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Blues eye division title against Red Wings
(SportsNetwork.com) - On the final day of action before the playoffs, the struggling St. Louis Blues will try to halt a five-game slide when they host the Detroit Red Wings in Sunday's afternoon battle at Scottrade Center.
On March 29, the Blues held a nine-point lead over Colorado for first place in the Central Division, but thanks to an 0-5-0 stretch from St. Louis and a timely surge by the Avalanche, the title race will come down to the final day of the regular season.
The Avs and Blues are locked at 111 points, but St. Louis needs to finish ahead of Colorado, which will win the tiebreaker due to having four more non- shootout wins. The Avalanche are playing on the road Sunday night against the Anaheim Ducks, who are three points ahead of Colorado and St. Louis and have clinched the best record in the West.
The team finishing second in the Central will host the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round. The division winner will hold home-ice in the first round against Minnesota.
Detroit is also playoff bound as the second wild card team in the East. The Red Wings will begin the postseason on the road against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Boston Bruins.
St. Louis is dealing with a long list of injuries at the moment and played Friday in Dallas without six of its top 12 forwards. The short-handed Blues dropped a 3-0 decision to the Stars, who clinched their first postseason berth since 2008 with the win.
Stars goaltender Kari Lehtonen stopped all 22 shots sent his way by the Blues, who have scored a total of five goals during their current losing streak. The slide is the longest string of regulation losses for St. Louis since another 0-5-0 skid from Dec. 10-18, 2008.
Ryan Miller stopped 37-of-40 shots in a losing effort for the Blues, but earned praise from his head coach after the contest.
"I think this was the best game our goalie has played for us and that was really good to see," Blues head coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Off the back-to- back we had some tired legs as the game went on."
St. Louis played without forwards David Backes, Brenden Morrow, T.J. Oshie, Derek Roy, Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir Tarasenko on Friday. Patrik Berglund, another forward, was forced to leave the game in Dallas with a shoulder injury and did not return.
One or more of those players could be back on Sunday, but Hitchcock did not specify which ones.
"Anybody that can play is playing. Anybody that can't, isn't," Hitchcock told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Saturday. "We're playing that game to win and that's going to be our attitude."
The Red Wings won't feel sorry for St. Louis, as Detroit has been decimated by injuries for much of the season and is still without captain Henrik Zetterberg.
Detroit has pushed through its injury problems to make the playoffs for a 23rd straight season, but the club enters its regular-season finale having lost two straight and three of four.
The Red Wings lost Friday to the visiting Carolina Hurricanes, who used first- period goals from Elias Lindholm and Jiri Tlusty to down Detroit, 2-1, and pick up their first regular-season win in the Motor City since 1989. The club's last victory in Detroit was on Nov. 14, 1989, when the Hurricanes were still known as the Hartford Whalers.
Jimmy Howard turned aside 17-of-19 shots for the Red Wings, while Riley Sheahan scored Detroit's lone goal.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock was not impressed with his club's defensive effort on Friday, as the Red Wings tried to match Carolina in a wide-open affair.
"At one point we had a 4-on-3, they had a 3-on-1, we had a 3-on-2. That's not how we play. That's river hockey. That's not how we're going to have success," Babcock said.
St. Louis has won three straight against the Red Wings and notched a 4-1 win in Detroit on Jan. 20. The Blues have dropped two of their last three home games against Detroit.
The Blues are 28-8-4 as the home team in 2013-14, while the Red Wings are 20-15-5 as the visiting club.
Howard will get the start Sunday for Detroit and is 11-7-2 with a 2.63 goals against average and .914 save percentage in 20 career games against St. Louis.
Miller is 2-8-2 with a 3.40 GAA and .899 save percentage in 12 lifetime games versus Detroit. Blues backup Brian Elliott is 3-6-1 with a 2.49 GAA and .916 save percentage in 10 career appearances in this series.
04/13 10:42:00 ET