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Oshie's return
St. Louis Blues forward T.J. Oshie returned to action Tuesday night after missing 31 games because of a broken ankle. (Chris Lee / Post-Dispatch)

Wednesday night, Blues CEO Mike McCarthy made the pilgrimage to the Duck Room at Blueberry Hill to see Chuck Berry do his monthly one-hour set. It's a precious St. Louis tradition.

And it was a first-time, once-in-a-lifetime experience for McCarthy, the transplanted New Yorker who moved here to run the Blues on a daily basis. McCarthy crossed another must-see attraction from his St. Louis list.

"This has been extremely gratifying for me," McCarthy said. "My family loves it here. I saw Chuck Berry live. It was amazing. Chuck Berry duck-walked right at me."

Berry is 84. The rock and roll icon keeps rolling on. Nothing seems to get him down for long, not even a recent illness that cut short a Jan. 1 show in Chicago.

The Blues are a lot younger than Berry, but McCarthy appreciates their perseverance just the same.

As they approach the break for the NHL All-Star game, the Blues are hanging tough. Some might say they're hanging on, given the rough terrain of the Western Conference.

Entering the weekend, the Blues were only three points out of eighth place and the final playoff spot. Given all the cruel and unusual punishment they've endured because of injuries , the Blues have managed to stay close.

The website sportsclubstats.com gives the Blues a 37 percent chance to make the playoffs. But McCarthy is more confident than that. And he has reason to be, given the return of T.J. Oshie to the lineup, and the encouraging signs of progress being made by Andy McDonald and David Perron as they recuperate from serious concussions.

The Blues, having used 11 players from their minor-league affiliate in Peroria, are in 11th place in the West. But things could be much worse. The injury bug that ruined their 9-2-1 start to the season could have left the Blues hopelessly behind in the standings. But the young, "Almost Grown" Blues won't go away.

"I can't imagine how you wouldn't feel good about our playoff chances at this point," McCarthy said. "There's nothing but optimism coming from our side. And our fans feel it, too. You can feel it in the arena. I'm proud of our guys, the way they've weathered the onslaught."

Blues fans are the most loyal in town. The payoffs have been few in recent seasons, but the team has opened the 2010-2011 season by playing before 25 sellout crowds in 25 home dates at Scottrade Center.

Columbus comes to Scottrade for tonight's game, which will be another sellout. With an average of 19,150 a game, the Blues rank seventh in the NHL in home attendance. In 2006-2007 they were last in the NHL with an average of 12,520.

"We couldn't ask for more," McCarthy said. "I can't tell you how thrilled we are. We've had some bad things happen to us, but our fans don't seem to be demoralized by it. Now we have to continue to work hard and get ourselves into the playoffs."

Until the roster is whole again, the Blues will need more consistent goaltending and better play on the special teams. They also can't afford to be outworked, as they were early in Thursday's 4-3 overtime loss to Detroit. But overall, things are looking up.

Reading Time, 3 Minutes

I like the Cardinals' addition of utility man Nick Punto. The team was wise to add him at a low salary to fortify the depth at multiple positions. Can Punto hit? Not much. But he carries a "plus" glove at third base, shortstop and second base and can take some shifts in the outfield. He runs well. In recent seasons Punto has played a meaningful role for a winning team in Minnesota. I didn't expect the Cardinals to make a dramatic, expensive move for bench help. But Punto is a decent pickup. The kind of "dirt" player who generally does well for manager Tony La Russa.

Our town's Taylor Twellman, recently retired from the MLS New England Revolution, is having discussions with ESPN about a potential studio host-analyst role and for ESPN's soccer programming. Twellman has earned praise for his broadcasting ability at Comcast New England. ... Our condolences to family and friends of St. Louis Soccer Hall of Famer Gus Alberici, 91, who died Jan. 16. ... Congrats to CBC coach Terry Michler, who has been selected as the 2010 Coach of the Year in Boys Soccer by the National Federation of State High School Coaches Association.

Rams owner Stan Kroenke has a tough situation on his hands in Denver with the NBA Nuggets; star forward Carmelo Anthony, who resisted an earlier proposal for a contract extension, wants to be traded to New York or Chicago. But the Nuggets will do it only if it makes sense for the team. "Kroenke can do whatever he pleases because he is the one who holds the keys to the bus and he'll be the one driving it," wrote Chris Sheridan of ESPN.com. "He could decide to be stubborn just for the sake of being stubborn, to show his best player and the rest of the league that he will not be held hostage by Anthony's stance."

Mizzou football alum Ziggy Hood is coming on strong as a starting defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers; the team's first-round pick in 2009 had five tackles and a sack in last Saturday's win over Baltimore. Hood has started the last nine games at left defensive end in place of the injured Aaron Smith. ... On the other side of the AFC championship game, Mizzou alum Brad Smith will play for the New York Jets after missing the victory over New England with a strained groin. Smith returned a kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown Dec. 19 when the Jets upset the Steelers by five points at Heinz Field. Smith was second in the NFL this season with a kickoff-return average of 28.6 yards.

Mock draft update for the top Mizzou prospects, QB Blaine Gabbert and defensive end (or outside linebacker) Aldon Smith: ESPN's Mel Kiper has Gabbert going No. 5 overall to Arizona and puts Smith with Houston at No. 11 overall. Walter Football has Smith going No. 8 to Tennessee and Gabbert 10th overall to Washington. SI.com's Andrew Perloff still has Gabbert going No. 1 overall to Carolina and also slots Smith at No. 8 to Tennessee. ... Several draftniks are projecting Alabama wideout Julio Jones to the Rams at No. 14 overall.

One potential factor in the Cardinals' contract negotiations with Albert Pujols: Dan Lozano, who represents Pujols, broke away from the Beverly Hills Sports Council last summer to go out in his own. He's undoubtedly under pressure to make a huge score and can do that by ensuring that Pujols' is the game's highest-paid star. ... Here's Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com, on Pujols and the Cardinals: "No excuses. No ignoring reality. The Cardinals need Pujols more than Pujols needs the Cardinals."

Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has an endorsement deal with TAG body spray. ... Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo and wife Maria will be at Scottrade Center for tonight's Blues game. ... The Blues are doing very well in the social-media universe. They reached 100,000 followers on Facebook, which is more than the Rams (74,000) and second to the Cardinals (550,000.) On Twitter, the Blues are in the lead with 17,800 followers compared to 12,500 for the Rams and 11,000 for the Cardinals.

The Nice Section

The Florissant Valley CC athletic department is having its annual Trivia Night Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. at the JFK Community Center, 315 Howdershell in Florissant. Proceeds benefit the school scholarship fund. Tickets are $20 a person and $160 for a table of eight. Please register by Feb. 4. For tickets contact Johnna Kinney at 314-513-4274 or by e-mail at fvathletics@stlcc.edu.

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