DENVER -- Carl Gunnarsson will make his return to the lineup for the Blues in a crucial game against the Colorado Avalanche today (7 p.m., NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Gunnarsson, who's missed the past three games with a lower-body injury, will replace Petteri Lindbohm in the lineup.
Gunnarsson, who has three goals and six assists in 68 games, hasn't missed large chunks of time due to injury, but this was the fourth time he's missed because of a minor ailment or another. All in all, he's missed 10 games in four stretches.
"I think when he's been healthy, he's been good," coach Ken Hitchcock said of Gunnarsson pregame. "He's gotten banged up this year more than normal. He's a guy that, I think the opposite, if you don't notice him, he's doing well because he's a quiet player, he's a smart player, positional player. If you don't notice him, then he's usually playing pretty well. I think when he's been in, he's been healthy, he's been a good player, but he's gotten banged up a little bit this year.
"I think what's really helped us is we've had good, competitive depth that's allowed us to spend extra time bringing guys back in rather than rushing them back."
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With the Chicago Blackhawks' 6-4 home win against the Boston Bruins this afternoon, the Blackhawks are two points behind the Blues for second place in the Central Division.
The Blues (46-23-9, 101 points) have a game in hand, which is tonight. They play tomorrow night at home against the Arizona Coyotes, and instead of looking over their shoulders, until they have no shot at catching the Dallas Stars, who are four points ahead of the Blues and playing tonight at the Anaheim Ducks, the Blues still have their sights set on first place.
"I think we're still trying to pay attention to Dallas," Hitchcock said. "You work all year and you've got a chance for first place, you want to keep going. That's the goal, and then after we finish against Washington (the season-finale on Saturday), you turn the page and wherever you start, you start. I think it's all about momentum and playing well.
"It was disappointing defensively against Boston (a 6-5 loss Friday that snapped a five-game winning streak) because we got porous, we got too risky defensively. We chased contact a little bit and got caught out of position a few times and they took advantage of it. Back on task again today. Hopefully our checking game's as good as our offensive game and I think we'll be in good shape."
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Jake Allen will get the start in goal tonight and be backed up Anders Nilsson. It's the same situation as last week when Allen shut out the Washington Capitals 4-0. Brian Elliott, who will start Monday, stayed home after blanking Vancouver the previous night and didn't travel to Washington, also didn't travel to Denver so he can rest and not get in late.
"I haven't really thought of it that way," Hitchcock said. "I think it's given us a chance to work with guys longer in practice knowing that we don't have to bring them back. Like today, we had a lot of work with Elliott and stuff like that previously. We spent an awful lot of time with him yesterday and then he was able to rest and get ready for tomorrow. The travel part's been good. To me, the biggest part is we've been able to get the extra work for him."
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The Blues have scored three or more goals in 13 of the past 14 games and Hitchcock noticed that the Blues have jumped from 28th in the NHL in scoring to 15th since the All-Star break.
"I just think we're scoring more," Hitchcock said. "We're going into the hard zones, we're winning the numbers game there, been doing it for a couple months now. One time, we were 28th in the league in scoring and I looked today and we're 15th. It's not chemistry with a line or anything like that.
"Look at the (five) goals we scored against Boston, all of them are the same. We've got numbers, bodies, determination in the scoring areas. That's what you've got to do to score in this league."
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Hitchcock said he'll tinker with line combinations tonight but wouldn't say who. It'll be based on what Colorado coach Patrick Roy does.
"There's some line changes that I'll wait on the coach on the other side to determine, but we're going to make some line changes today," Hitchcock said.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-David Backes
Magnus Paajarvi-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Kevin Shattenkirk-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal. Anders Nilsson will be the backup.
The healthy scratches are Ryan Reaves, Petteri Lindbohm and Brian Elliott. Robby Fabbri (lower body), Jay Bouwmeester (upper body) and Steve Ott (hamstrings) are out with injuries.
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The Avalanche's projected lineup:
Mikkel Boedker-Matt Duchene-Mikhail Grigorenko
Gabriel Landeskog-Carl Soderberg-Blake Comeau
Shawn Matthias-John Mitchell-Jarome Iginla
Cody McLeod-Andrew Agozzino-Jack Skille
Chris Bigras-Erik Johnson
Nick Holden-Tyson Barrie
Zach Redmond-Francois Beauchemin
Semyon Varlamov will start in goal. Calvin Pickard will be the backup.
Andrew Bodnarchuk and Andreas Martinsen are expected to be healthy scratches. Nathan MacKinnon (knee), Brad Stuart (back), Eric Gelinas (elbow), Jesse Winchester (head) and Nikita Zadorov (concussion) are out.