Blues turn red-hot

TODD SAELHOF -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 4:31 PM ET


 They refused to pass up the rare celebration of a silver anniversary.

 Besides, the St. Louis Blues want to prove their regular-season struggles were nothing more than a harmless stumble when they suit up for their 25th straight NHL playoff appearance.

 "We absolutely didn't want to be known as the team that didn't make the playoffs for the first time in 24 years," Blues goaltender Chris Osgood told the St. Louis Dispatch after a 4-1 win Saturday over the Nashville Predators to clinch this year's post-season berth.

 "Look at the way we've played for the last month. That says it all right there. We had desperation. We had urgency. And now we've become the old Blues team I remember playing against (as a member of the Red Wings)."

 Before they can possibly face Detroit again, St. Louis will have to first dispose of the Pacific Division champion San Jose Sharks in the opening round of the playoffs as part of a successful run that began well before the end of the regular season.

 "We started our playoffs earlier than the other teams," said head coach Mike Kitchen, whose Blues hit the skids in January and February with only eight wins in 29 games.

 "Since then, I think every area has improved a bit," Kitchen continued.

 "We've been scoring more goals, which makes the guys more comfortable with the puck.

 "It's a matter of trying to get through the tight games. Just having a better start to each game has been better for us."

 It all amounted to a better end, as the Blues lost just four of their last 17 games.

 The March march kept alive the longest active streak of playoffs achieved in the four major professional sporting leagues.

 It looked in serious jeopardy with a lack of goals the largest concern.

 Proven scorers such as Keith Tkachuk, Doug Weight, Pavol Demitra and Scott Melanby struggled to find their range, as the Blues totalled just 14 goals over 12 winless January games (0-9-3) and just nine goals over nine winless February games (0-7-1-1).

 And it took its toll on the Blues, who fell from a comfortable spot in the top five of the Western Conference right out the bottom of the playoff standings.

 The extended funk cost head coach Joel Quenneville his job in late February.

 "We dug ourselves a pretty deep hole there," Weight told the Associated Press.

 "But we've pulled ourselves out of it and I'm proud of that.

 "We couldn't be playing better going into the playoffs. We believe we had our destiny in our own hands and we took advantage of it."

 Added Osgood: "And we've done it at the right time. I think we're peaking."

 A successful playoff run would make this anniversary party worth remembering.


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