By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Game on.
That's the message from the Blues and their players, who want a sense of normalcy to return to the ice in light of the unrest following the grand jury decision in the case involving Ferguson and police officer Darren Wilson.
The day after unrest was the main focus in the community of Ferguson and areas in and around St. Louis on Monday, the Blues and Senators will go on as scheduled with a game on Tuesday (7 p.m. on FSMW, KYKY 98-FM).
The Blues (14-6-1) were home after a four-game trip and were among those that watched with sharp interest the decision of the grand jury involving officer Wilson.
But the organization, feeling that it's in the best interests of all involved, will move on with a hockey game at Scottrade Center, feeling that it's part of the healing process.
"We can't let outsiders or people with demonstrations or whatever it may be ... their voices need to be heard in a peaceful way but to disrupt the course of an everyday life and other happenings, I don't think that's necessarily their intentions and I also don't think it's necessarily something we need to do," Blues captain David Backes said. "We keep playing. Our fans and people that watch us have that escape and root for one team together as a 'Team STL,' that's something that we need to grab and hopefully can build relationships around the community rather than what's going on right now, which is not building at all. It's just tearing them down."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was asked if preparations were deemed difficult in light of the happenings Monday.
"No," he said. "It's sad to see, but it's something hopefully we can get through quickly. We've got to focus on what our job is and do the best thing we can and let things progress as they do. We all were here for it in August and we hope we don't have to go through it again."
For many Blues players not originally from the area, St. Louis has been a second home for many years.
This is home for me. I've been here for nine years," Backes said. "It kind of gave me a sick feeling in my stomach to think that in my hometown, it's not on just the local news, it's on the national news and probably international news of what's going on. To know what an awesome area St. Louis is, a great place to raise a family and to now have these scars, stereotypes or whatever it may be with the city that's a place of unrest and not safe, we've got a lot of healing to do ... locally at Ferguson obviously with relationships but patching back together of what a great town this can be and what it really is at heart."
The Senators didn't arrive in St. Louis from Detroit until the early hours of the morning Tuesday, and are willing and able participants after falling 4-3 to the Detroit Red Wings on Monday night.
Senators Coach Paul MacLean, who played one game for the Blues in 1980-81 and 115 games between 1989 and 1991, was saddened by the events Monday.
"You hate to see that happen anywhere, let alone in places that you used to be," said MacLean, whose team and city of Ottawa recently had to deal with a tragic loss of life in their city. "It's something that you have to let the authorities and the process follow its course and hope that people and calmer minds take things over and things will be safe.
"... These are unfortunate times that the world has come to this to have victims of circumstance a little bit. But at the same time, we feel for everyone that's involved in it. We'll do anything the NHL deems is the right thing to do."
For the Blues, any help with the healing is what they want, and if playing a game helps, then they're all for it.
"It's got to be the mindset around here," Backes said. "Whatever protests, hopefully they stay peaceful and voices are heard, but the violence and the looting and the riots, no one's got a ton of (tolerance) for that. Hear the voices, let's come together as 'Team STL,' cheer for the Blues and show that when we get on the same page and everyone's together trying to get something accomplished, we can do something great. In the midst of unrest, we need to have that feeling of coming together rather than spending part of it being divisive. Sports through history has been able to do that and hopefully we can provide that leading to holiday time hoping for peace and talk rather than destruction and anarchy."
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Blues defenseman Barret Jackman will move into third place on the franchise list for most games played with No. 745. He is currently tied with Brett Hull. Bernie Federko (927) and Brian Sutter (779) are first and second respectively.
"Brett is a good friend and obviously an idol in the city and an icon," Jackman said. "He's made hockey what it is in the city. Just to pass him, it's a pretty special feeling and to do it with the Bluenote on is even better."
Jackman, who was drafted by the Blues 17th overall in the 1999 NHL Draft, has 26 goals and 170 points in his career and will be 34 games away from catching Sutter.
"It's another character guy," Jackman said of Sutter. "I've first gotta worry about that game tonight and passing Brett. But the list I'm on the board with is beyond a dream when I started playing here. The character and the history on that list is a lot of fun to be a part of."
