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Bouwmeester, Blues clinch playoff berth

The SportsXchange

ST. LOUIS -- When a player has waited 10 years to earn a trip to the NHL playoffs, an extra 48 hours is really not that big a deal.

The St. Louis Blues could have ended defenseman Jay Bouwmeester's long wait and clinched a playoff spot Sunday by defeating the Avalanche in Colorado, but instead they lost.

The scenario was the same Tuesday when the two teams met again, and this time the Blues finally gave Bouwmeester the first playoff trip of his career with a 3-1 victory over the Avalanche.

The 29-year-old Bouwmeester made his NHL debut with the Florida Panthers in the 2002-2003 season, and except for the 2004-05 season lost because of a lockout, he has always seen his year end on the last day of the regular season.

"It's good to know you are going to get the chance to play," Bouwmeester said. "I started out with a team that was struggling a little bit (Florida), and in Calgary, we didn't have the success we wanted. I've been asked that question a lot, but I approach every year with a fresh start."

One of the reasons Bouwmeester agreed to an April 1 trade from Calgary to St. Louis was because he thought it might finally mean a playoff appearance, which now will indeed happen -- after 764 career games.

"I thought this was a good young team, and I knew from playing against them it's a hard team to play against," said Bouwmeester, who also is the active NHL leader in consecutive games played at 633. "I knew at the time that nothing was guaranteed. We got on a bit of a role, and I'm happy it worked out the way it did. We have a team that's kind of built for that kind of hockey."

Power-play goals by Chris Stewart -- his 18th of the year and 100th of his career -- and Patrik Berglund gave the Blues a 2-0 lead early in the second period, with Berglund's goal coming on a deflection of a shot by Bouwmeester. It was the first time the Blues scored two power-play goals in a game since Feb. 15.

Andy McDonald's goal increased the lead to 3-0 at 5:13 of the second period, with an assist from Stewart, the 100th assist of his career.

Colorado finally scored with 4:47 to go in the second period on a delayed penalty against McDonald, with Cody McLeod getting his fifth goal in the past five games.

Bouwmeester's new teammates and his coach were happy that his streak without making it to the playoffs is finally coming to an end, both for him and also for themselves.

"It's one little item checked off our list, but we've got a long way to go," said captain David Backes. "We can't act like we've accomplished something. Lessons have been learned, and we will use those to hopefully push us further and further in the playoffs.

"Jay's been phenomenal for us. He deserves this as much as anyone, and it's great to see him get in. But he knows as much as anyone that it's not a given every year, and you can't squander it and think you've accomplished something. We've had too many times in this organization in the past seven years that I've been here that the regular season is over and we're heading home. Watching the playoffs on TV sucks."

Added coach Ken Hitchcock, "He was in the growing stages in Florida, and in Calgary there were high expectations and they didn't meet them. They were close a couple of times. You get that stigma and it's tough to overcome. He's a big reason we got where we are, him and (Jordan) Leopold helped unbelievably and fitting in with the guys and endearing themselves to their teammates. It's nice to see."

Getting in the playoffs this season was not easy, Hitchcock said,

"This season was as challenging as any season I've ever coached in," he said, "to manage the peaks and valleys. This season has been very challenging on keeping a level head and getting players through some very tough times. What I'm hoping is the tough times that we have gone through are really going to help us, because we're going to go through a bunch of them now."

For the Avalanche, the game was like their season, which will end without a playoff trip.

"They were the hungrier team tonight," Colorado coach Joe Sacco said. "They played hard and they won a lot of battles and a lot of races to the puck. It's a good team. We knew we were up for a good test, and unfortunately we came up a little bit short."

NOTES: Blues forward David Perron was dropped to the fourth line for the start of the game. He has scored only one goal in his last 19 games. ... The Blues recalled 20-year-old defenseman Jani Hakanpaa from their Peoria farm club. A fourth-round draft pick in 2010, Hakanpaa played most of this season in his native Finland before playing 14 games in Peoria. He did not play in Tuesday's game. ... Colorado defenseman Erik Johnson missed his fifth consecutive game because of a hand injury. ... A week after undergoing surgery on his left ankle, Blues forward T.J. Oshie was back on the ice skating during the team's Tuesday morning skate. There is no word on when he might be able to return to the lineup. ... The Blues announced that they have reached a three-year affiliation agreement with the Chicago Wolves of the AHL. ... Both Colorado and St. Louis have two games left in the regular season.
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