BUFFALO, NY — Just three weeks ago, the Blues were limping along after winning just three of 12 games and their place in the playoffs wasn’t exactly secure.
Now, on an 8-0-1 streak, they’re just days away from earning a postseason spot.
With a little help, it could have come as early as Thursday night, but the late Vegas goal that sent Tuesday’s game against Vancouver into overtime boosted the Golden Knights’ score just enough, and now it can’t happen until Saturday at the earliest.
The Blues have 96 points and only three teams not in the current playoff picture, Vegas, Vancouver and Winnipeg, stand a chance of picking them up. The Blues only need one win to keep Vancouver and Winnipeg from catching them, but Vegas can still get 101 points, so the Blues need a six-point combination, either won by them or lost by Vegas, to earn a spot to back up. For practical reasons, the Blues probably only need five points, as a regular win and loss in Vegas would mean their first tiebreak.
But while the blues spot isn’t official yet, it’s pretty much inevitable. Hockeyviz.com puts their playoff chances at 99.993 percent, which means they would fail to qualify seven times out of 100,000.
Securing third place and avoiding a wild card spot takes a little longer. Nashville and Dallas both have nine games left and can reach 107 and 106 points respectively, so those chases will continue at least next week, although a regular Blues win over Nashville on Sunday would speed up the process.
The Blues have appeared in the playoffs in the last three seasons and nine of the last ten.
Pitcher returns home
Torey Krug has played nine seasons with the Boston Bruins, so he’s played a lot of games at TD Garden, but Wednesday’s game, where he wore another team’s uniform for the first time, was different.
“I’ve had a lot of games in this building,” he said Tuesday night, “a lot of big games and I’ve had some great memories. Just to be out there, I spent a little more time skating in the mornings than usual, just playing at a different end of the ice and trying to get used to it, but there was a bit more excitement for me.
“Coming back I didn’t really know what to expect or how I would feel but the other guys did a good job of making me feel comfortable and they kept everything light and then the tribute was great. I love these fans and I love playing in front of them, so it meant a lot to me.”
The game seemed like a natural return for Krug as it was his first game in Boston since signing with the Blues as a free agent, landing on his 31st birthday.
“I didn’t force it,” he said. “I wouldn’t have played if I wasn’t really comfortable, so it’s been a conversation I’ve had a lot over the past few days, but it was definitely a special evening. Saw a lot of great people (Tuesday) night, had a birthday dinner and of course a fun game today. Something that was definitely circled on the calendar.”
Berube said the Blues would monitor Krug’s time in the game, and he played 14:04, a season low for a game in which he didn’t get injured and was off the ice for the final 7:30 of the game. He was level on points with five shots on goal for the team lead and had one goal and one assist.
“I think you don’t want to overwhelm them too soon here,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. “He came out well, which is good.”
The Blues had an optional practice session at the Key Bank Arena on Wednesday. Berube said everyone came through the Boston game okay, including Pavel Buchnevich, who received a slap shot off his ankle. He said Tyler Bozak “probably won’t” play. Bozak’s activation will require a corresponding roster change, most likely Calle Rosen’s return to Springfield as Krug’s return provides the team with eight defenders. … Robert Thomas’ 10-game point streak is the longest by a Blue this season and the second-longest active streak in the NHL. It is the second-longest streak by a Blue under 22 and is two short of the team’s mark of 12 set by Bernie Federko in 1978-79.