By Patrick Kelly
After a bit of a slow start to the New Year, the Blues found their feet at home and were almost able to carry that momentum into All-Star Weekend. On Wednesday, the Blues dropped their final home game before the All-Star break with an overtime 4-3 loss to the Flyers. The Blues have one last stop before the break and it’s not going to be an easy one. The Blues travel to Colorado for a Saturday night matchup against the dangerous Avalanche who embarrassed the Blues 7-3 the last time they visited the Mile High City exactly two weeks ago.
In a way, it’s ironic that the Blues are neck and neck with the Avalanche since this year’s Blues season is eerily reminiscent of a former Avalanche team. The Blues are the first team since the 1996-97 Colorado Avalanche to be first in the NHL this late in the season. At this time in 1997, the Avalanche were atop the NHL and had a nine-point lead over the second-place Dallas Stars. Now, the Blues are atop the NHL and have a 10-point lead over the, you guessed it, second-place, Dallas Stars.
However, there is one large difference between these two teams. The Blues have managed to do almost all of this without their top goal scorer Vladimir Tarasenko. In ‘97, the Avalanche were stacked back to front with top-end talent and future Hall of Famers led up top by Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg. The thing is, the Avalanche only missed both of them for 17 games respectively during the season, and a combined 34 games missed by the four other members of their top six. Tarasenko alone has missed 38 games along with Robert Thomas and Oskar Sundqvist being out, not to mention Sammy Blais, who has been out almost as long as Tarasenko. This isn’t to say that the Avalanche knew how to deal with adversity. In the combined 34 games the Avalanche didn’t have either Sakic or Forsberg, they only dropped four in regulation despite neither of their injuries overlapping. The Blues have managed to only lose eight in regulation since Tarasenko’s absence.
So where did the Avalanche season go from there? Well, they continued to roll over the competition, keeping their spot in the standings and capturing the President’s Trophy. They managed to get past Chicago and Edmonton before running into one of the most powerful teams in NHL history, the Detroit Red Wings of the late 1990s. Despite getting the first game on them, the Red Wings won the next three and ended up taking the series in six en route to their first Stanley Cup since 1955.
The question for the Blues will be how long can they keep winning, and then change history. Obviously one thing that helps is no matter who the Blues run into in the playoffs, it won’t be the Russian 5.