By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- After frittering away an opportunity to take matters into their own hands, the Blues get the same chance again tonight against the Colorado Avalanche.
The Blues (26-17-2), who fell 5-3 in Denver Sunday night and missed on a chance to clinch a playoff berth, will be faced with the same scenario after the Phoenix Coyotes failed to help the Blues Monday. A Coyotes win in regulation at Detroit would have clinched a spot in the Stanley Cup playoffs but the Red Wings won 4-0.
Now the Blues will attempt to take matters into their own hands once again against the pesky Avalanche (15-23-7), last in the Western Conference but who won both meetings against the Blues this season in Denver. It's just the way coach Ken Hitchcock wants it.
"We want to go in, as Hitch says, in the front door playing our best hockey," forward Chris Porter said. "We don't want to be handed a playoff spot. We've worked so hard all year to get to this position. We want to go out with the two points and clinch that spot."
The Blues sputtered in all facets Sunday against the Avs, playing a team with nothing to lose and just playing out the strong.
"We just need to play better," Hitchcock said. "We looked tired and we looked loose. We played a lot of hockey and we showed signs of it. We showed signs of it the previous two games and got away with it. But we looked like a lot of teams look like at this time of year. We made tired mistakes, we got away with it in the third period against Phoenix, we got away with it in the third period against Dallas, but we didn't get away with it in Colorado. Yesterday was a re-energized day. We're hoping we bring more energy today."
When asked about the playoffs, Hitchcock fired back, "I don't want to talk about playoffs. Let's get in. My focus is on tonight, period. Energy comes in different fashions. We had good focus and good energy today, so all I'm focusing on is tonight."
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The Blues had a plethora of injured skaters on the ice Tuesday along with their regulars. T.J. Oshie, who had ankle surgery just six days ago, was the surprising one out there considering he was in a walking cast and on crutches at Thursday's home game.
Also, Jamie Langenbrunner (hip) continues to defy the odds and prep himself for a potential return should in the playoffs, Jaroslav Halak (groin) looks like he's at or near 100 percent and Scott Nichol (lower-body soreness) is also near game-shape.
For the veteran Langenbrunner, who was all but deemed to be out for the year, the fact he's skating is a serious indicator he's doing all he can to give the Blues another option should they make an extended playoff run.
"That's my goal and that's what I'm pushing for," Langenbrunner said after the morning skate. "Hopefully we stay healthy through the playoffs and push a long ways and all things are good. But I know how playoff runs go. You need some guys and I'm trying to be one of those guys getting ready to go.
"I knew it was a bit of a possibility. That's why I did (the surgery) when I did to give myself that opportunity but still knowing that it was a possibility that the season was over. I've been trying to work hard to get back. The hip feels better than it has in a long time. Now it's just trying to get the strength back around it and get used to skating again."
Langenbrunner, who will miss a 37th consecutive game tonight, has become a bit of an assistant coach watching from up above. He's learned one thing: "I learned how much I missed it when I'm not playing. I know that much. It's been hard being around and just watching and not practicing. I know I don't want to be on the other side of it yet.
"You get a different perspective watching it upstairs. The game's definitely a lot easier up there than when you're down on the ice. I've been able to see a few things and pass on some things that you see as far as little things. Hearing from coaches all the time gets old for players. Hearing it from a fellow player maybe adds a little bit more to it."
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The Blues expect to have a bit of a different look when they take the ice tonight at 7 p.m. (FSN-Plus, Y-98 FM http://blues.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=667155).
The biggest change is David Perron, a regular on the team's top unit. He was skating on the fourth line with Adam Cracknell at center and Ryan Reaves on right wing.
Perron had a turnover that led to Colorado's third goal in the second period Tuesday near his net and has just one goal in 19 games.
"I respect the decision and I'll just go out and play hard tonight," Perron said. "Hopefully we can clinch tonight and go (in the playoffs in) the front door, and that's all I'll worry about. Nothing else."
