By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- When Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo got his first glimpse of HBO's "24/7" Wednesday night, it was perfect timing. He saw close friend and Rangers defenseman Michael Del Zotto crashing into the boards.
It was human nature for Pietrangelo to call out his close friend and pass along some text messages.
"Quite a few," Pietrangelo said of the texts he sent out. "I told him at the end of the night I couldn't wait to see it. I know his personality and I couldn't wait to see what it was going to be like. The first thing I see is him crashing into the boards and throwing out a few swear words. That was pretty entertaining."
The general consensus around the locker rooms of the Blues and Rangers, who square off tonight here at Scottrade Center (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), was that the first episode depicting the lives and daily routines of both the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers leading into the Jan. 2 Winter Classic was a success.
"We were really excited about it," Rangers center Brian Boyle said. "I don't think I've been that excited for something like that. That was pretty awesome."
Rangers coach John Tortorella was not as forthcoming. He was more focused on his opponent for tonight.
"I'm going to tell you right now, I'm not going to have a running comment on the show," Tortorella said. "We have a game to play here. I respect what (HBO's) doing. We're all in with them, but I'm not going to get into conversations about it."
Some of the highlighted points of emphasis, from the Rangers point of view, were winger Artem Anisimov sitting in the locker room during a recent game against Tampa Bay as he waits for his teammates to return. Anisimov scored a shorthanded goal, but his goal celebration -- which caused quite a stir by using his stick as a rifle and holding it as if he were shooting a gun at the Lightning goal. Teammate Sean Avery was the first to enter the locker room and smiles. The rest have their own remarks but are having a good time with it.
"When Avs came into the room first and it was all quiet, that was funny," Boyle said.
And best of all was the scene with Ryan Callahan and his grandmother following a game against Buffalo.
"The goal was to kind of see it on TV," Boyle said. "Yeah, we do live it every day, but how they portray it, I thought they did a great job. It's going to be something cool to see again down the road."
Many of the Blues players saw it and were impressed themselves.
"HBO does an unbelievable job," Pietrangelo said. "Everybody in here who watches it is a huge fan of it. All of those 24/7's, even with the boxing, they do a tremendous job and it's always fun to watch.
"They know how to balance the family side of things and hockey side of things. People want to see the other side of the players, too, and that's what they're there for. ... A lot of people don't get to see what we're like in the room or away from the rink. I think it's good for the game. People get a different perspective about our game."
Added defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who's friends with Rangers Derek Stepan and Ryan McDonagh: "I think it's great. For us, we're used to it as players. We know obviously the lives of hockey players, but I think it's pretty eye-opening to a lot of people when I talked to friends at home that they're amazed at the type of guys hockey players are, what goes on in the locker room. I enjoy watching Hard Knocks and that type of stuff, too. To get a glimpse into our world, I think people enjoy it. HBO does a great job of it."
With cameras following the Rangers around for three more episodes, the Blues weren't looking for the bright lights themselves. They're just looking to be momentary spoilers.
"I'm not really a big camera guy, but hopefully we can kind of ruin the show for them for a game," winger T.J. Oshie said. "But it was awesome. It's great for the game. I think the Winter Classic's really great for the NHL. It gives you an inside look at kind of how close of a family our teams are and how fun it is to play hockey in the NHL."
There was an unofficial count of 43 English-speaking f-bombs hurled during the hour-long show.
"We catch a bad rap for (the f-bombs)," Shattenkirk said. "I think it's part of the culture we live in. There's a lot of testosterone flowing around and some macho guys out there. I know I'm guilty of it. Thankfully, I'm not on air. I know my mom wouldn't be too happy with me."
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The news from the Blues on injured center Vladimir Sobotka (left ankle) is that he feels better and two weeks is about the timeline he'll miss.
"Sobe feels a lot better today, so that's good news," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "When you get that type of injury, if he's showing the improvement he is, that's a good sign. He was a lot better today than he was even yesterday. I don't think we're going to be much further than the two-week window if he keeps improving."
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Both Hitchcock and Tortorella dissected the game and offered that much will not be conceded tonight between the Nos. 2 and 3 teams in the NHL as far as goals-against per game average.
The Blues, who come in second at No. 2, know the challenge that they face.
"They're hard on the puck. They compete every shift," Hitchcock said of the Rangers. "They don't take a shift off. They don't take a puck battle off. I told our players today they're arguably the best 3-on-3 team in both zones that we're going to play against. They close on you fast. They hang onto it in the offensive zone. That's a challenge."
Tortorella, who's team is coming off a 1-0 loss to Dallas Tuesday, sees a similar type of opponent tonight.
"Dallas was very structured and the same thing tonight, St. Louis is going to be a very structured, defensive-oriented team," Tortorella said. "We just have to stay within ourselves and not make a big mistake and where it's in our net."
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The Blues (17-9-3), who are 6-0-1 against the Eastern Conference this season, will play the following lineup:
Alex Steen-David Backes-T.J. Oshie
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Chris Stewart
Matt D'Agostini-Jason Arnott-Jamie Langenbrunner
Chris Porter-Scott Nichol-Ryan Reaves
Carlo Colaiacovo-Alex Pietrangelo
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott gets the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak is the backup and will play Saturday in Nashville and likely Sunday at home against Columbus.
Scratches for the Blues include winger Evgeny Grachev and defenseman Ian Cole. Sobotka (ankle), left winger Andy McDonald (concussion), defenseman Kent Huskins (ankle) and right winger B.J. Crombeen (shoulder) are on injured reserve.
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The Rangers (17-7-4), who are 7-2-1 in their last 1 games, will play the same lineup they used Tuesday:
Ruslan Fedotenko-Brad Richards-Ryan Callahan
Artem Anisimov-Derek Stepan-Marian Gaborik
Carl Hagelin-Brian Boyle-John Mitchell
Brandon Dubinsky-Erik Christensen-Brandon Prust
Ryan McDonagh-Dan Girardi
Michael Del Zotto-Steve Eminger
Jeff Woywitka-Anton Stralman
Henrik Lundqvist will start in goal for the Blueshirts; Martin Biron is the backup.
Rangers scratches include defenseman Tim Erixon and winger Sean Avery. Winger Mike Rupp (knee), defenseman Michael Sauer (concussion), defenseman Mark Staal (concussion) and left winger Wojtek Wolski (groin) are out with injuries.