Blues-Avalanche Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated April 20, 2013
The St. Louis Blues carried a three-game losing streak into April with their postseason fate uncertain as they clung to the Western Conference's final playoff spot. Thanks to a rejuvenated Brian Elliot in net, home-ice advantage in the first round is within reach. St. Louis seeks a fourth consecutive victory Sunday night versus the last-place Colorado Avalanche, who have won the last seven meetings in Denver. The Blues (26-16-2) had lost four of five heading into the month and were three points behind Detroit for seventh place in the Western Conference. Prior to a 4-2 loss to Los Angeles on March 28, they sent Elliott, who hadn't played since March 5, on a conditioning assignment in the AHL. His performances since have been a major reason St. Louis has climbed to sixth place, one point behind Los Angeles and San Jose for the fourth seed and home-ice advantage in the first round of the postseason. Elliott was 3-6-1 with a 3.65 goals-against average before being sent down, but he's gone 8-1-0 with a 1.01 GAA upon his return while the Blues have won nine of 11 in April. ''That seems so in the past,'' said Elliott, who was an All-Star and led the league with a 1.56 GAA last season. ''Right now, I'm just happy to look forward.'' Elliott made 21 saves in Friday's 2-1 win over Dallas after backstopping St. Louis to a pair of 2-1 shootout wins over Vancouver and Phoenix in the previous two contests. ''For someone to swallow their pride and go down and get your game organized, that's a great story,'' coach Ken Hitchcock said. ''To me, it's like a baseball pitcher going down to Triple-A, finding it, and then returning to have a heck of a season.'' Elliott is 2-1-0 with a 1.65 GAA in his last three starts versus the Avalanche, though Hitchcock would like to see the offense step up a bit more with the playoffs approaching. St. Louis has totaled nine non-shootout goals over its last eight games, scoring two or fewer in each. Its scoring woes also were evident in the first meeting with Colorado, as David Jones scored in overtime to give the Avalanche a 1-0 victory Feb. 20. That marked one of the few bright moments in an otherwise disappointing season for Colorado (14-23-7), which fell 4-1 to Edmonton on Friday. P.A. Parenteau's first-period goal tied the game, but the Avalanche couldn't build off the momentum. ''After we tied it up, it should have been the other way around. We should have been excited, we should have been in the game and we were flat," said Parenteau, who had his team-leading 17th goal. "Story of our year, really. Happened too many times this year. I wish I had the answer. It's tough right now. It's not fun. We've been playing some better hockey, but no life.'' Colorado, though, has played extremely well when St. Louis is in town. The last four wins in the streak at the Pepsi Center over the Blues have been by one goal. Semyon Varlamov made 20 saves Friday after Jean-Sebastien Giguere started the previous five games, and it's unclear who will be in net for this contest. Varlamov is 4-0-1 with a 1.53 GAA in his career against St. Louis, while Giguere is 2-2-1 with a 3.04 GAA in his last five appearances versus the Blues.
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