ST. LOUIS -- Robert Bortuzzo played so well in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game for the Blues in Game 4 of the Western Conference First Round series against the CHicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, coach Ken Hitchcock will leave him in for a chance to close out the defending Stanley Cup champions tonight (8:30 p.m.; FS-MW, NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Carl Gunnarsson, who missed Game 4 with an upper-body injury, will slide back in and play alongside Bortuzzo, and rookie Joel Edmundson will be a healthy scratch.
Bortuzzo played just 10 minutes 34 seconds in the game but had four hits and Hitchcock simply felt he made a great presence.
"We liked the way he played," Hitchcock said of Bortuzzo. "He showed great composure with the puck, physical, smart, played very well, wanted to keep him going."
Bortuzzo, who did not play in a playoff game with the Blues in the first round last season against the Minnesota Wild and the first three games of this series, has been the consummate pro. And his teammates recognize and appreciate it.
"He's had to come out of the lineup when he's playing better than other guys but just kind of got lost in the shuffle," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Bortuzzo. "Every time he comes back in, he's effective.
"For most guys, that would kind of discourage you and cause you to point fingers in other directions but all Rob did was kind of put on his working boots and approached every day as an opportunity to get better and when it's time to get back in the lineup when he's ready."
Edmundson was Bortuzzo's playing partner in Game 4 and had moments when the game seemed to overwhelm him. But the rookie has been good throughout the season, especially after he was assigned to the Chicago Wolves when he had some early-season struggles, and his recent play isn't a factor but more indicative of how Bortuzzo played.
"Not really," Hitchcock said. "We had one guy that played that well, you want to keep it going. The other thing is we did like 'Shatty' and Colton (Parayko) as a pair, too. Both seem to make us stronger, we feel we're going to need it."
Shattenkirk has been Edmundson's playing partner for a large portion of the season and thinks he'll be OK.
"Rob comes in and does a great job the other night," Shattenkirk said. "I think Joel kind of needs a game to calm down. It's something where as a young guy, I didn't really have that opportunity in my first series and I rememebr how I compounded my problems and my mistakes into putting a lot of pressure on myself. This will be a nice breather for him to just kind of take a step back and realize everything is OK and I'm still a great hockey player because he is."
As for Gunnarsson, he took the pregame warmup in Game 4 but gave Bortuzzo the "fist bump," as Bortuzzo put it, that he should be ready to play.
"That's one of the toughest things," Gunnarsson said. "Obviously your kind of pain threshold goes up a little bit during playoffs. At that point, I felt like, 'You know what, if something happens during the game, that's going to make it worse,' and I don't feel like that's going to benefit the team. I'd rather have a healthy guy in there to play a full 60 minutes and possibly more."
But after taking the morning skate before Game 5, all systems are a go.
"Yeah, got the green light," Gunnarsson said.
On being precautious, he was a little more joking about it.
"Just a little booger in my nose," Gunnarsson said. "We got that out. We're good.
"It is tougher for you guys (to figure out injuries). That's how it should be, right? We keep it a secret. Throughout the year, it's been minor things. I missed too many long stretches during the season. Just minor things. You deal with it, you go to the next one and hopefully you stay healthy."
Gunnarsson, who said Bortuzzo "was great," is looking forward to playing with him.
"It's going to be good," Gunnarsson said. "It's going to be nice to play with him tonight.
"We had a couple games, even last year one or two. It's OK. Everyone's just used to playing in practice. We rotate all the time. I don't think it's going to be a big deal."
- - -
For the first time since 2012, the Blues have the chance to close out a series victorious. And in their history when leading a series 3-1 and coming home with the chance to close the series out in five games, the Blues are 5-0 all-time, including twice against the Blackhawks.
"We don’t want to let it go back to Chicago," said right wing and former Blackhawk Troy Brouwer. "This is a team that knows how to win. They’ve come back in series, Detroit a couple years ago (2013 down 3-1 in the series) being able to find ways to win games and not have poor efforts in elimination games. We need to have our best game of the series tonight.
"They’re a resilient bunch. My last playoff series with them was when we were down 3-0 to Vancouver and lost a Game 7 in overtime (in 2011). I know first-hand a long time ago what these guys can do and when they don’t have a whole lot of options. They’ve done even more so since I’ve left there and they’re really good at it. A team that knows how to win, and we’ve got to find a way to push them out early."
Which is why the sellout crowd at Scottrade Center, which will be ready to blow the roof off the building, can and will play an important role for the Blues tonight.
