the standings, the Blue Jackets proved that there are no "gimme" games in the NHL, even with the playoffs fast approaching.
The red-hot R.J Umberger scored two goals, including the game-winner in the second period, and rookie netminder Allen York continued his impressive stretch by making 34 saves to pick up his third straight victory. The Saturday night stunner was made even more surprising given the fact that the game was played at the Scottrade Center where the Blues had a league best home record of 30-4-4 heading into the game.
On a three-game winning streak since being blown out on Monday in Detroit, Columbus has played some of their best hockey of the season in convincing wins over solidified playoff teams like Detroit, Florida and St. Louis.
Although the team received contributions from everyone in the lineup in the three wins, the story without question has been the play of the unheralded York.
A sixth-round pick in 2007, the 22-year-old has made 30+ saves and allowed no more than two goals in his last three starts since being pressed into duty because of injuries to both Steve Mason and Curtis Sanford.
“It’s huge for our confidence," York told the Associated Press following his team’s upset of St. Louis. “We showed that we’re not the team that everyone thinks we are. We’re a very dangerous team.”
For the Blues, the game was anything but a confidence boost, but should be one that shocks the team into realizing that they need to be at their best in these important late season games, no matter who the opponent is.
“To tell you the truth, we don’t really care right now how many points we’ve got,” captain David Backes told the Associated Press. “The slate’s wiped clean for the playoffs, which is really the big picture. If we’re not playing our best, whether you’re the 1, 2 or 3 seed, it doesn’t matter.”
Despite the loss, St. Louis was able to clinch their first division title since the 1999-2000 season, but now find themselves one point behind the Vancouver Canucks for first-place in the Western Conference with three games remaining for each team.
The biggest reward of claiming the regular season Conference crown is of course having home-ice advantage in every series on the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, something that would greatly benefit the Blues considering how dominant they have been at home this year.
With their three remaining games being against teams with much to play for in terms of playoff positioning, the Blues quest for first in the West certainly won’t be easy. Home games against Detroit on Wednesday and Phoenix on Friday present major challenges, followed by the club’s final regular season game against what will likely be a very desperate Stars team when they play in Dallas on Saturday.
Central Division Notes
Chicago Blackhawks – The Blackhawks erased a two-goal second period deficit but could not find the go-ahead goal and dropped a 5-4 shootout decision to the Minnesota Wild on Sunday night. A win would have put Chicago in a three-way tie with Detroit and Nashville but the missed point sees them in a fifth-place tie with the Predators at 98 points, while the Red Wings sit fourth in the West with 99. Chicago will wrap up their schedule with the return match against the Wild in Minnesota on Thursday, and then finish with what will be a massive game in Detroit on Saturday.
Columbus Blue Jackets – With his two-goal performance in the win over St. Louis, R.J Umberger was the league’s hottest scorer in the past week. With eight goals in his last six games, Umberger is salvaging what has been his least productive season since 2006-07.
Detroit Red Wings – Detroit picked up a vital two points in a 2-1 shootout victory over the Southeast-leading Florida Panthers yesterday at the Joe Louis Arena. Jiri Hudler scored his 25th goal of the year in the second period and then tallied the shootout winner to move the Red Wings back ahead of Nashville for fourth-place in the West. The club’s final week of regular season action includes a visit to St. Louis on Wednesday, followed by home games against New Jersey on Thursday and Chicago on Saturday.
Nashville Predators – Despite a tough home loss to Chicago on Saturday night, the Predators still have a good chance to claim home-ice for their 1st found playoff series. One point back of Detroit, Nashville has somewhat of a favorable schedule for their final three games of the regular season. The club will expect to pick up four points in home games against Minnesota and Dallas on Tuesday and Thursday before heading to Colorado for their season finale against the Avalanche on Saturday.