ST. LOUIS — It was a game meant to create separation for the Blues, and a game to close the gap even closer for the Dallas Stars on Saturday.
It's been this way between the two Central Division rivals the better part of three weeks now, along with the Colorado Avalanche in the race for not only first place in the Central Division but the top seed in the Western Conference.
And even though the Blues allowed the Stars to tie it late and gain a critical points from their perspective, the Blues were able to rebound and gain a critical two points with a 4-3 shootout win on Ryan O'Reilly's lone goal.
The win for the Blues (39-17-10) was their seventh in a row, giving them three streaks of seven or more wins within the same season for the first time in franchise history.
And to think, they've gained 14 of a possible 14 points in the past seven games, and with Colorado beating Nashville 3-2 on Saturday, the Blues gained some separation on the Stars (37-21-7), creating a seven-point gap, but the Avalanche, won won their sixth in a row and have two games in hand on the Blues, are just three points back.
Buckle up, buttercup. It's going to be a tight one to the finish, and for three teams that have separated themselves in the division and asserted themselves as three conference powerhouses this season, it's only fitting.
"That’s how it is at this time of the year," said Blues right wing David Perron, who scored his team-leading 25th goal of the season. "If feels like you lose one and it’s almost like you lost two or three in a row. It felt like that for a bit when we were losing and now we’ve made maybe a little bit of ground and maybe like two points, three points, and even seven in a row, so we’re going to have to keep winning."
It has to be exhausting for the Blues to have not gained the separation they had on the Avalanche and Stars that they had earlier in the season, which was 11 points after games on Jan. 13.
But the small dry spell the Blues went on (0-3-2) from Feb. 6-16 allowed some teams heating up to jump back into the race. Now every point matters.
Literally ... every point.
"Yeah, they're all great hockey teams and there's so much parity in the league," said Blues goalie Jake Allen, who made 28 saves, including a Jame Benn overtime breakaway and was 3-for-3 in the shootout. "It's unbelievable and it makes for an exciting finish obviously for fans especially and keeps all teams involved and every point is crucial. We know that, I think, and like I said, we've learned that hard way through two or three years ago and we knew this was going to be a fight to the end. We knew we weren't just going to run away with first place.
"Colorado is a great team and I think we play them the last game of the year, so it could be a fun, entertaining game and we've got to keep this pace going on here for the last 15-16 games."
But how hard is that going to be?
Well, if you're looking at strength of schedule, the Blues have the better of it, playing just four teams currently in a playoff position of their final 16 games. Colorado, on the other hand, has seven games against playoff teams of their remaining 18 games, and the Stars also have seven games against teams currently in the playoffs.
But any way you look at it, it just goes to show how tough it is to stay on top despite being perfect over the past seven games.
"They’re a very good team," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Colorado. "They’re not going anywhere. So we've got to keep getting points, we've got to keep going and battling. It’s a tight division. It’s a good division, so this road trip is a big road trip for us."
Now looking at the current winning streak, to go it three times winning seven or more (they won seven straight Oct. 27-Nov. 9 and eight in a row Dec. 12-29), takes some serious consistent hockey. But is it always consistent? Not necessarily. What is constant is the will to persevere, more than anything.
"It's always a lot more fun when you're winning," said Blues center Tyler Bozak, who scored a power-play goal to make it 3-1 in the second period and helped the Blues go 4-0-1 against the Stars this season. "It gives you a little bit of confidence to keep moving forward and playing better. You always play better when you have that confidence. We have a lot of depth, a lot of chemistry and different guys can step up and step up on different nights. I think that's why we have the success we do."
Enter Saturday when Berube inserts Sammy Blais, a healthy scratch Thursday, into the lineup and puts Jacob de la Rose, a healthy scratch the past nine games, in for Jordan Kyrou, who was sick.
"His intensity was really high, and good stick," Berube said of de la Rose. "He did a lot of good stuff tonight. So did Sammy Blais. I thought they were both good.
"Both were really good. I thought them (two) lines were really good. Bozak’s line and [Oskar] Sundqvist’s were really good lines tonight. Did a great job."
You know what? Isn't this the team -- or majority of it -- that won the Stanley Cup last season? There's something to be said for a team that knows how to win. There are plenty of experiences throughout a Stanley Cup playoff run that teaches you to do that.
"I think that our team knows how to win," Berube said. "You win seven, eight in a row three times, it means you’re winning games where you’re probably not playing your best hockey. It’s hard to play really good hockey every night. You've got to find ways to win games without playing your best game. We’ve done a pretty good job of that."