Monday, April 5, 2010

(4-5-10) Blue Jackets-Blues Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Keith Tkachuk has accumulated many milestones. They range anywhere from 500-plus goals, 1,000-plus points, 1,000 games played and so forth.

But each time a player with the longevity of a Tkachuk can attain game increments of 100 after reaching 500 -- let alone 1,000 -- it says something about the career that individual has taken.

Five hundred and 1,000 were special moments in Tkachuk's life, but the 38-year-old is nearing the end of the line in what could very well be his final season, the 18th of his career.

So when Tkachuk steps out on the ice today at 7 p.m. when the Blues (38-31-9) play host to the Columbus Blue Jackets (32-34-13), another milestone will come to fruition.

Tkachuk will play the 1,200th game of his NHL career, and instead of talking about another milestone in a very fruitful and successful career that has the earmarks of a Hall of Fame career, he was in his typical candor mood when talking about himself.

"I might be out of the lineup ... my son might be in there because he showed better promise than I did out there," Tkachuk said, getting a laugh from a few media members around him.

That's typical Keith Tkachuk, who has become the team player and leader everyone has expected of him when he first suited up as a Winnipeg Jet back in the 1991-92 season.

But instead of basking in the glory of yet another achievement, he talked about the importance of the Blues' slim playoff hopes and how tonight is a must-win frame of mind.

"I go into every game ... you just never know," Tkachuk said. "It's a great situation trying to win every game here. It would have been better if we had a better start, but these are our playoffs right now and we're going to try and do whatever we can to make it and make it tough for these other teams. I like the way we're playing, some big wins at home, but it's do-or-die once again."

Tkachuk has hinted that this could be his last season, although no official confirmation has been made.

But the thoughts that these could very well be the final games 'Big Walt' will don the Bluenote and lace up the skates.

"You think about it," he admitted. "You just never know what's going to happen at the end of the year. It's a possibility it could be my last (season). ... I've played with a lot of great players, a lot of great kids, good teammates and I just love playing. That's what I think about. I enjoy coming to the rink every day.

"It's kind of an ongoing thing. I'm just enjoying coming to the rink every day and playing and putting it on the line every night. We'll see what happens at the end."

Tkachuk has toughed a lot of the lives for many of the young Blues players, including that of 21-year-old David Perron, who remembers Tkachuk's stern message when he was a rookie.

"The first year he was really hard on me and helped me get better as a person and as a player as well," Perron said. "The last couple years, he's been really good at bringing you into the team and wanting you to be a leader. I think at this point, it's not so much about him, it's about the team as well. He's a great leader for us. ... I'm glad I had him to teach me some stuff.

"It's an incredible accomplishment for him."

Perron was three years old when Tkachuk slipped on his first jersey and remembers watching as a kid.

"I was dreaming then of playing in the NHL and now I'm playing with him," Perron said. "Every time I see him in the locker room, I can't believe I play on the same team with him. It's been fun."

Blues coach Davis Payne said it's quite a feat to play in so many games considering the way Tkachuk plays and the beating he's taken in front of the net over the years.

"It's a tough league to play in. Obviously, it's a tough league to play in for a long time, and he's done that," Payne said. "He's done it in some tough areas ... net-front situations on the goals he has, just being able to play through the change of the game. It was a tougher game to play in that area 10 years ago than it is now based on the new standards. He was a guy who's made his living there and certainly a great example for our guys, especially guys that are looking for offensive opportunities. There's a lot of second-chance stuff there that can be picked up.

"He's made that statement, he's made that contribution. For a guy to be able to play that long in this league, it takes a lot of special things happening. Part of it's physical, part of it's mental, part of it's having the emotion to stay in the game and loving it like he does. All (the) credit to him and the player he is."

Tkachuk has two sons (Matthew and Braeden) and a daughter (Taryn). He is involved in both of his sons' youth hockey activities, so that may play a role in his decision.

"There are a bunch of things we've got to discuss with my wife (Chantal)," Tkachuk said.

When asked if his wife can put up with him being around the house all the time, he replied, "She might have to."

* * *

The Blues skated this morning without defensemen Barret Jackman (upper-body) and Roman Polak (resting sore shoulder). Payne said Jackman will miss his second consecutive game, while Polak will play tonight.

The forward lines look like will remain the same as Saturday, with Cam Janssen, Brad Winchester and Matt D'Agostini out as healthy scratches.

Here's what they looked like on the ice this morning:

Paul Kariya-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Andy McDonald-Patrik Berglund-David Perron

Alex Steen-Jay McClement-B.J. Crombeen

D.J. King-Keith Tkachuk-Brad Boyes

The D-pairings also will remain the same:

Eric Brewer-Roman Polak

Darryl Sydor-Erik Johnson

Carlo Colaiacovo-Mike Weaver

Chris Mason gets another start tonight, the 22nd in the last 26 games for the Blues. He will look to improve on a career-best 28 wins this season.

- - -

The Blue Jackets, who have been out of the playoff race for a couple weeks, have been a tough foe for some of the top teams recently, going 5-3-2 in their last 10 games despite somewhat of a makeshift lineup because of injuries.

The lineup that will face the Blues tonight will feature:

* Rick Nash was a late scratch for Columbus tonight; in his place will be Chad Kolarik, recalled from AHL Syracuse who took the ice three minutes prior to the team taking the ice for pre-game warm-ups.

Kristian Huselius-Antoine Vermette-Rick Nash

R.J. Umberger-Derick Brassard-Jakub Voracek

Andrew Murray-Sammy Pahlsson-Derek Dorsett

Mike Blunden-Greg Moore-Tomas Kana

Kana, who was the 31st pick by the Blues in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, was a second-round bust. He was traded to the Jackets along with defenseman Brendan Bell for forward Pascal Pelletier.

Kana, 22, never quite made it through the Blues' system. He was recently recalled by the Jackets and will make his fourth NHL appearance tonight.

The Jackets' defensive pairings should feature:

Fedor Tyutin-Marc Methot

Nathan Paetsch-Mike Commodore

Grant Clitsome-Anton Stralman

Mathieu Garon gets the start in goal.

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