With playoff hopes still alive, Blues visit Red Wings

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By Alan Ferguson

Stats Writer

St. Louis (37-31-9) at Detroit (49-18-9) 7:30 p.m. EDT

DETROIT (AP) -- The St. Louis Blues took a step back in their

drive toward a first playoff berth in four seasons. To keep from

falling further behind in the Western Conference's postseason

race, the Blues will have to snap their skid against the Detroit

Red Wings.

Trailing by a point for the last playoff spot, St. Louis looks

for its first win in six meetings this season against the Red

Wings on Thursday night in Detroit.

The Blues saw their five-game win streak end in Wednesday

night's 3-1 loss in Chicago and missed an opportunity to jump

into seventh in the West past idle Anaheim and Nashville.

All three teams have five games remaining, and snapping an 0-4-1

losing streak against the Red Wings would help St. Louis'

chances. The Blues have lost twice in Detroit this season,

including a 4-3 shootout defeat February 2.

After outscoring opponents 17-9 during its win streak, the Blues

managed 17 shots in Wednesday's loss - their lowest output since

an October 24 loss to Los Angeles - and needed defenseman Jeff

Woywitka's goal with two seconds left to avoid a shutout.

"It's not too often I can say we got outworked," goaltender

Chris Mason said. "Tonight we got outworked. We got outplayed.

It was one of our worst games, I think, in a long time."

The scoring struggles spoiled another solid effort from Mason,

who hasn't allowed more than three goals in 10 straight starts.

Since replacing Manny Legace in the February 2 defeat, he has

made 28 straight starts, and his 17-7-4 record and 2.26

goals-against average in that time are a reason why the Blues

have moved from last in the West on February 18 to their current

spot.

Mason, who is looking to match his career high 24 wins set in

2006-07 with Nashville, is 0-3-2 with a 3.31 GAA in seven career

appearances at Joe Louis Arena and has lost five straight to

Detroit with a 4.21 GAA in that time.

He'll face a Red Wings team looking to avoid its longest home

losing streak of the season and seeking its first season sweep

of the Blues since 2002-03.

After consecutive home defeats, Detroit's chances at a fifth

Presidents' Trophy in seven seasons is slipping away as the Red

Wings are four points behind San Jose with six games left for

both teams.

After failing to score against the New York Islanders - the

NHL's worst team - on Friday night, Detroit's defense faltered

Sunday in giving up three third-period goals in a 4-3 loss to

Nashville, including two in 22 seconds.

Detroit, however, captured its eighth straight Central Division

title Tuesday night following a Chicago loss and is assured of

finishing no lower than second in the West.

"We found a way to lose the game," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock

said. "That drives you crazy, especially this time of year. It's

the time of year you want to be ramping it up."

Babcock's team will try to avoid its first three-game losing

streak at home since a four-game skid February 7-29, 2008. The

Red Wings haven't dropped three in a row overall since their

season-high, five-game skid January 17-31.

Ty Conklin, who is expected to start Thursday, is 3-0-0 with a

2.10 GAA in four lifetime appearances against the Blues,

allowing four goals in two victories this season.

Detroit is making its third attempt to join Boston (1970-74) and

Montreal (1975-79) as the only teams with four consecutive

50-win seasons, and Babcock would become the first coach with

four straight 50-win campaigns since Scotty Bowman with the

Canadiens in 1979.

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