ST. LOUIS - The St. Louis Blues are clinging to the hope of another miracle run to the playoffs. Time is running short, especially after the latest home-ice failure.
The Blues are seven points out of the final Western Conference playoff spot with only 13 games remaining. They've got three teams to leapfrog, having dropped to 11th place after Tuesday's 5-3 loss to the Colorado Avalanche.
And despite recent improvements under interim coach Davis Payne, they're still the NHL's worst team at home with a dismal 12-17-5 record.
Yet, St. Louis remains optimistic heading into Thursday's game at New York against the Rangers. The Blues finished with a 9-1-1 rush last spring, vaulting to sixth place and ending a three-year playoff drought with much the same cast, and the players believe there's no reason why they can't recapture that feeling.
"You never know," forward David Perron said. "How many games we got left? If we win them all. . . . We did that last year, and we're ready to do it again this year."
It's an uphill task, given that five of the remaining seven games this month are against teams who are currently in playoff positions; the Rangers are only three points out of the final Eastern Conference spot. There are two games remaining against the Blackhawks, second in the West, and one against the Devils, fourth in the East.
Seven games are at home, which would be a positive for most teams. The Blues have 20 road wins, third-most in franchise history, but have blown too many leads at home.
They had shown signs of a home-ice turnaround before the Olympic break and an extended trip that followed, winning three in a row, before fizzling against the Avalanche.
Even with a sweep of the three remaining games against the Predators, seventh in the West and nine points ahead of the Blues, they'd need help. Goalie Chris Mason figured a 10-3 finish might be enough, but knew the best policy was not to look ahead.
"We're all aware of the points we have to make up," Mason said. "We have to go in and focus and get points in our next game. Let's worry about New York."
The Blues basically stood pat at the trade deadline, banking on a surge from underachievers like Brad Boyes and Paul Kariya to complement a young roster studded with recent first-round draft picks. Boyes has only 12 goals after totalling 76 the previous two seasons, and only two of Kariya's 15 goals have come at home.
Mason, the dominant factor in the Blues' finish last season, has been a lot more inconsistent.
Effort alone simply hasn't been enough lately, either. The Blues outshot Colorado 39-26 and dominated most of the third period without scoring, and had a hefty advantage in shots (38-20) in a loss at Minnesota on Sunday that wrapped up a 4-2 trip.
Plus, against Colorado they squandered a goal that matched the franchise record for fastest to start a game. Alex Steen put the Blues ahead at the eight-second mark, but it was their only lead.
"I don't know if you can script a better start than that," forward David Backes said.
Payne, elevated from Peoria of the AHL to replace Andy Murray in early January, refused to entertain doom and gloom talk. He's certain there'll be no trouble motivating players to chase a dream that appears to be slipping away.
"Not difficult in that regard," Payne said. "Lots of fight and lots of time left for our hockey club."
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