By LOUIE KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- For the Blues, with the playoff scenario in their own hands and not having to rely on outside help, two words fit the description heading into tonight's season finale against Chicago: no excuses.
If the Blues (28-17-2), who close out the regular season against the Blackhawks (36-6-5) tonight (7 p.m. on FSN, KMOX 1120-AM), win, they will finish as the fourth seed in the Western Conference and have home ice in the first round of the playoffs. A regulation loss eliminates them from a possible fourth seed because the team they're jockeying for position with (San Jose and Los Angeles, each one point back), play each other tonight. One point tonight gives the Blues a chance.
"It's win and move on," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "To me, regardless what happens, 90 minutes after the game we've moved onto the next event. If it ends up in a win, great, we're the four-seed and we watch TV. If we don't win, we adjust accordingly. To me, you can't carry any baggage postgame."
The Blues will face a Blackhawks team with that will be minus most of their top-heavy skill players, including Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Viktor Stalberg, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and Niklas Hjalmarsson. They'll play a makeshift lineup chalk full of American Hockey League call-ups from the Rockford IceHogs and expect to start a goalie (Carter Hutton) who will make his NHL debut.
"We know some of the guys in the lineup," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "They left a lot of their feister guys kind of in there (Andrew Shaw, Bryan Bickell, Jamal Mayers, Brandon Bollig and Daniel Carcillo). There's going to be players here trying to prove themselves and have good standing with their organization who want to show them that they can play at this level against us who's fighting for home ice advantage. They're going to get our best game."
The Blues, who are the only team from the Central Division with a win against the Blackhawks (4-3 shootout win at Chicago April 4; the Hawks are 16-0-1 against the division), can't consume themselves with who's in and who's out.
"It's something staring us right in the face with a good performance tonight puts us at home ice for the first round and there's something to be said for that," captain David Backes said. "It's get the job done, whatever we need to do as a group of 20 guys in here, commit to the game plan and sort it out afterwards."
The decision by Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville to sit his regulars might now go over too well for those following the Sharks and Kings, but with nothing to play for, Hitchcock defended his counterpart.
"That's smart by them," Hitchcock said. "They're not going to take a risk. There's nothing at stake for them. What they get is a free look. They get a free look at their players for the playoffs, they get a free look at their players whether they can keep up with the pace in an important game for another team, but to me, it's about playing well and moving on. There's a combination for all of us. You don't want to carry any baggage forward here. We'll evaluate it and move on.
"I think you have an obligation at home to (play the regulars). You owe your home fans, you owe those people that obligation and you have to honor it. I don't care if the game is for nothing ... sitting out your best players at home to me would be offensive if I was a fan.
"But what you do at on the road is up to you. You've got to protect your lineup. What you do at home, without no audience there ain't no show."
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Kris Russell will once again be in the lineup tonight, as Barret Jackman (foot/ankle) will take another game off to rest up before the playoffs.
Jackman has skated the past two days but feels like a couple extra days wouldn't hurt despite the game meaning so much for the Blues.
"I'd be on the ice if it were playoffs," Jackman said. "Better to take one more day of rest and be ready for Tuesday-Wednesday.
"It kills me to be in the stands, but that's the way it goes. You get bumps and bruises, you get injuries. Sometimes it's better to just sit out. There's more than capable guys in the lineup."
Russell, who played on defense for the first time since April 1 in Thursday's 4-1 win over Calgary, drew rave reviews from Hitchcock.
"He played very well," Hitchcock said. "Last half of the game was excellent. He played really well. Obviously he's a top six defenseman that happened to get in the seven-hole because of the depth that we have, which is not good for him and good for the organization and good for the team because we've got a guy that we can just plunk in there with no problem in any situation."
Also, T.J. Oshie (ankle) could have been available tonight if needed, but Hitchcock said both he and Jackman need to be ready for the postseason.
"(Jackman) could play tonight. We're not taking any risk there. Oshie could play tonight. We're not taking any risk there," Hitchcock said. "We'll wait until the first possible playoff game and then go from there."
The big question for the Blues will be who comes out when Oshie's available. Hitchcock likes the notion of adding No. 74.
"He's a big add," Hitchcock said. "That's a big add for us. He carries the conscience of the team, he's kind of a three-zone player, can play up and down your lineup and be very effective. He's great on the power play. I think we'll use him in every situation, but that's a heck of a player add at this time of the year. We're really looking forward to that to be honest with you. We've missed him. We've won, but he's been a guy that plays the game the right wat and he adds a lot to our team. We're really excited by that."
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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 nod in goal; Jaroslav Halak will back up.
Healthy scratches include defensemen Ian Cole and Jani Hakanpaa, forwards Andrew Murray and Dmitrij Jaskin. Injured players include Jackman (foot/ankle) and Oshie (ankle), Scott Nichol (lower-body soreness) and Jamie Langenbrunner (hip).
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The Blackhawks' predicted lineup, since they didn't skate Saturday morning and coach Joel Quenneville will rest a majority of his top-end players:
Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Michael Frolik
Jeremy Morin-Drew LeBlanc-Daniel Carcillo
Brandon Bollig-Brandon Pirri-Jamal Mayers
Jimmy Hayes-Ben Smith-Sheldon Brookbank
Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival
Johnny Oduya-Ryan Stanton
Adam Clendening-Shawn Lalonde
Carter Hutton will get his first career NHL start in goal; Corey Crawford will be the backup.
Scratched: Keith, Hjalmarsson, Sharp, Marcus Kruger, Stalberg, Toews, Brandon Saad, Michal Handzus, Seabrook, Hossa, Kane, Steve Montador and Henrik Karlsson.
Injured: Dave Bolland (lower-body) and Ray Emery (lower-body).