By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Much will be on the line when the Blues and Winnipeg Jets play for the fifth and final time this regular season on Tuesday.
The Blues (49-23-7, 105 points) know if they win out the final three regular season games, they will have won the Central Division. And depending on what the Anaheim Ducks do the rest of the way, the Blues will have their eye on the top seed in the Western Conference.
Going into Tuesday, the Blues lead the Nashville Predators by one point and the Chicago Blackhawks by three. Each team has three regular season games left.
"I think it's important," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Home ice in one series is fine. If you ever get it for a couple series, you're doing a great job. As many extra home games as we can get is important. That might be the little advantage that you might need down the line.
"For me, any advantage that we can get by playing more games at home, is a big, big-time situation for us that we want to take advantage of. I think the other fact is heck, the guys are competitors. We've worked all year. We've been chasing this team (Nashville) since October. We finally caught them; let's stay in front of them. That's the goal. Let's play well enough to stay in front of them because not only the race to get in the playoffs is going to go down the wire, so is the race to be who wins this division. So it's going to go down to the last weekend."
The players are aware of what's at stake. They hope the body of an 82-game schedule pays off at the end.
"You hope the end result takes care of itself and that's what we're trying to do here," Blues left wing Steve Ott said.
The Blues will end the regular season with three home games against potential first-round playoff opponents: Winnipeg, Chicago and Minnesota, so the road won't be easy.
"It's going to be great hockey; lots at stake for everybody," Hitchcock said. "Playoff implications every game, seedings are there, the three teams are moving around playing each other. There's going to be lots of implications. It's going to be just play and move onto the next game. You never know when this thing's going to turn. The nice part for us is we're in a little bit of control here; we've got the one-point lead and we want to take advantage of it."
For the Jets (41-26-12, 94 points), who didn't take part in a full morning skate, the desperation is more of making it into the Stanley Cup Playoffs than solidifying their position.
The Jets lead the Los Angeles Kings, who play at the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, by one point for the second wild card in the Western Conference, will look to build off a 2-0 shutout win at the Minnesota Wild to begin a three-game road trip.
The Jets trail the Wild by two points for the first wild card berth.
The Blues, who are 3-0-1 against the Jets this season, are 4-0-0 at Scottrade Center against the Jets since Winnipeg's move from Atlanta.
"They play very similar to us; not run-and-gun but puck in deep, bang you out, grind you out down low," Blues enforcer Ryan Reaves said of Winnipeg. "They've got good offensive skill and big, solid 'D.'"
Hitchcock sees a different view.
"It's more looking like L.A. They play like L.A., exactly the same," Hitchcock said of the Jets. "There's a physical domination, there's a size domination, there's a pressure domination. They play exactly the same as Los Angeles."
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Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk is on a two-game point streak (three assists) since coming off injured-reserve from hip surgery that forced him to miss 25 games.
Shattenkirk, who's played five games since returning, has played as low as 19 minutes, 11 seconds to a high of 21:34 since returning.
The progression is getting there, but dealing with scar tissue has been one obstacle that may or may not take time.
"I feel a lot better," Shattenkirk said. "The muscles in my right leg are starting to get a little stronger and they're lasting through the whole game, which I think is important. That's something that was a little unusual at first to deal with. Everyone says it's going to take a couple weeks after to get back into game shape. I think last game, especially going down to five 'D' was something that kind of forced me to play more minutes and get used to it and really manage myself. I was able to feel kind of how hard I could push myself and I feel like every game it's been kind of progressing longer and longer.
"I'm kind of excited about tonight. I feel really good today, the best I think I've felt. I'm excited to see how tonight feels. There are these little tweaks and scar tissue tears still and they seem to come at inopportune times, but you just have to keep pushing through them and hopefully, I'm kind of by all the major ones and I can just keep pushing here."
Hitchcock has worked Shattenkirk in any way possible without trying to overdue it. The Blues coach feels like it's an ongoing process that will help more and more with each game.
"He's not where he's going to be," Hitchcock said. "These next three games are going to help him a lot. Some practices are going to help him a lot, but he's improving every day. It's not going to come overnight. We recognize that, he recognizes that.
