The St. Louis Blues' worst stretch of the season couldn't have had much worse timing.
They'll try to avoid a sixth straight loss for the first time in more than four years in Sunday's regular-season finale when they host the Detroit Red Wings in a matchup of former division rivals.
The Blues (52-22-7) held a seven-point advantage over Colorado for the Central lead and the inside track to the Western Conference's top seed prior to losing their last five games. They're now tied with the Avalanche, who hold the tiebreaker over St. Louis by virtue of more wins in regulation and overtime. The first-place finisher figures to have a much more favorable first-round matchup against either Minnesota or Dallas as opposed to facing defending champion Chicago.
Poor goaltending has plagued the Blues, with Ryan Miller posting a 4.04 goals-against average and .856 save percentage in four starts during the slide. He was allowing 2.20 goals per game while going 11-4-1 over his first 16 starts after being traded from Buffalo on March 1. Miller is 2-8-2 in 12 career starts versus Detroit with a 3.41 GAA - his worst against one opponent.
The Blues also have just five goals in their last five games after previously ranking fourth in the league with 3.1 per game. Leading goal scorer Alexander Steen is without a goal while playing three times during the losing streak, though he has four goals and nine assists over his last 13 games against Detroit.
St. Louis was not shut out once before the Olympic break but has since been blanked five times, including twice in the past five games following Friday's 3-0 loss at Dallas. Injuries aren't helping the cause, as the Blues played without T.J. Oshie after he took a shot to the head from Minnesota's Mike Rupp in Thursday's 4-2 loss. They were also missing forwards David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow, and Patrik Berglund left with an arm injury in the third period.
"They played to get into the playoffs and they really showed it, and we need to get more of that into our game, as well," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said after the Stars clinched a playoff spot with the win.
The Blues will be looking to avoid their first six-game losing streak since a seven-game skid Dec. 26, 2009-Jan. 7, 2010. To do so, they'll have to notch a fourth straight win over Detroit for the first time since Jan. 26, 1991. St. Louis won 4-1 at Detroit on Jan. 20 in the only meeting this season after winning the final two last year when the Red Wings were still in the Central.
Detroit (38-28-15) is going to finish fourth in the Atlantic but is headed back to the playoffs. The Red Wings had been battling for the East's top wild-card spot with Columbus, but the Blue Jackets won Saturday at Florida to lock Detroit into the eighth seed and a first-round matchup with Boston. Columbus will face Pittsburgh in the first round.
The Red Wings lost 2-1 at home to Carolina on Friday, marking their third loss in four games following a four-game winning streak. Riley Sheahan scored their only goal on the power play in the third period, two days after Detroit clinched a 23rd consecutive postseason appearance with a shootout loss in Pittsburgh.
"You can't be satisfied," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "We want to get to the next spot - see how high we can get in the standings before we start the playoffs."
While Daniel Alfredsson has five goals and seven assists in his last nine games versus the Blues, Jimmy Howard is 1-3-1 with a 3.82 goals-against average over his last five starts against them.