The road doesn't get any easier for the Blues. In fact, it's just about to get real.
Tonight the Blues travel to Vancouver to play the Western Conference-leading Canucks, the Blues' fifth game in seven days. The Canucks are skilled, they can score, and they have Roberto Luongo. In other words, Vancouver is a serious handful.
Adding to the intrigue are the point standings; the Blues currently sit at 87 points, the Canucks have 88. Which means that yes, first place is most definitely on the line tonight in Canada.
The records for the Blues and Canucks are remarkably similar. Both teams have played 64 games. Both teams have won 40. The one and only difference is how each team has accrued their losses: the Blues have lost seventeen games in regulation and seven in overtime; the Canucks have one more overtime loss, giving them their single extra point.
The way the two teams have gone about compiling their records, though, could not be more different. The Canucks lead the NHL in scoring, with 204 goals scored on the season against 156 goals allowed; that's virtually the exact same ratio as the offensive powerhouse Red Wings (202 scored, 151 against). The Blues, on the other hand, have allowed the second-fewest goals in all of hockey this year with 128; only the New York Rangers have been stingier at 124 goals allowed. Goals scored, though, tells the tale of the Blues' biggest weakness; they've scored 166 on the year, substantially fewer than most of the NHL's power teams.
Luongo has been solid if unspectacular this season, ranking 13th among qualifying goalies with a 2.34 goals against average. The Blues will likely start Brian Elliott in goal tonight; despite a slight downturn recently Elliott still ranks first among all NHL goalies with a 1.65 GAA. His .937 save percentage is second best in the league. He hasn't played since the 22nd of February, though, which could be a positive or negative depending on how one wanted to look at it.
So it's offense against defense tonight; a scoring juggernaut against a lockdown Ken Hitchcock Special. The difference in the game may very well come down to which team has more energy. The Blues are playing the fifth of a six-game road trip, and their fifth game in a week. The Canucks are coming off a six-game trip of their own; tonight is their first home game since the 18th of February. The Canucks do have the significant advantage of a day off; the Blues played last night in Edmonton.
Two remarkably evenly-matched teams. A high-powered offense against an air-tight defense. A Hall of Fame goalie versus a goalie playing at a Hall of Fame level. Two tired teams, but one with a day off and home cooking on their side.
First place in the West and the NHL as a whole is on the line. Go get 'em, boys.