By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock was all smiles Friday morning. It was a much better mood than the one he was in despite winning in a shootout the previous night.
After the Blues won a 2-1 shootout over the Phoenix Coyotes, Hitchcock received a game-misconduct for verbal abuse of officials after what Hitchcock deemed a poor decision to not give Phoenix's Martin Hanzal a penalty for cross-checking Alex Pietrangelo that directly led to the Coyotes' tying goal.
There are no repercussions for Hitchcock's actions, which he said he's never done at this level.
"Not in the NHL," he said.
Has it ever happened before?
"It was a long time ago in junior," Hitchcock said. "A little hot under the collar, but calmed down today and ready for Dallas.
"We've moved onto a new day. Yesterday's nailed down. We've moved onto a new day."
The Blues (25-16-2), who face a new and improved Stars (22-18-3) today at 7 p.m. (FSN, Y-98 FM). The Stars are fighting for a playoff spot and sit two points behind eighth-place Columbus. Dallas has undergone a makeup infused with younger players following the trades of Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and their captain, Brenden Morrow.
Those household names have been replaced by Alex Chiasson, who is out with a shoulder injury, Reilly Smith, Cody Eakin, Matt Fraser, Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel.
"They've changed," Hitchcock said of the Stars. "They look like they've changed their system when they went to their young guys. A very abrasive, aggressive system, a ton of energy. They've gone to a lot more 1-on-1 play defensively, they're challenging 1-on-1.
"I thought they were a pressure-position team when they had the older players. Now they're just go, and they play with a ton of energy. I think they play a lot like Columbus, to be honest with you. They've got no quit in them. Of the home games we play, this will be the hardest."
Stars coach Glen Gulutzan, whose team is 6-1 in its last seven games scoring 27 goals (the Blues are 5-2 in the same stretch and scored seven goals), is having fun coaching a younger-laden group.
"It's been a lot of fun," Gulutzan said. "I talked to (Los Angeles Kings coach) Darryl Sutter and he talked about young guys that got infused into that Kings lineup last year at the end of the year that kind of pushed them into the playoff spot in the eighth seed and then took them right through.
"The veteran guys pulled their weight obviously, but he said it was energizing and fun to have those young kids go north-south, up the ice. He said it made it fun as a coach and made it fun as a group. That's exactly what's happened here. ... They're energetic and they do what you tell them. They're having fun doing it. It's a good situation."
The Stars (47 points) have five games remaining and games in hand on both Columbus (49 points) and Detroit (47 points). They know tonight will be a challenge facing the Blues, who they split a pair of games earlier this season in Dallas.
"Big and heavy ... just like LA in our minds," Gulutzan said, describing the Blues. "Heavy, skilled, structured, they've got it all. There's no question they have it all. Defensively and up front, they've got depth, good goaltending, well-coached. They're a challenge. We're going to have to use our speed to get on them, limit their chances and make sure that we're playing good, defensive hockey because they're going to play good, defensive hockey."
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Hitchcock credits Thursday's win to the goaltending of Brian Elliott, who will get the start tonight after stopping 33 shots and all three shootout attempts, as well as his defensive six.
"They were under heat," Hitchcock said of his d-unit. "We got a lot of workout on d-zone exits because that's what we did for a period and a half, we d-zoned exit. They managed the game under pretty trying circumstances in the second period. I thought they and the goalie really held us together and then we got going in the third, but I thought they were outstanding yesterday. I thought that was one of the best games Petro's played in a long time."
Tonight will be the first time this season Elliott will start on back-to-back days.
"I didn't even think of anything other than playing Elliott," Hitchcock said. "I didn't even put any thought into it."
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The Blues' probable lineup, which will remain the same as Thursday although Hitchcock said the forward lines could be tweaked based on Dallas' lineup:
Alexander Steen-David Backes-David Perron
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott gets the nod after stopping 33 shots and all three shootouts against Phoenix Thursday; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include defensemen Kris Russell and Ian Cole and forward Andrew Murray. Injured players include winger T.J. Oshie (IR, ankle), goalie Jaroslav Halak (groin), center Scott Nichol (lower-body soreness) and winger Jamie Langenbrunner (IR, hip).
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The Stars' probable lineup:
Ray Whitney-Jamie Benn-Loui Eriksson
Reilly Smith-Cody Eakin-Ryan Garbutt
Eric Nystrom-Vernon Fiddler-Erik Cole
Antoine Roussel-Tom Wandell-Matt Fraser
Trevor Daley-Stephane Robidas
Brenden Dillon-Alex Goligoski
Aaron Rome-Philip Larsen
Kari Lehtonen will get the start after stopping 37 shots against Vancouver Thursday; Richard Bachman will be the backup.
The lone healthy scratch could be defenseman Jordie Benn, although Gulutzan said they would make a game-time decision based on a potential injury to the blue line that he would not disclose. Injured players include Chiasson (shoulder) and Lane MacDermid (upper-body).