Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Blues take ice, gaining injured players ahead of playoffs

All but Backes, Berglund, Sobotka skated during 
optional in preparation for series with Blackhawks

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- The Blues ended the regular season missing eight regulars from their lineup. When they open the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks, veteran forward Brenden Morrow, one of those injured, declared, "The cavalry's coming."

Morrow (foot), along with forwards David Backes (foot), T.J. Oshie (upper body), Vladimir Sobotka (lower body) and Patrik Berglund (upper body), and defensemen Barret Jackman (undisclosed) and Alex Pietrangelo (undisclosed) missed the season finale against the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Some have missed multiple games.

Does Blues coach Ken Hitchcock share Morrow's feeling?
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Brenden Morrow (right) was one of the Blues' injured players to return to
the ice on Tuesday in preparation for Patrick Sharp (left) and the Chicago

"Not yet, no," he said. "Until they participate in a practice ... the guys are in various stages. Some guys were able to skate today, some guys weren't. Some guys, this was their first go. Until we can see if they can keep the pace ... I get the fact guys are trying to play, but we've got to get a proper evaluation off of the hockey practice and see when the tempo goes up whether they can keep up. This was an optional skate." 

The Blues finished the regular season losing six straight, and scored two goals or fewer in nine straight and 10 of 12.

All the injured players returned to the ice except Backes, Berglund and Sobotka for an optional skate Tuesday in preparation for Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round at Scottrade Center (7 p.m.' FSN, KY 98-FM). Morrow may have been the biggest surprise.

"We're using this time to get healthy, and for me, I wanted to get out there and get moving again," said Morrow, who sustained an injured foot during the morning skate prior to facing the Minnesota Wild on Thursday. "This old body needs to get warmed up, so I couldn't just jump in and get into a game after the time off I've had. You get out and you get moving a little bit and feeling good about myself."

Oshie, who was the recipient of an illegal hit to the head from Wild forward Mike Rupp that resulted in a four-game suspension, skated with his teammates for the first time since then.

"Right now we're just kind of going day to day," Oshie said. "I'm just moving forward as quickly as I can without hurting myself in the long run or hurting my team in the long run.

"It's the doctor's decision first. I think they already know what my decision is. I want to get out there as soon as I can, but I don't want to hurt myself longer so that I sit out for the whole playoffs. We'll be smart about this, we'll be careful. As soon as I'm ready to go, I'll be out there."

"I'm not sure where Ray's got (Oshie) at right now," Hitchcock said in reference to trainer Ray Barile. "Today was the first time I saw him skate. ... It looked like he had a smile on his face, he was happy going out there. I'm not sure where the clearance area's at or what's going on there." 

Forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who has been skating regularly for the past two weeks, continues to rehab from a broken thumb sustained March 15 against the Nashville Predators. He was diagnosed to have a re-evaluation six weeks from surgery, which took place March 19. But Tarasenko was skating with his teammates for the first time since shedding the cast on his right hand. He wore a wrap and tape less that four weeks after the procedure.

"I feel pretty good and it's really nice to skate with the guys," said Tarasenko, who didn't rule himself out for Game 1. "We'll see, I don't know yet. We'll talk to (doctors) tomorrow and we'll make a decision.

"I skate before, but it's my first time (without a cast) with the guys. It was pretty hard, but I'm so happy to be back. It feels good. ... I can't wait to skate with the whole team on the ice. I hope everything will be good."

Hitchcock, who sat in the stands because it was an optional skate, threw caution to the wind regarding the injured players.

"Our roster's really fluid right now," Hitchcock said. "We're not as set as Chicago is. They've gone back to the same lineup that played us the last two home games and they're set. We're not there yet. We're hoping that we get more set by Thursday and get some really good news, but I don't think any of us can tell that right now until we get a real hockey practice, which will be the first and last one will be tomorrow.

"I'm not ruling anybody out for Thursday. ... Guys skated yesterday, didn't skate today. Guys that felt good yesterday, felt sore today. We'll get a better read at practice tomorrow. ... We're going to have everyone back at some point in the first round."

That includes Tarasenko, who finished the season with 21 goals and 43 points. Hitchcock said he's on schedule, not ahead of it.

"On schedule, yes," Hitchcock said. "The good news for us is it's an injury that he's going to be conditioned for, but he's not ahead of schedule at all. He's on schedule, which was six weeks and then evaluation. That's coming up pretty soon and then that'll be the doctor's call.

"The nice part for us is he's going to be able to jump in and play right away because he's had harder work than anybody on the team. He's done all the extra stuff. He's wondering if we like him or don't like him with all the work he's had to put in."

Hitchcock said he wasn't certain if Backes, who injured his left foot blocking a shot April 8 against the Washington Capitals, would get a practice in before Game 1. Berglund is less likely to be ready for the opening of the series after getting injured Friday against the Dallas Stars.
(St. Louis Blues/Mark Buckner)
Jaden Schwartz (9) skates past Blackhawks defenseman Johnny Oduya
in a game earlier this season between the two teams.

But for guys like Blues forward Jaden Schwartz, just the sight of guys out of the lineup on the ice Tuesday breathed life into the locker room.

"Everyone gets excited to know that they're feeling better," Schwartz said. "Nobody knows the lineup right now, but to see guys skating, it definitely feels nice. They're all important players for our club so it'll be good getting more bodies back."

Players that got the day off Tuesday were defensemen Roman Polak, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk. Forward Steve Ott also was given time to rest. Alexander Steen, Pietrangelo and Jackman went through some light work and left the ice before their teammates finished up.

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