Blues-Lightning Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 16, 2012
While losses at home have been few and far between for the Blues, they're realizing wins are harder to come by outside St. Louis. The Blues try to avoid matching a season-high third consecutive loss Saturday night when their seven-game trip continues against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Coach Ken Hitchcock's team has comfortable leads atop the Central Division and the Western Conference - a seven-point edge over Detroit in the division and six-point advantage over Vancouver in the conference. They also have a three-point cushion on the New York Rangers in the race for the Presidents' Trophy and home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Those leads are in large part due to their dominance at home with a 29-4-4 record that included a 21-game streak with at least one point. However, the Blues (45-19-8) have been uneven in their attempts to carry that play on the road, falling to 1-1-1 on their road swing with Thursday's 2-0 defeat at Carolina. "We did a lot of good things,'' Hitchcock said. "(But) when the game was on the line in the third period we didn't manage the puck well, and that was the difference in the hockey game.'' The only other time the Blues have dropped three straight was an 0-2-1 stretch from Dec. 27-31. While St. Louis is playing seven consecutive road games, it will be idle after this one until Wednesday, when it opens a three-game stretch against Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix. The Blues are hoping the addition of Jaden Schwartz will jump-start their offense after he signed a three-year entry-level contract Tuesday. The 14th overall pick in 2010, Schwartz had 15 goals and 26 assists in 30 games for Colorado College and also captained the Canadian Junior National Team, totaling two goals and three assists in six games as the team won a bronze medal. "It's been a dream of mine to play in the NHL and I'm excited to be able to do it as a St. Louis Blue," Schwartz told the team's official website. "The Blues are having a terrific season and I will do whatever they need me to do just to help out." For this game, that may be replacing Andy McDonald, who left the second period of Thursday's game with a shoulder injury. His status is uncertain. As the Blues zero in on a high playoff seed, time is running out for the Lightning (32-31-7) to simply make the postseason. Tampa Bay, currently 11th in the Eastern Conference, has dropped four of five following Thursday's 3-1 loss to Toronto that dropped it to 1-2 on its seven-game homestand. "They're all frustrating when you don't get the job done,'' said Ryan Malone, whose seven-game point streak ended. Fifty-goal scorer Steven Stamkos was also frustrated, taking a season-high four minor penalties while being held off the scoresheet despite six shots. Stamkos, though, has scored 31 of his goals at home and has not gone two consecutive games without a point there this season. Stamkos came up empty in Tampa Bay's 3-0 loss at St. Louis on Nov. 12, but he did have four goals and four assists in his previous three games against the Blues. Brian Elliott made 19 saves in that victory for the second of his six shutouts in 2011-12. The Lightning have a six-game point streak at home versus St. Louis, going 4-0-1 with one tie since a 5-1 loss March 24, 2000.
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