Blues, Vancouver in a fight for first

2012-01-12T00:15:00Z 2012-01-18T18:41:41Z Blues, Vancouver in a fight for firstBY JEREMY RUTHERFORD • > 314-444-7135

Ken Hitchcock wasn't on the bench for the Blues' two wins over the Vancouver Canucks earlier this season, and he's seen little film of the games, but he knows this:

"This is not the team that St. Louis played in the first month of the season ... this is a different team," Hitchcock said. "Same players, but a much different team."

The Blues, No. 2 in the Western Conference standings after their second consecutive shutout Tuesday, have an opportunity to match No. 1 Vancouver's points total with a win tonight over the Canucks. But it will come much harder than their 3-0 and 3-2 wins over the Canucks in a 10-day span in late October and early November.

Vancouver, which finished runner-up to Boston for the Stanley Cup last summer, fell to 6-7-1 after its second loss to the Blues on Nov. 4, but since then the Canucks have reeled off a 21-7-2 record.

"They're playing like they did all last year at the end," Hitchcock said. "It'll be a really good test from an individual compete standpoint and it will also be a good test for the details of your game because Vancouver makes you pay if you don't have good details. I think our players are excited and I know our coaching staff is excited to see how we measure up."

The Canucks enter tonight's matchup with 57 points, while the Blues and Chicago are chasing them with 55 points. The Blues are in search of a season-high five-game winning streak and haven't allowed a goal in 146 minutes, 6 seconds. Moreover, the club is 9-0-1 in its last 10 games at Scottrade Center.

One could make the case that the Blues, who were just 6-6 after their second win over Vancouver, are a different club, too.

"That's why it's going to be such a good matchup because we've ramped it up a lot since we've played them as well," Blues forward T.J. Oshie said. "It's always a battle. I think, for me, ever since that first year in the playoffs, when we went four and out, there's always been a little sense of rivalry, a little sense of payback. It doesn't really go away if it's the only playoff berth you've ever had."

Oshie was referring to Vancouver's first-round sweep of the Blues in 2008-09. Even after the early exit, the club appeared to be on the verge of contending soon, but it has missed the postseason the past two years.

"I was a little surprised because after our playoff series with them, I thought they would be a powerhouse," Canucks forward Henrik Sedin said. "But they were never able to take that jump and I think it came from having a lot of young guys coming up at the same time. It's tough to get the guys playing night in and night out and knowing what it takes. That's what they have right now.

"I absolutely think for sure they're going to make the playoffs (this season). They're a tough team to play and I can't see them missing the playoffs. They're playing extremely well, as well as anyone in the league. It looks like 'Hitch' is getting the best out of that group."

The Blues have surrendered a combined 34 shots in their last two games and outscored opponents 10-0 in their last seven periods. That will be put to the test tonight against the Canucks, who average 31.8 shots and 3.23 goals a game.

Sedin leads the NHL with 50 points, but the Blues have been rather successful against Sedin, his twin brother Daniel, and Ryan Kesler. This season, the three have accounted for just one point, a Kesler goal, in two games. They have a combined plus-minus rating of minus-4 in those two games.

"I think we just play them hard," defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "We've got (David) Backes' line and they are shutting down pretty much every team that we're playing right now. I think our 'D' is doing a pretty good job, too. That's what we're going to have to do (tonight)."

That task may be difficult, however, as the Blues might be without defenseman Barret Jackman. Jackman was stiff Wednesday after being hit into the boards awkwardly Tuesday by Montreal's PK Subban. Cade Fairchild has been recalled from Peoria in case Jackman can't play.

"You miss 'Jacks' because he plays with a real competitive edge and it drags other people along with him," Hitchcock said. "But we've had to survive single games and knowing 'Jacks,' it will take a lot for him to be out. But we'll miss him (if he doesn't play)."

The Blues and Vancouver will have identical rest — one day off — going into their third meeting of the season. In the two previous games, the Canucks were playing on the second night of back-to-back games, while the Blues enjoyed three and four days off, respectively.

"We know it's going to be a challenge, but we like to rise to those challenges," Pietrangelo said. "There's something added on the line there ... certainly we want to be first and they want to hold that spot. We have two wins against them this year, but it's a different team. It's a team that's playing really well and so are we, so it's going to be an interesting game."

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