Hockey Guy: Blues up the ante for conference foes

2014-03-03T10:24:00Z 2014-03-03T15:33:05Z Hockey Guy: Blues up the ante for conference foesBy Jeff Gordon

The Blues flexed their muscle while rallying for a 4-2 victory at Phoenix Sunday night.

They swarmed the Coyotes in the third period, attacking in waves. They finally got their offensive going while Ryan Miller held the fort at the other end of the ice.

“They pushed, and we couldn’t push back hard enough,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett told reporters afterward.

The Blues are rolling into the season’s final quarter with a new goaltender, Ryan Miller, and even more tenacious front lines, with tempo-setter Steve Ott joining the mix.

Folks questioning the Miller acquisition have no sense of the Blues' team dynamics. This deal was not about comparative save percentages, it was about fortifying this team's collective will to win.

To advance in the Stanley Cup playoffs, teams must get better and better as the competition intensifies. Skilled players get tougher and tough players make skilled plays.

And, yes, the goaltender must make the Timely Save that decides the game. Without that, the rest of it evaporates. Intangibles mean everything when teams are chasing the bouncing puck in an elimination game.

How will the rest of the Western Conference respond? You can expect a fair amount of activity before Wednesday's trade deadline.

The Kings appear to be the most aggressive shopper on this side of the league. Most NHL experts seem them landing a much-needed goal scorer, with Matt Moulson (Sabres) and Mike Cammalleri (Flames) appearing to be most likely.

Islanders winger Thomas Vanek is the best scorer on the market, but the GM Garth Snow is asking for too much: A first-round pick, a second-round pick and a top prospect for a player who seems destined to test free agency after the season.

The Ducks could sure use some more grit among their bottom six forwards. Another scorer and a top 4 defenseman could make a great team even greater.

General manager Bob Murray has extra draft picks, an extra goaltender and plenty of interesting young forwards to offer. It is hard to image a team better positioned to upgrade at the trade deadline.

The Sharks have a deep, well-balanced team and lots of players getting back to full speed after suffering midseason injuries. GM Doug Wilson doesn’t sound eager to make a big move at the expense of some of his up-and-coming players.

“Are we moving our first-round pick? No," Wilson told the San Jose Mercury News. “We're in the phase where, yes, we're trying to win. Are we going to use our young assets when we're two-thirds of the way through a reset and refresh? Unlikely. I never say never, but unlikely.”

The Wild seem likely to add a goaltender, since Niklas Backstrom is still plagued with a nagging abdominal muscle injury and Josh Harding appears unlikely to play again this season due to his ongoing battle against multiple sclerosis.

The Sabres have offered up former Blues netminder Jaroslav Halak, but the Wild could also take a run at Martin Brodeur or even Ilya Bryzgalov for insurance – depending on where the prices fall.

Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman doesn’t expect to do much. He could still use a real No. 2 center, which is why it was a bit surprising to see him move Brandon Pirri for middling draft picks. 

Pirri could have been part of the trade package for a more proven pivotman.

The Coyotes have hit a 4-5-2 rut amid speculation that the team could add a veteran scorer like Ray Whitney, who played well under Tippett before. But the bigger problem in Glendale has been the erratic play of goaltender Mike Smith.

The Stars worked back into the playoff picture with a 7-1-2 run. The rumor mill has the team shedding veterans like Whitney or injured defenseman Stephane Robidas, but veteran forwards Vernon Fiddler and Erik Cole are fitting nicely into the forward line chemistry.

The Canucks are a mess. They lost top winger Daniel Sedin to a leg injury while closing to the Senators in their stadium game. No. 2 center Ryan Kesler apparently wants out, despite public comments to the contrary.

Coach John Tortorella has buried goaltender Roberto Luongo. This big budget team has lost nine of its last 10 games and

GM Mike Gillis ought to hit the reset button because this team is not going anywhere this season, despite Tortorella’s claim to the contrary.

“From Mike Gillis right on down through our team, we need to keep believing as an organization . . . I’m not down,” Torts told the Vancouver media after his latest defeat. “Sure, you’d like to win a game and get five out of six before you go on the road, but it changes quickly.

“We are still in the middle of it. I know everybody talks about it -- you need to do this, that, the other thing to get in -- (but) there are four other teams that need to do the same thing. We are going to take each day, I am not going to get down on this club and we are going to keep working and try to find a way to scratch out wins.”

Follow Jeff Gordon on Twitter @gordoszone and on Facebook at Gordo'sZone.

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Jeff Gordon

This is the new home for sports columnist Jeff Gordon. Here you'll find his columns on the Cards, Rams, Blues and more, plus his daily "Tipsheet" blog about who's in and who's out in the world of sports.

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