The St. Louis Blues host the Phoenix Coyotes in the final home game of the 2011-2012 season Friday, April 6, at the Scottrade Center. The game is a must-win for both teams, but for different reasons. St. Louis needs a victory to keep pace with the Vancouver Canucks for the top seed of the Western Conference. Phoenix needs to earn two points in order to try to qualify for the playoffs in the first place.
The problem for the Blues is that the teams are going in opposite directions. The Coyotes have won three games straight, shutting out three opponents by a cumulative score of 8-0. Meanwhile, St. Louis has lost three games in a row, two of them in overtime. One horrible loss was to the Columbus Blue Jackets at home by a score of 5-2 on March 31.
The game might be a matter of motivation for both clubs. St. Louis already has a Central Division title wrapped up and is unlikely to catch Vancouver at this point unless the Canucks lose at least one game. Phoenix is tied for the Pacific Division lead and can still earn anywhere from a three seed to an eight seed in the playoffs. A spot in the postseason isn't mathematically guaranteed, but the Coyotes need points even more badly than St. Louis.
Head coach Ken Hitchcock has to find a way to inspire his team. The Blues played with much more energy April 4 against the Detroit Red Wings. The team scored two goals in the matter of three minutes. But then the Red Wings scored two of their own in less than two and a half minutes to knot the score, all in the third period.
The Coyotes shouldn't have to find a way to motivate themselves. They will try to win to go atop the division and earn a three seed. A loss means a much tougher road to the playoffs. The Coyotes may even end up playing the Blues in the first round of the postseason just after the regular season ends this week.
St. Louis has outscored Phoenix 11-3 in the first three meetings this season. All were victories by the Blues. Yet somehow, I feel those previous meetings this season won't matter even as St. Louis has the second-most home wins in the NHL this season.
All bets are off when the Blues and Coyotes tangle Friday. It's going to be a great game to get fans ready for the NHL playoffs.
William Browning was born in St. Louis and has been a lifelong Blues fan.
- Vancouver Canucks