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Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester (lower body) will miss a second straight game tonight after an Ironman Streak of 737 consecutive games was snapped Sunday in Winnipeg.
Bouwmeester, who was injured late in the Blues' 3-2 victory against the Senators in Ottawa, is expected to return to the lineup when the Blues play back-to-back games Friday and Saturday.
"He's not going to play," Hitchcock said of Bouwmeester. "He's close, but with us having two more days off, this allows him to prepare to be ready to play Friday at full speed. If this was a playoff game, he'd be playing today. He's already lost the streak right now and we'd like to get him close to 100 percent so he could play again."
As for the streak, Hitchcock said the Blues gave him the chance to keep it alive.
"We offered him if he could step on the ice and go hot chocolate skate one round, that keeps the streak alive," Hitchcock said. "He said, 'No. I can't finish the game, so I'm not going to start the game.' He took one for the team."
Jackman is impressed even as he reaches a milestone of his own.
"I look at (mine) as a lot of games and then you see a streak like Bouw's 737, and I guess it's not that many," Jackman joked. "One team for that long, a lot of games in the stands with injuries and a couple lockouts, but it's been a journey that's been fun and trying at times, but we've always had an unbelievable group in the dressing room to make the ups and downs still a lot of fun to come to the rink.
"For that streak to end, it's amazing, but he'll have another one going here pretty quick. He might be a guy that plays 1,800 games or 2,000 and do it with ease."
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The Blues' line of Steve Ott, Maxim Lapierre and Ryan Reaves is drawing rave reviews from Hitchcock.
On the trip that the Blues went 2-2-0, the trio combined for two goals and two assists and according to Hitchcock, they can't be considered a fourth line anymore.
"Our fourth line's playing like a third line," Hitchcock said. "They're not a fourth line anymore. Can't call them that. They're our third line. They're a third line and the coach chooses to play them fourth. But they're not a fourth line anymore, not when they're playing as well as they are right now.
"I don't want it to go to their head, but they play exactly like you need a third line. They put pressure on the puck, they score, they create offense, they defense by occupying the offensive zone, and when they do get in the zone, they've got great puck support. They play exactly like a third line should play. We don't match them anymore against the other team's fourth line. We know they can negate certainly the other team's third line and in most cases, the other team's second line and that's the focus we're going to stay with."
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The Blues are getting contributions from the players they need to step up. The "STL Line" of Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jori Lehtera has certainly pulled its weight in scoring, but Hitchcock has called for more contributions from top veteran players.
The Blues are getting it from Backes and Alexander Steen, in particular.
"He's pretty comfortable playing on the right side for 60-70 percent of the game, which is really good for us," Hitchcock said of Backes. "I think the difference in our game right now is some of our veteran guys are really starting to catch stride. It's got us to another level, which is helpful. He's very comfortable being the hunter.
Hopefully he can continue down this path because he's creating offense because of it. He's hard to play because of it. There's some veteran guys like him, Steen and a couple other guys that are really starting to hit stride now."
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With a win tonight, Hitchcock can tie Mike Keenan for most career coaching victories (672) and be tied for 6th all-time. Pat Quinn, who passed away on Monday, is 5th at 684.
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Joakim Lindstrom-Paul Stastny-David Backes
Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-T.J. Oshie
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Steve Ott-Maxim Lapierre-Ryan Reaves
Barret Jackman-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Chris Butler-Ian Cole
Brian Elliott gets the start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scraches include Chris Porter and Magnus Paajarvi. Jay Bouwmeester (lower body) is out and will miss his second straight game.
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The Senators' projected lineup:
Clarke MacArthur-Kyle Turris-Alex Chiasson
Erik Condra-David Legwand-Chris Neil
Mike Hoffman-Zack Smith-Bobby Ryan
Colin Greening-Curtis Lazar-Mark Stone
Mark Borowiecki-Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen-Cody Ceci
Patrick Wiercioch-Eric Gryba
Robin Lehner will get the start in goal. Craig Anderson will be the backup.
Milan Michalek and Mika Zibanejad were the healthy scratches. Chris Phillips (undisclosed) and Marc Methot (back/hip) are out with injuries.