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NHL Team Focus: St. Louis Blues

Brian Elliott St. Louis Blues NHL

Before the season began (well, for the past couple of seasons really), hockey fans and pundits everywhere were talking about how good the Central Division was. Now, with just a handful of games remaining, the division has certainly established itself as the most competitive in the league by a wide margin.

Three teams have clinched a playoff spot (Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Chicago Blackhawks) while three are competing for the final two spots (Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild, Colorado Avalanche). The Blues, however, are the team to watch as we approach the playoffs and value in their Stanley Cup futures is starting look pretty darn good.

The Blues enter Tuesday’s schedule with a four-game winning streak and are tied with the Stars at 99 points, giving them a very good chance of the No. 1-seed in the Western Conference. Online book Bovada is currently offering the Blues at +1200 to win the Stanley Cup and +650 to win the Western Conference.

The thing that is really starting to separate the Blues form the rest of the pack is goaltending. Hot goaltending is integral to a Stanley Cup run and nobody in the league is hotter than the duo of Brian Elliott and Jake Allen.

The duo has combined for four-straight shutouts entering Tuesday’s play as they have not allowed a goal in 240 minutes and 18 seconds; a span which includes shutouts over the Vancouver Canucks (twice), San Jose Sharks and Washington Capitals.

Elliott is tops in the NHL with a 1.95 goals against average and .934 save percentage, while Allen is tied for second in the league with six shutouts.

Be cautious, however, as the Blues and the playoffs have a shaky relationship. St. Louis won the Central last year and were promptly eliminated in the first round by the Wild. In fact, they have been eliminated in the first round each of the past three seasons. They defeated the San Jose Sharks 4-1 in the first round of the 2012 playoffs before being swept by the Los Angeles Kings, the eventual Cup champs, in the second round.

There is something different about this team, however. Beyond the incredible goaltending, Vladimir Tarasenko has certainly established himself as a bona fide star in this league. The 24-year-old is 14th in the NHL with 65 points and his 35 goals ranks sixth.

Beyond the Russian is a balance of 10 skaters that have at least 20 points with Jay Bouwmeester just on the outside at 19 points. There is depth at all positions on the ice and this team should be battle tested and angry enough from playoff futility to show play with some kind of chip on their shoulder in 2016.

If you like the thought of backing the Blues to lift Lord Stanley’s mug, get on them now. The way the are playing, that value is going to be on the decline from now until the puck drops on the postseason.