Blues-Blue Jackets Preview
The St. Louis Blues are starting to play like the team that used a huge second-half surge to reach the playoffs last season.
The Blues will try to extend their season-high win streak to five games Monday night when they open a three-game road trip against the last-place Columbus Blue Jackets.
Last season, St. Louis (21-19-7) posted the best record in the Western Conference over the final 41 games to clinch its first postseason berth in four seasons. The Blues will need a similar push more than halfway through this season as they sit eight points out of a playoff spot.
The club seems to have found a spark since coach Andy Murray was fired before a Jan. 2 home loss to Chicago and replaced by Davis Payne. St. Louis was outstanding in allowing two goals while sweeping a three-game homestand, including a 4-1 win over the Rangers on Saturday.
Chris Mason made 21 saves and has posted a 1.26 goals-against-average during the winning streak.
"The last month, we talked about getting extra saves," Mason said. "I wasn't doing it the last month. Games are so close, and every game we seem to play is a tight game. Those saves make a difference and it was nice to be able to make them and keep the guys in."
Mason is 14-3-1 with a 2.01 GAA in his career against Columbus (18-23-9), including a 27-save effort Tuesday in a 4-1 home victory. He gave up three goals in a 5-2 road loss to the Blue Jackets on Nov. 30 as St. Louis conceded three in the final period after the game was tied.
The Blues turned in a much better third period Saturday to snap a 1-1 tie. Roman Polak and Alex Steen each had a goal and an assist in the final 20 minutes.
"We got back to St. Louis Blues hockey in the third," Payne said. "We're just sticking with the plan. We're not there to change our game in the third period. There would be some times when you have to if you're chasing the lead, but when you've got one, it's about keeping your feet moving, it's about moving in sync."
U.S. Olympian David Backes added an empty-net goal to snap a streak of 12 games without a goal. Backes has eight points in his last eight games.
Columbus captain Rick Nash scored twice to snap a career high-tying 11-game goal scoring skid in Saturday's third straight loss, 6-5 to Chicago. Kristian Huselius had a goal and two assists, and Kris Russell and Raffi Torres also scored.
"It was a wide-open hockey game," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "I thought both teams' defenses were vulnerable. We had a lot of chances to score and they had chances. We poured a lot into today and didn't get the result."
The Blue Jackets found their offense after scoring a total of one goal in losses to St. Louis and Chicago, but paid the price for defensive mistakes.
"We found a way to score a couple goals which is a good thing, and on the other end we have to tweak our defensive play," center Antoine Vermette said.
Steve Mason's dismal sophomore season continued Saturday as he allowed six goals on 31 shots. Last year's Calder Trophy winner is 1-8-1 with a 3.43 GAA in his last 11 appearances.
St. Louis is 9-2-0 in its last 11 meetings with Columbus.