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Blues rip Jackets to end playoff drought

BACK in mid-February, the St Louis Blues were last in the Western Conference. On Friday night, they ended a three-season playoff drought.

Keith Tkachuk scored twice for the first time since opening night and added an assist in a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets. Tkachuk and defenseman Barret Jackman are the only players left from the Blues' last playoff appearance in 2004.

"It means the world to me right now," Tkachuk said. "It's so rewarding."

The Blues were last overall in 2005-06, the first season after the lockout, and tied for the fourth-worst record last season. This season, they've been without stars Erik Johnson, Paul Kariya and Eric Brewer much or all of the schedule, although Kariya could be back for the playoffs after a pair of hip operations.

"I'll probably look back on it and realize how difficult it was," coach Andy Murray said. "We've got more talent than I think people give us credit for, and certainly at the start of the year people didn't give us any credit. So yeah, it's gratifying."

In other National Hockey League games, it was: Ducks 4, Stars 3 (in a shootout); Wild 8, Predators 4; and Oilers 5, Flames 1.

In St Louis, Andy McDonald and Tkachuk scored powerplay goals on two of the Blues' first three shots for a fast start against Columbus, no doubt flat two days after making it into the playoffs for the first time in franchise history. The Blue Jackets mustered only 17 shots, one more than their season worst.

"We were just outhustled," coach Ken Hitchcock said. "They played well. We didn't."

Columbus is sixth in the Western Conference with 92 points, two points ahead of the Blues, and will wrap up its regular season at home against Minnesota while the Blues finish at Colorado.

Chris Mason contributed a solid night in goal in his 32nd consecutive start for the Blues, who got a chance to clinch in front of a sellout crowd in their home finale after Nashville's loss at Minnesota. The Predators, Blues and Anaheim entered the night in a three-way tie for seventh.

The Blues were up by two with 8:41 to go during a stoppage when the Wild finished off the Predators. Fans erupted when the score was relayed by the PA announcer with about two minutes to go and the Blues' victory all but assured.

The Blues reached 40 wins for the first since 2002-03, and Murray won for the 100th time in 2 1/2 seasons with St. Louis. The Blues also ended the Blue Jackets' franchise-record road unbeaten streak at seven games (4-0-3).


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