"I'd rather not talk about it. It's about the team at this time of the year. Get the two points tonight and that's how it is, nothing else."
Hitchcock, whose morning skate presser was limited to three questions, said: "He's part of the 12 ... don't read anything into it."
The one that benefits is Porter, who will be elevated from fourth-line center to playing left wing with Patrik Berglund at center and Vladimir Tarasenko on right wing.
"It's been a good ride," Porter said. "I'm enjoying every minute of it. I'm just glad to be part of this team.
"Whatever they want me to do and help the team win, I'm more than happy to do. I'm going to take it and run with it."
Also, Jaden Schwartz, who stepped up to play with David Backes and Alexander Steen Sunday night, scoring a goal, gets the role with the top line from the get-go tonight.
"I try to do the things that got me here," Schwartz said. "I'm not going to change too much. I just want to work hard, get in on the forecheck, try to create havoc and get to the net. Backs and Steener are really good players that are easy to read off of. Getting open and feeding them the puck is pretty easy because they're just smart players. Work hard, stick to my game, be smart defensively, be reliable but make sure I'm creating offense for them, too."
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The Blues recalled defenseman Jani Hakanpaa, the team's fourth round pick in 2010, from Peoria.
Hakanpaa, 20, played in 14 games with the Rivermen this season and had a goal and three assists. The 6-foot-5, 218-pound Kirkkonummi, Finland native was caught off-guard Sunday night after the Rivermen's final game of the season by the Blues' Director of Player Development Tim Taylor.
"I was stunned. Like No words. It felt unreal at first," Hakanpaa said. "I'm enjoying it, just trying to soak in everything, just trying to enjoy everything and learn from the guys ... learn all the information I can, just soak that in and use that to my advantage next year and going forward. It's been great.
"I was just trying to play hard in Peoria and try to help the team out there as much as I could and learn stuff from the older guys. I learned a lot from the older guys and it helped me out a lot."
Hakanpaa isn't expected to see any ice time, but training with the parent club might be good for his development. He joins Kris Russell and Ian Cole as extra defensemen.
"It was a good place to be," Hakanpaa said of his time in Peoria. "Everybody was really helpful. It helped me to get used to the North American style of hockey. There are still a lot of things I have to work on and get used to, but it was a good first step for me.
"The speed. Everything happens much quicker. The smaller ice rinks ... there's more battles. You have to battle more down low instead of like back home, the big rinks, it's more about containing, people keep it to the outside. Here, it's battling out in the corners. It's just a faster, more simple game than back home."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
Chris Porter-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
David Perron-Adam Cracknell-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott gets the start after being pulled from the game Sunday night; Jake Allen is the backup.
Healthy scratches include defensemen Russell, Cole and Hakanpaa as well as forwards Dmitrij Jaskin and Andrew Murray. Injured players -- who were all on the ice today -- include Oshie (ankle), Langenbrunner (hip), Halak (groin) and Nichol (lower-body soreness).
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The Avalanche's probable lineup:
John Mitchell-Matt Duchene-PA Parenteau
Cody McLeod-Ryan O'Reilly-Gabriel Landeskog
Jamie McGinn-Paul Stastny-Milan Hejduk/Aaron Palushaj
Patrick Bordeleau-Chuck Kobasew-Tomas Vincour
Greg Zanon-Tyson Barrie
Jan Hejda-Stefan Elliott
Matt Hunwick-Shane O'Brien
Semyon Varlamov gets the start tonight; Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who played Sunday against the Blues, is the backup
Healthy scratches include forwards Hejduk or Palushaj, David Jones, Brad Malone and Mark Olver. Also scratched are goalie Calvin Pickard, and defenseman Sean Sullivan, who were recalled from Lake Erie of the AHL Tuesday morning. Vincour was also recalled Tuesday. Injuries include defensemen Erik Johnson (hand), and Ryan Wilson (ankle) as well as winger Steve Downie (knee).