Friday, April 25, 2014

(4-25-14) Blackhawks-Blues Game 5 Gameday Lineup

ST. LOUIS -- Will he or won't he? That's been the million-dollar question on a daily basis that's following those writing about the Western Conference First Round series between the Blues and Chicago Blackhawks.

That question was answered during pregame warmups.

Blues captain David Backes (upper-body injury, foot) returned for Friday's Game 5 (7 p.m.; FSN, KY-98-FM)?

Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, who continued to keep media and fans guessing, didn't rule out the Blues' captain earlier in the day.

"No ... like I said in Chicago, there's lots of rinks here in St. Louis too," Hitchcock joked. "You never know. Might just jump on the ice and be there. If he's skating in the warmup, then you can all press send on your tweets and away you go."

The Blues' coach mixed up the lines for the morning skate Friday, splitting up the team's most productive line of Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Sobotka and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Alexander Steen took up Schwartz's spot on left wing, and Schwartz dropped to play with Derek Roy at center and T.J. Oshie on the right.

But an interesting development saw Roy on the ice long after the regulars had left and skated with the healthy scratches, which tends to believe that Backes has a legitimate shot at playing. That was a pretty good indication that the Blues' captain would return to action.

Hitchcock had one thought in mind with the changes. Backes started on a line with Schwartz and Oshie.

"I just think that depth is going to persevere in this series and we need to play with more depth," he said. "So spread it out a little bit. We've had success doing that. 

"I think one of the things we're looking for is to have two third lines and by balancing the way we did it today, it's going to allow us to have two third lines. If we split those minutes, it's going to give us more tempo early and not wear us down as much. I think it works for us. Instead of playing one line seven or eight or nine minutes, we can get maybe two groups of 12 minutes each and I think it's going to give us better balance and be able to keep the tempo up rather than having to use eight or nine forwards to mount the comebacks like we've had to."

Regarding Backes, when No. 42 made an appearance for the pregame warmup, the crowd cheered with approval.

"I told you all to put it in pencil last game because we were switching and three shifts in, we switched," Hitchcock said. "The lineup that finished the game was the lineup we anticipated playing if we didn't get the right jump early and we didn't have the right jump early, so we switched. I'd put it in mechanical pencil."

The players will just go with what's on the board.

"We've changed lines all year," Schwartz said. "It seems like game to game a lot of times. Even in games, he switches it, so you never know, but it could be a guy's going or just switch things up a little bit. It could be matchups. 

"It is what it is and we've all played together before, so it shouldn't be any different."

- - -

Fourth-line production from the Blues typically means play physical, give the team quality minutes and chip on offensively from time to time.

Whether it's been Maxim Lapierre or Chris Porter or Adam Cracknell and even Ryan Reaves, the Blues have gotten more than expected from the group from an offensive standpoint.

In four games, they've contributed six points (three goals) and all have come at critical points in games.

Porter, who leads the unit with a goal and two assists, said it comes from the hard work they're putting in.

"I think we create the real estate by playing the way we do, getting behind their 'D' and physical on them," Porter said. "Maybe that's given us a little bit more room as the game progresses, trying to tire them out a little bit. It's been effective over the past four games. Hopefully five and six, it'll do the same.

"I think it's an added bonus. Obviously when we can get on the scoresheet, our main focus going in is to create energy, great in our D-zone, play physical when we can. Fortunately for us over the last few games, we've been finding the back of the net as well."

A playoff veteran of 73 games, Lapierre said it happens a lot.

"I think you always see that every year where you have a third- or fourth-liner having an impact early," Lapierre said. "I think we don't really focus on scoring goals, but we want to play a simple game and if we have a chance to be lucky, we're happy with it."

But Hitchcock feels they're more than just role players.

"Quite frankly, they're not fourth-line guys," Hitchcock said. "They're playing third-line minutes so they've contributed a lot. Just with where we've been at roster-wise, they've had to play up, they've more than held their own. I think typical Porter and Cracknell, when we need them the most, they come through for us. Both guys spent a big portion of the year in the minors, come up and walk into this environment, not a lot of fun … and they've more than held their own.

"There's been times they've gone back and played on the fourth line, but to be honest, both guys have probably played third-line minutes on a regular basis."

- - -

If Steen plays with Sobotka and Tarasenko tonight, it's not with the intent to get him going on the scoresheet. Far from it, according to Hitchcock, even though Steen has one point (an overtime game-winner in Game 1).

Hitchcock appreciates the all-around game.

"I like it. I like what he's doing," Hitchcock said of Steen. "He's like anybody else. He'd like to be able to score a big goal, do more offensively but because of a few missing parts, he's had to extend minutes way above even what we did with him in the regular season. He's had to do a lot of PK, he's had to do everything for us. He's had to check top lines, kill penalties, play on the power play, quarterback the power play with Shatty ... he's had to do everything. I like the way he's competing. I like the way he's playing. I think he feels like anything else, it's hard to score when you're playing against top players. Your job is more defined, but I think one of the reasons we've been so competitive in this series is because he's allowed us to manage our minutes and other people have stepped in and scored. But I think if you talked to him individually, he'd like to be able to contribute more. That's just how competitive he is. But man, I love the way he competes, I love the way he's playing right now to be honest with you."

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup (pending Backes' status):

Jaden Schwartz-David Backes-T.J. Oshie

Alexander Steen-Vladimir Sobotka-Vladimir Tarasenko 

Steve Ott-Patrik Berglund-Adam Cracknell

Chris Porter-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves

Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo

Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk

Jordan Leopold-Roman Polak

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

Healthy scratches include Derek RoyMagnus Paajarvi, Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian ColeBrenden Morrow (foot) is out. 

- - -

The Blackhawks' probable lineup:

Bryan Bickell-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane

Patrick Sharp-Michal Handzus-Marian Hossa

Brandon Saad-Andrew Shaw-Kris Versteeg

Brandon Bollig-Marcus Kruger-Ben Smith

Duncan Keith-Sheldon Brookbank

Johnny Oduya-Niklas Hjalmarsson

Nick Leddy-Michal Rozsival

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

Healthy scratches include Jeremy Morin, Peter Regin, David Rundblad, Joakim Nordstrom and Klas Dahlbeck. Brent Seabrook is serving the final of his three-game suspension and Nikolai Khabibulin (shoulder) is on long-term injured-reserve.

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