By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The rivalry itself is enough motivation for the Blues when they play the Chicago Blackhawks. Having the opportunity to clinch home ice advantage in at least the Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round and win the Central Division title brings out more emphasis.
The Blues (49-24-7) and Blackhawks (48-26-7) renew their rivalry Thursday at 7 p.m. (NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM) four days after the Blues won 2-1 in Chicago to give themselves the opportunity to clinch.
The Blues, looking for their third 50-win season in franchise history and in back-to-back seasons, can clinch home ice advantage in the First Round with a victory Thursday. A Blues victory and a Nashville Predators loss in regulation at home to the Minnesota Wild on Thursday would lock up the Central Division title for the second time in four seasons.
"I think you're more concerned about one thing: getting home ice," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "You can't pick who you're going to play. There's so many scenarios out there, but man, home ice is important. We want to get it. We win tonight, we've got home ice. That's the focus for the players, that's the focus for us.
"The opponent really doesn't matter. We know Chicago because we just played them a few days ago, so there's no surprises there. They're thinking the same thing, they want home ice too. Every advantage you can get in the playoffs is needed. We would like to win tonight to secure that."
The Blues, Predators and Blackhawks are separated by three points with two games remaining for all three.
"There's so many good teams in our division," Blues right wing Patrik Berglund said. "It's never, ever an easy game. We want to keep building. We know how good (the Blackhawks) are. If we're going to beat Chicago, we've got to play our best game. We're going to do the best we can to do that.
"(Home ice) is really important. It's important for everybody and obviously we want that."
But don't mistake the rivalry. It's there. The added incentives just add to the mix.
"It doesn't matter if it's the first game of the year, the last game of the year," left wing Chris Porter said. "It's obviously a rivalry for us. To play them on home ice is huge. For us to be able to wrap up home ice for the playoffs against these guys means a lot. It's always ramped up against these guys, maybe a little more tonight because playoffs are just around the corner."
"Chicago is a rival; it's always a really tough game," Berglund said. "We're still trying to build our team to the playoffs as well. Just keep playing better and better. Obviously it's a regular season game it's more towards the playoffs."
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Porter will replace Olli Jokinen in the lineup tonight and not because of Jokinen's play but more because more of wanting a fresher body in against a demanding game.
Jokinen scored the game-winner Sunday at United Center but will sit this one out.
"We've brought a guy like Porter in who's got speed, tenacity and fresh legs for us," Hitchcock said. "He's hopefully going to help us. That's the whole focus, pour everything into every game and rest in between."
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Alexander Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and Robert Bortuzzo all took part in the morning skate on Thursday but will not play.
Steen (lower body), Tarasenko (lower body) and Bortuzzo (upper body) all looked like they could be players soon.
"They've been skating out of the limelight of the media for a little while now," Hitchcock said. "It's nothing new; they just happened to join us today. Rather than go on early, which they've done very early in the morning, they came and joined us."
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The Blues' probable lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-T.J. Oshie
Dmitrij Jaskin-David Backes-Patrik Berglund
Steve Ott-Jori Lehtera-Ty Rattie
Chris Porter-Marcel Goc-Ryan Reaves
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Zbynek Michalek
Barret Jackman-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jake Allen will get the start in goal. Brian Elliott, who turned 30 today, will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Chris Butler and Olli Jokinen. Alexander Steen (lower body), Vladimir Tarasenko (lower body) and Robert Bortuzzo (upper body) are day-to-day but out for tonight.
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The Blackhawks' probable lineup:
Kris Versteeg-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Brandon Saad -Antoine Vermette-Kyle Baun
Bryan Bickell-Andrew Shaw-Patrick Sharp
Joakim Nordstrom-Andrew Desjardins-Teuvo Teravainen
Duncan Keith-David Rundblad
Niklas Hjalmarsson-Michal Rozsival
Johnny Oduya-Brent Seabrook
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.
The healthy scratch includes Michael Paliotta. Marcus Kruger is sick and will not play. Patrick Kane (clavicle), Brad Richards (upper body), Kimmo Timonen (upper body) and Daniel Carcillo (upper body) are out.