"I like the fact that he's fighting through it, but this is just another example of a player ... it's very difficult for a player to come back from a long-term injury and be up to speed right away. There's a lot of things that go into it that he needs to get going with and I think we're right in the edge of having enough time, but I think we've got enough time and he's getting a little better every day."
Shattenkirk was forced into a larger role in Sunday's 2-1 victory at Chicago after Robert Bortuzzo left the game in the first period with an upper-body injury.
"I think playing in a place like Chicago, being able to just play more minutes, get into a flow of the game, it allowed me to kind of get back to playing at the speed of the game, making my decisions quicker and at the right times," Shattenkirk sakd. "I wasn't as slow as I was before mentally and I felt that game was a good step for me."
As for that scar tissue?
"Who knows how long it will be," Shattenkirk said. "I don't think it's something that they can really tell either to see how much I have left or whatever it may be. I need to just kind of keep pushing through it. I think it happened in Dallas; it was painful, but I was able to get through the game and manage it. Hopefully that's the last major one to happen and I can keep going."
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Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, a healthy scratch two of the past three games, will return to the lineup tonight with Bortuzzo day-to-day.
Gunnarsson's game has slipped in the last recent stretch and he acknowledged that he needs go play better.
"Obviously not where I want it to be. ... I've got to try and find it again," Gunnarsson said. "... It's never easy. You're never happy with being scratched. I don't know if it's easier or not. Whatever the deal is, you've just got to take it, grab it and try to make the best out of it."
Gunnarsson, who is a plus-7 on the season but minus-4 in his past four games, said it's a multitude of things he can improve on.
"A lot of things I guess; getting into the tough areas and try to play it simple and then everything else will come as we go," he said. "Just try to take care of the basic stuff first."
Gunnarsson has had three stretches where he's had to miss action because of injury. He had a hip injury at the start of the season that forced him to miss seven games, then another 10 games with concussion symptoms and two games with an upper-body injury.
"I'm not going to have excuses for how I'm playing, whether it's injuries or whatever," said Gunnarsson, who has two goals and 12 points in 58 games. "That's going to happen. You've got to fight through it. We'll get a new chance here tonight and really prove myself. I'm going to try and grab it here and make the best of it."
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Vladimir Tarasenko (lower body) and Alexander Steen (lower body) will not play tonight.
Tarasenko skated for a second straight day today before the Blues took the ice for their morning skate.
Both are listed as day-to-day.
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Reaves will get another chance to face his hometown team, a team he seems to get revved up for more than any.
Reaves has a goal and four points in nine career games against the Jets.
"Obviously it's definitely on TV back home, friends and family will be watching," Reaves said. "It's easy to get the game. It's fun playing them. I think just the style they play kind of gets me a little amped up. They play real physical. They like coming at us, and I kind of like responding. It's always a fun team to play."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-T.J. Oshie
Dmitrij Jaskin-David Backes-Patrik Berglund
Olli Jokinen-Jori Lehtera-Ty Rattie
Steve Ott-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Zbynek Michalek
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jake Allen will start in goal. Brian Elliott will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Chris Porter and Chris Butler. Alexander Steen (lower body), Vladimir Tarasenko (lower body) and Robert Bortuzzo (upper body) are out.
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The Jets' probable lineup:
Andrew Ladd-Bryan Little-Michael Frolik
Drew Stafford-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Adam Lowry-Mathieu Perreault-Lee Stempniak
Jiri Tlusty-Jim Slater-Chris Thorburn
Mark Stuart-Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot-Tyler Myers
Jay Harrison-Adam Pardy
Ondrej Pavelec will start in goal. Michael Hutchinson will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Andrew Copp, Keaton Ellerby, Anthony Peluso, Matt Halischuk, TJ Galiardi and Eric O'Dell. Dustin Byfuglien (suspension) will serve the third of four games tonight. Grant Clitsome (upper body), Paul Postma (lower body) and Toby Enstrom (upper body) are out with injuries.