"I started thinking about it yesterday. It's going to be pretty exciting," center Kyle Brodziak said. "Just the way they responded after our first two home games. I think that you could feel the excitement and just kind of the positive energy in the building. I think guys are expecting it to be pretty crazy in here tonight.
"You can get caught up in the emotion of the building and if you're not channeling it the right way, it can work against you where you're not working on the right things, but if we can use it as a momentum-builder. If we can feel the crowd starting to get loud, we've got to take advantage of that and keep trying to build it. Guys obviously feel that energy, you almost get a little nervous how loud it is sometimes. I think we're going to use it in the right way and we're excited to hear it."
It's cliche, but the fourth win is always the toughest.
"The other team is definitely going to be playing with a level of desperation," Brodziak said. "They're definitely going to be playing with a level of desperation we haven't seen. Any you've seen it in the past. Teams that are in the situation that they're in, you don't want to give them life. You don't want to give them anything to get their confidence back because sometimes you see it's like a snowball effect where the other team starts rolling and you get to see the doubt in your head. We want to make sure we come out with probably our best effort that we've had in the series so far and make sure we carry it throughout the whole game."
"Difference in the series has been timely goals and timely saves," Hitchcock said. "That's the small difference. The play's been even, there's been tremendous play by both sides, they've put a lot of pressure on us, we've put pressure on them. The scoring chances, at least by our calculation, are dead even, no difference. Both teams' power plays have a good bead on the other team's PK. The difference has been 'Ells' (Brian Elliott) has made a big save for us and we've been able to score that goal that hasn't allowed Chicago to get away on us. It's brought us back in a number of games. It's a small fine line but that's the little advantage we have in series."
- - -
One player the Blues won't have th deal with tonight is forward Andrew Shaw, who was suspended one game and fined $5,000 for using a homophobic slur towards officials late in the Blues' 4-3 win in Game 4 Tuesday.
Shaw has two goals and two assists in the series and has been one of the consistent players that has tried to take away the eyes of Elliott.
"We don't even look at their lineup to be honest with you," Hitchcock said. "We look at the two centers, know what they bring. I look at those top two lines, it doesn't matter. For us, we know how close they are to scoring and we have to do a better job to negate some of their chances if we expect to win the next game."
Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville didn't sound surprised that Shaw was suspended.
"We’ll accept it, learn from it and deal with it," Quenneville said. "Andrew’s case, last game, it’s something we can all learn a lesson (from). As a team, 'shawzy' did some good things individually and that’s the lesson we can take as a team: there’s a reward to get to where you need to get to to be successful in a game."
- - -
The Blackhawks, in desperation mode, are making significant changes to their lineup.
Quenneville has reunited Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane for the elimination game, removed Tomas Fleischmann from the lineup and inserted Dale Weise in for Shaw and Brandon Mashinter for Fleischmann.
"Yeah we feel maybe there’s more balance in the lines, offensively as well as defensively, try a different look," Quenneville said.
Kane said: "At this point of the playoffs, sometimes things call for change. We haven't played with each other much, so hopefully it's kind of that instant chemistry and we can get a win tonight. That's the most important thing, so hopefully it helps us."
Also, former Blues first round pick David Rundblad, who the Blues traded to the Ottawa Senators for a first-round pick in 2010 that turned into Vladimir Tarasenko, will step in on defense for Michal Rozsival.
- - -
The Blues recalled defenseman Chris Butler from the Wolves on Thursday and he was on the ice for the morning skate.
The 29-year-old Butler played in 46 games for the Wolves this season and posted 18 points (four goals, 14 assists); he will serve as a depth defenseman along with Petteri Lindbohm.
- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund--David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Kevin Shattenkirk-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Joel Edmundson, Ryan Reaves, Dmitrij Jaskin, Magnus Paajarvi, Ty Rattie, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.
- - -
The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Richard Panik-Jonathan Toews-Patrick Kane
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Teuvo Teravainen
Andrew Ladd-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Brandon Mashinter-Andrew Desjardins-Dale Weise
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Erik Gustafsson-Brent Seabrook
Trevor van Riemsdyk-David Rundblad
Corey Crawford will start in goal. Scott Darling will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Tomas Fleischmann, Viktor Svedberg, Michal Rozsival, Christian Ehrhoff and Michael Leighton. Andrew Shaw is suspended for Game 5. The Blackhawks report no injuries.