By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- If Jay Bouwmeester was emotionless after it came to fruition that he would be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in his 10-year career, facing his former teammates tonight surely won't faze him either right?
Bouwmeester, who was acquired two days before the trade deadline in a blockbuster with the Calgary Flames that sent a conditional first- and fourth-round pick in 2013, prospect Mark Cundari and the rights to goaltender Reto Berra, will face the Flames for the first time when the Blues (27-17-2) and Calgary (19-23-4) square off at 7 p.m. (FSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
"It's always different," Bouwmeester said at Thursday's morning skate. "I've had the experience of doing it in Florida, so it's not like it's the first time. Being on the road is a little different playing against the guys you were with. You make friendships, on the personal side of things, you make a lot of relationships. It's good to see everyone and all that, but once the game starts you just play the game. Guys play against each other all the time."
Bouwmeester, the third overall pick in 2002 by the Florida Panthers, still has friends on the Flames team that has undergone a makeover. He left the Panthers via free agency to sign a five-year, $33.4 million contract with the Flames in 2009, has helped the Blues go make a huge turnaround in the month of April. They've gone 10-3-0 and thrust themselves into the middle of the playoff chase.
Bouwmeester, who has a goal and five assists in 12 games with the Blues, was able to get reacquainted with his former mates but when the puck drops, Calgary is the opponent.
"You know guys on every team, so when you do get moved or other guys you played against, you kind of separate it and you play the game," Bouwmeester said. "Nowadays, you usually know five or six guys on the other team. I don't look at it as anything significant."
Cundari, who has played in two games with the Flames, scored in his NHL debut on his first NHL shot. He was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2008 but could never make the Blues' roster after two-plus seasons with the Peoria Rivermen.
"There were some times when I was in Peoria where I was thinking, 'Oh man, what do I have to do to get up there? I'm playing well,'" Cundari said. "But at the same time, hey, the chance never came up. Whether it was guys not being injured or signings or whatever and hey, that's the business of the game. I'm not going to sit there and pout. I just came to work every day and tried to maximize my abilities. To me, being here has helped me as a pro mentally to get to that next level. The physical aspect of the game is there. For me, it's not just mentally learning the game and perfecting it."
It will be natural to have feelings of wanting to prove something to the old squad.
"Obviously that feeling's there, but I'm not going to let it overwhelm me," said Cundari, who has a goal and two assists in two NHL games. "I don't have to go out there, cause all sorts of havoc and show them this is what you're missing. It's not about that. It's about me starting my NHL career and making it a long one. It's not about payback or that. It's the business part of the game and I've accepted it and happy to be part of this organization now."
Flames coach Bob Hartley went through the same scenario when facing the Colorado Avalanche, who fired him in 2003 and was hired by the Atlanta Thrashers.
"I remember my first time back in Colorado ... the first time is always kind of a special game," Hartley said. "You can make this special two ways, you can look at this as a positive challenge or kind of as a negative, whether you want to prove your new team right or you want to prove your old team wrong. For me, I've always been I look at the positive side. I always try to prove the people that shows confidence in me, I'm trying to prove them right that they made the right decision."
Cundari is looking forward to locking up with some former Rivermen teammates and friends.
"A couple of the guys I played with, Ryan Reaves, (Adam) Cracknell, Jaden Schwartz ... they were all buzzing by the bench there kind of chirping me a little," Cundari joked. "That was kind of cool. I'm looking forward to playing against them."
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Wednesday night couldn't have gone any better for the Blues. And they didn't even have to step onto the ice.
With losses by both Los Angeles and San Jose, as well as Chicago wrapping up the Presidents' Trophy with a win at Edmonton, the Blues know they control their own fate as far as the race for the fourth seed in the Western Conference and home-ice advantage in at least the first round of the playoffs.
"As it went along there, LA had their opportunity, then San Jose has an opportunity to grab it and take hold," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Now it's fallen on us. I think we're ready to answer the call. It's two big games coming up here. Obviously home ice advantage would be huge.
"We have it in our hands just like you said. We obviously didn't think maybe even three or four days ago that this would be a possibility, but now that it's come about, we're ready for it. I know we talked about how important it is to get the highest seed possible, whether it's even the sixth or fifth. You never know when you can get home ice advantage on the way. To nab it as early as possible would be huge."
Teammate Alex Pietrangelo echoed those sentiments, and with the Blues remaining games against the Flames and Blackhawks (who have nothing to play for here Saturday), the Blues know what's at stake.
"We know that they (the Kings and Sharks) lost last night and it gives us the opportunity to get up to fourth," Pietrangelo said. "We've got a pretty good feeling in here with the way we're playing. Sunday against Colorado wasn't our best game, but if you look at the last five or six games, we've done a lot of good things. We're trying to have fun with this whole process. We're trying not to stay too tight. We're trying to enjoy everything, enjoy the fight here to get the home-ice advantage.
"You win two games and you're in fourth place. Its as simple as that. It's not confusing math. If we win those two games, it's an opportunity for home-ice advantage. We had it last year and it was big for us. You're not traveling next week, you're at home, guys can relax and get ready."
The Blues have won four in a row and five of six at home and are feeling that home-ice magic that they had last season.
