The St. Louis Blues heard the chatter, but really didn't believe that this would be the final season for their 38-year-old teammate Keith Tkachuk until he delivered the news in an emotional pre-game dispatch on Wednesday.
"You could tell it was very tough for him when he told us before the game," Blues forward Brad Boyes said. "I guess reality sets in once you say those words."
Tkachuk will play his final game in St. Louis on Friday, when the Blues entertain the Anaheim Ducks in their second last game of the season.
Boyes, a decade younger that Tkachuck, played the past three seasons with the 19-season veteran and learned quite a bit from his older teammate. The two played on the same line most of their first season together.
"He had a storied career," Boyes said. "You pick up the little things from him, like what he does in the gym or his pre-game preparations.
"On the ice, it was awesome to play with him. Here's a guy whose scored more than 1,000 points and you learn how he gets open and why he was so successful. He was easy to get along with."
The disappointing part for Tkachuk, Boyes and the rest of the Blues this season was they were unable to build off their strong second-half last year to snatch their first playoff berth since 2004. St. Louis reeled off a 19-6-3 stretch to finish the season to grab the sixth spot in the Western Conference, only to be swept by the Canucks in the first round.
The Blues have gone 10-5-0 since the Olympic break, but like their comeback attempt in Chicago on Wednesday - when the Blues dropped behind 6-1 midway through the second period only to fall short 6-5 after a brilliant Boyes penalty-shot goal - their late-season run also will not be good enough.
Boyes felt that the Blues main problem was the team's penchant for losing too many leads in the third period. St. Louis lost eight times when leading after 40 minutes this season.
"A lot of it was the games we had the lead going into the third period or took the lead in the third period but we threw away and didn't get any points," Boyes said. "Those games meant so much because a point here or a point there we're still in it. It was a huge deal to let those games slip away."
With games remaining at home against Ducks on Friday and in Nashville on Saturday, the Blues still have an opportunity to move past the Calgary Flames and into ninth in the Western Conference.
Boyes, meanwhile, hopes to continue his season with Canada at the 2010 world championship in Germany next month. Canada's general manager Mark Messier hasn't contacted any players yet, but Boyes remarked that he would play if called.
The native of Mississauga, Ont. scored four goals in nine games at the 2006 world championship when he played on a line with Sidney Crosby, when Canada finished fourth.
"We'll see if that call comes or not," said Boyes, who after 43- and 33-goal seasons in his first two years in St. Louis saw his production drop to only 14 this season.
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