Blues eager to keep climbing with Habs on the horizon

After hovering right around .500 for much of their campaign, the St. Louis Blues rode a midseason surge to climb back into the playoff chase.

They will try to extend that run when they face the host Montreal Canadiens on Sunday afternoon.

The Blues returned from the All-Star break with a 3-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday afternoon. It was St. Louis’ first game since Jan. 30.

“I was really impressed with our start, especially being off as long as we did,” Blues interim coach Drew Bannister said. “And then our third period, we looked like a team that was pushing, trying to get the extra goal, (not) sitting back and trying to defend a one-goal lead.”

St. Louis has won six of its past seven games, keeping it in the final Western Conference wild-card slot.

“It’s an exciting time,” said Blues winger Jake Neighbours, who scored twice in the victory at Buffalo. “This is what you want as a player and as a team is to play meaningful hockey down the stretch, and we have that.”

Since Joel Hofer was in goal in Buffalo, the Blues are expected to start Jordan Binnington against the Canadiens. Binnington is 17-13-2 with a 2.92 goals-against average overall, but in January, he was 6-2-1 with a 2.09 GAA and a .930 save percentage.

“Every game is a huge game and every point matters,” Binnington said. “We’re going to have to step up, everyone is going to have to step up in different ways and compete.”

The Canadiens fell 3-2 to the Dallas Stars at home on Saturday for their fifth loss in their past eight games.

“They’re a good team, they know how to score goals,” Canadiens forward Juraj Slafkovsky said of the Stars. “We had plenty of chances to come back, but it just didn’t happen.”

Slafkovsky, the first overall pick of the 2022 NHL Draft, extended his goal-scoring streak to three games in the loss.

“He’s getting better each game,” Canadiens captain Nick Suzuki said. “The experience that he gets night in and night out against the top lines and top pairs is something you can’t generate in practice. So, he’s progressed really well over the last couple of months and you just want to see that keep climbing.”

Alex Newhook returned on Saturday for the Canadiens after missing 27 games with an ankle injury. But Montreal lost forward Rafael Harvey-Pinard to a lower-body injury against the Stars and recalled Joshua Roy from Laval of the American Hockey League.

In the previous meeting between the teams this season, the Blues won 6-3 on Nov. 4. Jordan Kyrou and Brayden Schenn each had a goal and two assists for the Blues, and Hofer made 30 saves.

Brendan Gallagher, Suzuki and Slafkovsky scored for Montreal in that game, and Sam Montembeault allowed five goals on 34 shots.

Montembeault started against the Stars on Saturday, so longtime Blues goaltender Jake Allen (5-9-3, 3.43 GAA) is expected to start against his old team on Sunday.