"The way we've played on home ice lately, it's a good opportunity to get up early on a team," Pietrangelo said. "I think we've done a lot of good things. We've been trying to get a lot of energy in the building."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock understands destiny is in their own hands, but that's when it can get tricky.
"Yeah, but I also think if you play careful, that's when you get hurt," Hitchcock said. "I think if you play tentative, or if you play to try to get out of the way, bad habits come in. Momentum off of good habits is a very positive thing. ... You don't want to be starting the playoffs trying to grab your game. That's why this morning wasn't a pre-game skate, it was a practice.
"... We've got a chance now. Home ice is sitting right in front of us ... for us the higher seed, depending on if we have success in the first round, would really help us. So we're going to definitely try to go for it here."
The Blues wouldn't be so poor off if they began on the road, where they have the second-best record in the Western Conference (14-9-1) and third overall in the league behind Chicago and Pittsburgh, who both have 18 wins.
"We've been a great road team, but I think the energy we get from our fans in this building, that type of momentum that can be drawn from a crowd, I think is huge in the playoffs," Shattenkirk said. "No matter how good you are on the road during the course of a season, this is the place we love to play and I know we can feed off the energy in here. It's a hard place for other teams to try to come in and play and win a game. When that's the case, you want to be home as much as possible.
"That's the beauty of it is we know we have to win two to get home ice advantage, so we can't look past tonight. This team's out and they're obviously not happy about that. They have a couple guys in the lineup trying to prove themselves andcme in and make some noise in this league at the end of the year. Those are the guys that can really hurt you, the guys that are AHL call-ups. They're all great players. Everyone in this league's a great player. They're the ones who are battling on their team the most and can hurt you the most."
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Defenseman Kris Russell will make his return to the lineup and play alongside Roman Polak against the Flames.
Russell, who has played in only one of 12 games since the Blues acquired Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold via trades, was the odd-man out when the Blues decided on their top six.
But a foot/ankle injury to veteran Barret Jackman, suffered blocking a shot Tuesday against Colorado, will sideline Jackman tonight and likely Saturday's season-finale against Chicago.
"I worked hard practicing and trying to keep my game, so it's good to get in a game again," Russell said. "I tried to be positive. Some days are tough. Because of the trades, we have a deep 'D' core. You can't change a recipe that's worked. I'm just happy to have an opportunity to get in."
Hitchcock, who said Russell and Ian Cole have both been "good soldiers" sitting out and waiting for their time, doesn't feel like the Blues will miss a beat.
"Him and Roman have been a good pair for us," Hitchcock said of Russell. "They were playing great until we made the trades. I see no reason that Kris isn't going to come in and play well. He does it every time. He's going to give us a different type of energy than Jacks. It's the same role. Kris' game has evolved where he's a mobile defending defenseman that knows how to kill penalties. He plays a very smart game, his game has really matured."
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The Ontario Hockey League (OHL) has named Blues goaltending prospect Jordan Binnington of the Owen Sound Attack, the OHL’s Goaltender of the Year.
Binnington, 19, set the Owen Sound single season records with 32 wins and seven shutouts while posting the OHL’s second lowest goals against average (2.17) and third best save percentage (.932).
Binnington’s seven shutouts tied for a league-high and helped the Attack win their first-ever Dave Pinkney Trophy for allowing the fewest goals in the league (165).
The 6-2, 169-pound goaltender has spent the past four seasons with Owen Sound. He has an 86-51-14 record including a 2.90 GAA, .910 save percentage and nine shutouts. In 2011, he helped the Attack earn its first OHL Championship while also being named the top goaltender at the 2011 Memorial Cup.
The Gravenhurst, Ontario native was drafted by the Blues in the third round (88th overall) in the 2011 Entry Draft.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-Alexander Steen
Andy McDonald-Vladimir Sobotka-Chris Stewart
David Perron-Patrik Berglund-Vladimir Tarasenko
Adam Cracknell-Chris Porter-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold-Kevin Shattenkirk
Kris Russell-Roman Polak
Brian Elliott will get the start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will come off injured-reserve and be the backup after missing 12 games with a groin injury.
Healthy scratches include Cole and defenseman Jani Hakanpaa, forwards Andrew Murray and Dmitrij Jaskin and goalie Jake Allen. Injuries players include Jackman (foot/ankle), T.J. Oshie (ankle), Jamie Langenbrunner (hip), Scott Nichol (lower-body soreness).
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Calgary's probable lineup:
Mike Cammalleri-Matt Stajan-Lee Stempniak
Sven Baertschi-Mikael Backlund-Jiri Hudler
Paul Byron-Roman Horak-Roman Cervenka
Maxwell Reinhart-Blair Jones-Tim Jackman
Mark Giordano-Dennis Wideman
TJ Brodie-Mark Cundari
Chris Butler-Anton Babchuk
Joey MacDonald will get the start in goal; Miikka Kiprusoff will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Carter Bancks, Ben Hanowski, Ben Street, Akim Aliu, Steve Begin, Blair Jones, Brett Carson, Brian McGrattan and Leland Irving. Injured players include Alex Tanguay (knee), Curtis Glencross (knee) and Derek Smith (knee).