THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
ST. LOUIS — Keith Tkachuk is one of only two players left on the St. Louis Blues’ roster from the last playoff run. A big game from the 37-year-old veteran helped them make it to the post-season again after a three-season drought.
Tkachuk scored twice for the first time since opening night and added an assist in a 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.
"It’s just a special moment," Tkachuk said. "This is an incredible feeling to see what we went through over the last couple of years."
Andy McDonald and Tkachuk scored power-play 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.
"We just came off an emotional win," Columbus’ Rick Nash said. "They had everything to play for, and they just outplayed us. It was a do-or-die game for them."
Columbus is in sixth place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of the Blues, 92-90, and wraps up its regular season Saturday at home against Minnesota. If the Blues and Blue Jackets finish in a tie, St. Louis would get the better seed after winning the season series 5-1.
"It was a tough loss," Nash said. "Now we have to worry about tomorrow night."
Tkachuk, by far the oldest of the Blues, enjoyed a season-best three-point night and has three goals and four assists the last three games.
Chris Mason contributed a solid night in goal in his 32nd consecutive start for the Blues, who got a chance to clinch in front a sellout crowd in their home finale after Nashville’s 8-4 loss at Minnesota in its season finale.
"To do this at home is pretty special," Mason said. "With one minute left, I could barely hear myself think. I can just imagine what the playoffs are going to be like."
The Predators’ game in Minnesota ended with 8:41 to go in St. Louis and the Blues up by two, and fans erupted when the score was finally relayed by the P.A. announcer with about two minutes to go.
The Predators, Ducks and Blues, who wrap up the regular season Sunday at Colorado, entered the night in a three-way tie for seventh in the Western Conference.
Andy Murray won his 100th game in 2 1/2 seasons as Blues coach, guiding a team that has been the NHL’s best the second half of the season at 24-9-7 despite missing stars Erik Johnson, Paul Kariya and Eric Brewer much or all of the season. Kariya could be back after undergoing a pair of hip operations for the playoffs.
Murray said he didn’t watch the scoreboard at all during the game. In the final minute the Blues’ accomplishment gave him chills.
"You kind of choke up a little bit," Murray said. "I had to get off the bench pretty quick after the game, I’ll tell you that. How can you not be emotional about something like that? People going crazy."
The Blues, last in the Western Conference as late as Feb. 15, reached 40 wins for the first since 2002-03. Tkachuk and defenseman Barret Jackman are the lone holdovers from the last playoff team.
St. Louis ended the Blue Jackets’ franchise-record seven-game road unbeaten streak (4-0-3) and limited the losers to 17 shots, one above Columbus’ season worst.
McDonald scored his 10th goal off Tkachuk’s feed through the crease at 3:19 of the first, only 16 seconds after Kris Russell was whistled for interference, and Tkachuk deflected the puck past Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason at 7:12 of the first while Jared Boll was serving a double-minor.
"Everybody was pretty calm in the locker room, but we did jump out," Tkachuk said. "We forced them to take penalties because we were moving, and we capitalized on it."
Columbus scored on the first shot of the second period, with Jiri Novotny getting an empty net after Chris Mason was drawn out at 4:25. The Blues answered with a goal on their first shot of the second, with the puck appearing to deflect off Tkachuk’s calf on Jay McKee’s dump-in.
Notes: Columbus D Kristian Huselius missed his third game with concussion-like symptoms and LW Fredrik Modin missed his 16th straight with a sprained knee. … Tkachuk had two goals against Nashville in the opener Oct. 10. … Murray is 100-85-32 in 2 1/2 seasons with the Blues and reached the century mark in 217 games, one more than it took Scotty Bowman in 1971. … Tkachuk has 44 points (23 goals, 21 assists) in 45 career games against Columbus. … The crowd of 19,250 was the Blues’ 29th sellout.