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Blues jump into fourth place in Western Conference

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- Merely securing a place in the upcoming NHL playoffs doesn't appear to be satisfying enough for the St. Louis Blues.

Knowing they can control their own fate and move up to a fourth place finish in the Western Conference with victories in their final two regular season games, the Blues accomplished the first half of that goal Thursday night with a 4-1 win over the Calgary Flames.

Ryan Reaves had the first two goal-game of his career to lead the Blues, who scored four goals in a game in regulation for the first time since April 1.

The victory gave the Blues 58 points, moving them ahead of idle Los Angeles and San Jose by one point and into fourth place. Each team has one game remaining, and the Blues can clinch the fourth spot, and home-ice advantage in the first round, with a win Saturday against Chicago no matter what happens in the game between the Kings and Sharks, also on Saturday night.

The Blues also own a possible tiebreaker against San Jose, but would lose a tiebreaker to the Kings if the teams are tied after the regular season ends.

Coach Ken Hitchcock used a scoreless first period to motivate the Blues, reminding them of what was at stake, and the team responded with a three-goal second period, including Reaves' first goal.

"We all knew what was at stake but I think we kind of under-estimated the opponent," Reaves said. "We came out flat and Hitch came in and said it's going to be hard to play like that and then turn it on in the playoffs in less than a week. I think we took it to heart and everybody came out flying."

The charge was led by the line of Reaves, Adam Cracknell and Chris Porter, a trio that is supposed to be the team's fourth line but is not playing that way.

"We have four lines but if that line continues to play at that pace you are not going to be using it as the fourth line," Hitchcock said. "They are going to be using up quite a bit of ice time if they play at this level.

"Every time we play them together they play well. They've got size and smarts. The confidence with scoring a couple of goals is really going to help as long as Reavo doesn't think he is a goalscorer now."

That is one thing Hitchcock doesn't have to worry about. Reaves had only scored two goals in his first 42 games this season and eight goals in his career before Thursday night.

He does lead the team with 79 penalty minutes and after getting his second goal early in the third period, returned to his more familiar role as an enforcer, getting in a fight with Calgary's Tim Jackman.

"I always enjoy the fisticuffs, especially when a guy jumps me and he ends up like that," Reaves said. "We're kind of counted on to be the energy leaders, the physical guys. The first period was tough because we came out a little flat. I think everybody took it on themselves a little bit, our line especially, to get a little bit of energy in the building."

The goals by Reaves, Andy McDonald and Alex Steen got the home crowd into the game and at the same time seemed to deflate the Flames.

"They were much better than us," said Calgary coach Bob Hartley. "They took advantage of a couple of mistakes. They are a good skating team and a good transition team. They can shoot the puck. You give them a little room and they will make you pay. That's what they did."

The Flames' Chris Butler, a St. Louis native, said there was a reason the game turned out as it did.

"I thought we got out-worked," Butler said. "We didn't play hard enough. There was a big difference in the two teams tonight. You look at the way they played and the way we played and there's a reason why they are where they are in the standings and why we are where we are. We turned over too many pucks in the neutral zone and we didn't defend hard enough. We probably got the result we deserved."

NOTES: With the Blues qualifying for the playoffs, Calgary will receive St. Louis' first-round pick in the NHL draft this summer as additional compensation for the April 1 trade that sent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester from the Flames to the Blues. ... Butler was named Thursday to the U.S. team for the world championships beginning May 3 in Finland. ... Flames goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is expected to decide in the next couple of days if he is going to retire. ... Kris Russell replaced Barret Jackman in the Blues lineup. Jackman suffered an ankle injury Tuesday night blocking a shot, but he is expected to be available when the playoffs begin next week. ... After failing to reach the playoffs for the fourth consecutive year, the Flames will conclude their season on Friday night in Chicago. The Blues host the Blackhawks in their regular-season finale on Saturday night.
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