By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- It's a simple formula for the Blues: win and they're in.
A victory in any fashion against the Vancouver Canucks today (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) clinches a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Blues. A victory also pulls the Blues into a tie for first in the Central Division with the Dallas Stars at 97 points.
With the amount of injuries the Blues have endured throughout the season, to be in the position they're in is gratifying.
"We've been down this path and we have to keep trending our game in the right direction," captain David Backes said. "We'll use these last eight games to get to playoff tempo and playoff compete level. ... We've got plenty of tough games ahead of us that'll prepare us.
"We've definitely hit adversity, we've had injury issues, we've had stretches where we haven't played very well; our goaltenders, which have been the backbone of our team, each injured at different times and we've come out of it with our heads above water and we're starting to get a bunch of healthy bodies back now. That being said, we really haven't accomplished anything. We can't think we've done something. We've made the playoffs, OK check one one the list and then to get to No. 2, and that's the first round and figure out who we're playing, when we're playing and Game 1 and start focusing on that."
To have the chance to clinch in front of the home fans is something to be said, according to coach Ken Hitchcock. But the Blues are coming off a lengthy five-game, 11-day trip, and the first home game back can always be tricky.
"I think being at home, it's important," Hitchcock said. "The proverbial first game off the road trip ... how do you play, how do you react? One good thing here is we've had an extra day to get ready here. A lot of the stuff you get after you come off a long road trip is out of the way now and we're able to focus. We had a real good practice yesterday, great tempo in the practice, so that was a good sign. Our skating legs were there.
"As I told the players this morning, you've got to be careful. If you're a betting man right now, you've got to be careful how you bet on these games because you don't know what's going to happen. Some of the teams that have looked the best are teams that aren't in the playoffs; they looked very good last night. And the teams that are in the playoffs are hoping that the game's going to be a little bit easier and finding out it's not. We're up next; we've got to be ready for it. I thought Vancouver played great against Nashville last night and deserved probably a better fate."
But with injuries to so many key players throughout the season (Kevin Shattenkirk, Alexander Steen, Alex Pietrangelo, Brian Elliott, Jake Allen, Robby Fabbri, Steve Ott, Jaden Schwartz and Patrik Berglund to name a few), it's a testament to how tough it's been to maintain a competitive edge and succeed.
"It speaks volumes of timing," Hitchcock said. "It seemed when one group went down, another group stepped up and that's been the story whether it's been in goal, on defense, up front, it just seems like we've been able to absorb.
"I don't want to say we've continued on, but other people have stepped up and it just seemed to be all year when somebody big went down, somebody was kind of coming back in at the same time. We didn't have to absorb except for maybe that one month, we didnt' have to absorb like some of the other teams are. But it's been a challenge for everybody. You're hopeful with everything that we've gone through that we get to somewhat towards the end of the year be healthy and go at it."
But is it a surprise to the players?
"No, not really," Steen said. "It was a goal of ours going into the season. Injuries, that's stuff you can't control. It happens. Our goal is to make the playoffs. Hopefully, we'll clinch that in the next couple days and set our sights on the big dance."
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Defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who sustained an upper-body injury in the 1-0 victory at San Jose on Tuesday, will not play tonight or the Blues' road game at Washington on Saturday; he is considered day-to-day.
Robert Bortuzzo will slot into the lineup and the Blues will move Shattenkirk up to play with Pietrangelo.
"He's a big part of our team and hopefully he's just out day-to-day," Hitchcock said of Bouwmeester, who missed four games earlier this season with an upper-body injury. "We have Robert Bortuzzo that will go in, but we're switching up all three pairs. We haven't used the set that we're going to use tonight very often except when we're down a goal. It'll be interesting to start a game line this, but we haven't played 'Shatty' and 'Petro' together really until the third period. It'll be a good challenge for us."
The Blues normally use Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo together in a game if they're down or in some form, chasing the game, but it's nor often that they start a game together.
"We obviously like (Carl) Gunnarsson and (Colton) Parayko together, but 'Shatty' and 'Petro' are a real good pair," Hitchcock said. "We haven't been afforded the time much to be able to play them together other than when we're chasing games and stuff like that. It'll be an interesting challenge for those guys. The biggest difference for us is when they play together, we want them to play with more risk because we're chasing the game. Now they've just got to start by playing against good players and make the obvious choices that we need a top pair to make. When Bortuzzo and 'Eddy' have played together, they've been good. Obviously 'Gunny' and Parayko have been good, so we're comfortable where we're at right now.
"Hopefully (Bouwmeester's) back next week and rolling. It's day-to-day. We'll see from there. ... It's one incident, it's one play."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Dmitrij Jaskin-Patrik Berglund-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Kevin Shattenkirk-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson-Robert Bortuzzo
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Magnus Paajarvi, Anders Nilsson and Petteri Lindbohm. Alexander Steen (upper body) and Steve Ott (hamstrings) are on injured reserve. Jay Bouwmeester (upper body) is day-to-day.
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The Canucks' projected lineup:
Daniel Sedin-Henrik Sedin-Jannik Hansen
Sven Baertschi-Bo Horvat-Jake Virtanen
Alexandre Burrows-Linden Vey-Emerson Etem
Brendan Gaunce-Jared McCann-Chris Higgins
Ben Hutton-Alex Biega
Dan Hamhuis-Nikita Tryamkin
Matt Bartkowski-Yannick Weber
Jacob Markstrom is expected to start in goal after Ryan Miller played Thursday at Nashville.
Healthy scratches include Andrey Pedan and Alexandre Grenier. Alexander Edler (leg), Luca Sbisa (upper body), Brandon Prust (ankle), Radim Vrbata (knee), Brandon Sutter (jaw), Christopher Tanev (back), Derek Dorsett (undisclosed) and Markus Granlund (upper body) are all out.