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ST. LOUIS BLUES

2011-12 record: 49-22-11

Story line: The contending Blues are trying to return to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 1970.

Analysis: Coach Ken Hitchcock did a masterful job in getting the Blues to take their game to the next level. The Blues' success is based on a strong overall game.

They didn't have a forward hit 60 points, but they don't seem short on scoring. Nine players had 10 or more goals, and their forward group is effective and opportunistic.

Captain David Backes is a gritty player who can also score 25 goals and help his team in a variety of ways. The Blues' most dangerous forward last season was David Perron, who had 42 points in 57 games. If he can stay healthy, he could be at a full-season pace of 60 to 70 points.

Andy McDonald, T.J. Oshie, Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund also can chip in goals. Newcomer Vladimir Tarasenko's contributions will be a bonus. He averaged a point a game in the Kontinental Hockey League this season.

The Blues offense also is helped greatly by offensive-minded defensemen Kevin Shattenkirk and Alex Pietrangelo, who are quite adept at moving the puck to the right forward. Pietrangelo might be among the league's top five or six defensemen. He had 51 points last season and could end up a Norris Trophy finalist this season.

Forecast: It might take close to 65 points to win the Central Division this season. The Blues should be in that neighborhood.

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