Wednesday, March 19, 2014

(3-19-14) Blues-Blackhawks Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
CHICAGO -- The smile on T.J. Oshie's face couldn't be avoided. When a player lights up a locker room all by himself, it's hardly avoidable.

Maybe part of it has to do with the renewed acquaintances between the Blues (47-14-7) and Chicago Blackhawks (39-15-15) at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM) at United Center.

Most of it has to do with a little human being brought into the world on Monday. Her name is Lyla Grace Oshie.

Oshie, who will return to the lineup tonight after missing Monday against the Winnipeg Jets, became a father for the first time. He and fiancee Lauren welcomed a baby girl, and Dad couldn't help but brag about the experience.

"It's single-handedly the best moment of my life," Oshie said Wednesday. "I was talking to 'Ports' (teammate Chris Porter) and my agent Matt Oates last night, neither have kids yet and I told them you just can't describe it until you have one of your own. You never knew you could love something that much.

"I think my whole body was flexed and clenched ... it was maybe four hours straight where I couldn't sit down, I couldn't do anything. I was just sitting there staring at her. I've had a smile on my face ever since. It's been amazing."

Mom and daughter are doing just fine back in St. Louis, but Oshie has a word of advice for the media throng after games back home:

"I'm not going to be the one hanging around the locker room anymore," Oshie joked. "I'm going to go home and see her. 

"She's first and foremost above everything. But I still have that same sense and feeling that when I come to the locker room and I step on the ice, there's still a job to do and I'm just as excited to play here."

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Dmitrij Jaskin has been at United Center before.

Never as a player. Only as a spectator.

Jaskin will make his debut as a hockey player in a building and against a team filled with history. It will be his 13th NHL game, and Jaskin, who has one goal and one assist in his abbreviated career, scored his only NHL goal against the Blackhawks on Dec. 28.

"I've been here for a Bulls game," Jaskin said of Chicago's NBA team. "I've already seen this building. ... It's one of the biggest rinks with one of the biggest histories. I'm really excited to be able to play here tonight."

Jaskin will play with Oshie and Vladimir Sobotka a game after playing a career-high 15 minutes, 22 seconds.

"It's even more exciting to have 'Osh' back," Jaskin said. "I will try to do the same thing tonight and try to enjoy the game. The first period was pretty hard, but after that, I felt pretty good."

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The Blues will look to extend their impressive 20-0-2 record against Central Division foes in a very tough environment.

The Blues are 3-0-0 against the Hawks this season, but two of those wins came via shootout and the other came on a goal by Alexander Steen with 21.1 seconds left in the game.

They have two more matchups with Chicago, which is eight points behind St. Louis for the top spot in the division.

"It's one that over history has heated up and that heat hasn't gone down at all," Oshie said of the rivalry. "We hate them, they hate us. I think it's known through each locker room, through the fans and everything like that. It's great to be part of games like this. These are the games you dream about when you're a kid, these and winning championships."

"It's definitely a great division for sure," defenseman Ian Cole said. "I think we take that into the games that we play against them, especially them being our immediate and recent rivalries with Chicago and Nashville. ... You do want to put a good foot forward, especially against those rivals every game, especially against Chicago. They're the defending Stanley Cup champions. They're the team to beat this season.

"The old 'Madhouse on Madison.' It's a lot of fun."

With a win tonight, the Blues will become the first team to clinch a spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"That's the first time I'm finding out about that," Oshie said. "Hopefully we can clinch that, but right now, we're in kind of playoff mode to where we need to make a couple steps to get to where we want to be at entering the playoffs. Tonight's a big test for us."

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A pair of former Blues are in search of milestones that could happen tonight.

Former Blues coach Joel Quenneville needs one victory to reach 700 for his career, of which 307 came as coach in St. Louis.

He's third on the all-time list, behind Scotty Bowman (1,244) and Al Arbour (782), both former Blues coaches.

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock summed up his admiration for Quenneville in his own light.

"First of all, I don't really care about his 700th win because I'm more concerned -- and I'm going to talk to him about it today -- whether that horse that him and 'Kitch' own can go mile-and-a-quarter," Hitchcock said of Quenneville and former Blues coach Mike Kitchen. "The breeding says it can. If I'm going to spend and lose a bunch more money on Quenneville's horses, I need to know that damn thing can go a mile-and-a-quarter. For me, that's more important.

"Whenever he gets to 700, he richly deserves it. He's a great guy, a great coach, longevity and he's been successful anywhere he's gone. There's a bigger issue than his 700th win and we need to get that fixed before the start of the game."

Also, former Blue Michal Handzus will play in the 1,000th NHL game of his career. Handzus, who has 185 goals and 480 points, was a fourth round pick by the Blues in the 1995 NHL Entry Draft. He played for Hitchcock with the Philadelphia Flyers.

"We've had a great friendship-relationship for years," Hitchcock said of Handzus. "Very similar to 'Sharpie' (Patrick Sharp) and myself. 

"Michal was a primetime player. We used him, Sami Kapanen and Branko Radivojevic as a checking line when we went on our big run. Michal's the same player that he was 10 years ago. He's just a little bit slower now and a little more beat up quite frankly. You talk about the terms of professional, there's a professional. His preparation, his focus, his concentration. Every year he was with us in Philadelphia he came in as the top-conditioned athlete and even better shape every year I was there than he was before. He set a standard from a conditioning standpoint that was really hard to obtain to. ... Two or three years ago, I spent time in his country. He is so highly thought of in his country. A lot of kids emulate him and his personality and his professionalism."

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The Blues will be looking for a little history against the Blackhawks. They're searching for five straight wins against the Blackhawks in their history as well as three straight wins in Chicago for the first time.

It won't be easy.

"I like playing against Joel's teams because it gives you a great working environment for the next 48 hours on the things you need to address and work on. I'm sure Joel feels the same way," Hitchcock said. "You get a true evaluation of your own team."

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The Blues announced that they have signed signed forward Zach Pochiro to a three-year entry-level contract.

Pochiro, 20, has spent the past two years with the Prince George Cougars of the Western Hockey League. The 6-foot-1, 162-pound forward has dressed in 63 games, ranking third on the club with 66 points (27 goals, 39 assists).

Prior to Blues training camp, Pochiro represented the club at the 2013 Prospect Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan, where he posted two points (one goal, one assist) and eight penalty minutes in four games.

Originally born in St. Louis, and a native of Las Vegas, Pochiro was originally drafted by the Blues in the fourth round, 112th overall, of the 2013 NHL Draft.

- - -

The Blues' probable lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-David Backes

Dmitrij Jaskin-Vladimir Sobotka-T.J. Oshie

Patrik Berglund-Derek Roy-Steve Ott

Brenden Morrow-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Ian Cole-Roman Polak

Ryan Miller will get the start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.

The healthy scratches are Carlo Colaiacovo and Chris PorterMagnus Paajarvi (upper body) skated but will not play. Jordan Leopold (flu) and Vladimir Tarasenko (thumb) did not make the trip.

Tarasenko tweeted out that he had successful surgery on Wednesday. He is still projected to miss six weeks and be re-evaluated at that time.

- - -

The Blackhawks projected lines: 

Kris Versteeg-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa

Bryan Bickell-Ben Smith-Patrick Kane

Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Andrew Shaw

Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Peter Regin

Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook

Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy-Sheldon Brookbank

Corey Crawford will start in goal; Antti Raanta will be the backup.

Former Blues prospect David Rundblad is the healthy scratch. Brandon Saad (upper body) is questionable, Michal Rozsival (lower body) is likely out, and Nikolai Khabibulin (rotator-cuff surgery) is on long-term injured reserve.

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