Finally could be Blues year

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:56 PM ET


 This might be Bryce Salvador's fourth consecutive year in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the 25th straight for his St. Louis Blues, but don't suggest it might be old hat.

 Not after what the Brandon-born defenceman and his team have gone through this season.

 To recap, the Blues came out red-hot, winning 20 of their first 29 games, well on their way to extending the longest current streak of playoff appearances in the four major sports.

 That's when someone flipped the switch.

 For the next two months, hockey in St. Louis was about as much fun as brushing an angry Doberman's teeth.

 The Blues went 9-21-6 in their next 36 games, costing head coach Joel Quenneville his job and dropping the team further and further down the Western Conference ladder.

 "Every team goes through a little spell, a rough streak, but we had a streak that lasted months," Salvador was saying this week. "It was something that I hadn't experienced, and I think it's been awhile since the Blues had experienced something like that... to actually go from one extreme to the other.

 "You try everything to get out of it. It was weird to see and experience."

 The mess created a win-or-else scenario for the final month of the season, and the Blues pulled it out, going 10-4-2 down the stretch to sneak into seventh place, tied with eighth-place Nashville.

 The streak was salvaged, but not until after what Salvador described as a roller-coaster ride.

 "It's been pretty stressful here for awhile with the team, and going right down to the wire," the 28-year-old said. "We got that weight off our back. Now we can do the damage that we know we can do."

 The thing is, the Blues now find themselves under the weight of another cross, one they've been bearing for years: all those playoff appearances, and not a single Stanley Cup, not even a trip to the final, to show for it.

 What should be an accomplishment has turned into a burden, particularly when you look at their 10 first-round flameouts.

 "Hopefully, this is the year," Salvador said. "You need a lot of things to go your way. With the real tough season we had, hopefully we were able to learn from it and benefit from it."

 Salvador's own season wasn't without its ups and downs.

 After missing the first month with a broken wrist, he started strong, then struggled after Christmas.

 Down the stretch, though, he felt like his old self, and even scored a critical overtime goal to beat Chicago, March 27.

 A rugged 6-foot-2, 215-pounder, Salvador isn't known for supplying offence. He does have two playoff goals in 31 games, including one in overtime three years ago, but physical play is his game.

 And that means he's perfectly suited for this time of year.

 "It's a totally different game," Salvador said. "Everyone picks up their game. The intensity and the speed is raised. And each round you go, the quality of the hockey gets better. Even when you don't think it's possible, it is."

 One NHL scouting director, Bob Strumm of Columbus, called the Blues the "wounded animal" of the playoffs, a dangerous team that could do some damage.

 "I don't think too many teams will take us lightly," Salvador said. "You've seen in the past, it doesn't matter where you finish. The last two years we've had teams that barely make the playoffs in the final."

 And the last 25 years, the Blues have usually gotten in easily, then crashed and burned.

 They may as well try it this way for a change.


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