"If the Blues reach the Stanley Cup playoffs, this is the best story of the year in the league, hands down. And it still might be if they're edged out." - Ross McKeon, Yahoo! Sports.
What Ross the Boss is saying, in essence, is that whatever happens to the Blues at this point is gravy.
They managed to stay in the race until April 7, despite crippling injuries and goalie turmoil and long odds in the middle of rebuilding. They saved their coach's job, if it was indeed jeopardized. And according to the math, they still have a better shot at making the postseason dance in the No. 8 seed than the team they're chasing, the Nashville Predators.
The two worst days of any hockey fan's year is when his or her team is eliminated or when his or her most hated team wins the Stanley Cup. Thing is, how pissed off can a Blues fan really be if the team falls short?
Isn't this borrowed time? Half the League has bitten their fingernails down to the bone, but there's this prevailing underdog vibe with the Blues that even when they're entering their most important game of the season, the mood's pretty light for the fans.
With regard to the detrimental health effects of high blood pressure and fists hitting rec room walls, that's an enviable place to be for a fan near playoff time.
Of course, there's three ways for this run to end: Qualifying for the playoffs; missing the cut in a valiant, respectable manner; or going out like a punk. And while the first two options will likely tie into this "icing on the cake" vibe, that last one might at least stoke a little fan angst.
The Blues still have a slight edge over the Predators in probability for the last playoff spot because their schedule is much more favorable, at least on paper: Tonight at the Phoenix Coyotes; Friday vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets; Sunday at the Colorado Avalanche.
So tonight is your "trap game," as the Coyotes have been a pesky group that won three in a row before a humbling defeat to Los Angeles (6-1) over the weekend. In fact, they were on a 6-2-1 run in their last nine games coming into Saturday's game against LA.
What's odd is that the Blues aren't behaving like they're on borrowed time. They enter games nervous, or enter other ones overconfident. So tonight, according to beat writer Jeremy Rutherford of the Post-Dispatch, managing the emotions will be one of the keys:
1. Relax: There's a lot on the line, but the Blues have shown this season that when they're playing composed, they can be really good.
2. Bury your chances: The Blues had 26 shots on goal Saturday in Dallas, but misfired on 23 more shots. It's been a problem all season. If you don't put the puck on net, you can't score. And if the Blues fail to build on leads, as they did in Dallas, it will come back to bite them.
3. Hope for a good game from Chris Mason: Mason was not at his best Saturday in Dallas, and while there were plenty of other problems that night, goaltending was a big issue. Mason has been spectacular since taking over the No. 1 job, and the Blues need him to play that way for three more games to have a chance at the postseason.
That last point is important: Mason's been very human in April, where he's gone 1-1-1 and given up over three goals a game (in contract to his 2.51 GAA this season). It's not hard to see what effect good goaltending has had on this Blues team during its run. They need Mason to come through badly tonight.
It's been one of the more underplayed stories in this mad dash between the Blues and the Predators: That Chris Mason, the deposed former goalie for the Preds, has a chance to lead his team into the playoffs while keep Nashville out.
Then again, Mason's already a story: 24-21-7, 2.51 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Just like the rest of this team, it's difficult to imagine fans being all that upset if he or the Blues falter at the end of this miracle run.