By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Standing in front of the Washington Capitals auning, even after 81 games, it's a strange sight to see the former No. 74 -- now No. 77 -- on the visitor's side.
T.J. Oshie marks his return to St. Louis and will face his former Blues teammates today (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM) for the first time since being traded last summer for a package that included Troy Brouwer.
Oshie played seven seasons in St. Louis and was part of the shakeup following a third straight ouster in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs; he was sick when the Blues visited Washington March 26 and was unable to play.
"It's great, it's great to be back," said Oshie, who spent seven seasons in St. Louis. "It's a little weird, but really, really cool to see a lot of good faces that I miss quite a bit. Got to go out with some of the boys to dinner last night and got to see all the trainers and bunch of the staff here. So it's really cool (and) weird, but great to be back."
Oshie spent Friday night with guys that he went to battle with the past seven years, including ones that were in his wedding party last summer. It will be an emotional time when he steps onto the ice tonight and receives the standing ovation he rightfully deserves.
"Oh for sure, even after 81 games, not seeing him, hopefully he'll get a great reaction from the crowd, which I'm sure he will," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "Someone who was a big part of this team here for the last few years ... it's going to be a little funny to see him on the other side of things.
"It's going to great to see him out there and hopefully I don't end up on the wrong side of a reverse hit."
Among his best friends on the team are Patrik Berglund, who had a playful jab in store when he sees Oshie on the ice for the first time as an opposing teammate.
"Probably when I stand there on the faceoff dot and start laughing at him," Berglund joked. "It will be so weird. He said he takes some faceoffs, too, so that's going to be a battle. He was bragging about how good he's been on the dot, so we'll see.
"It's going to be exciting. I've never ever in my life played against him. Hopefully he will have a bad game. ... We had dinner last night, had a good time, caught up on life, we didn't talk that much hockey at all. We all in here know how he plays, so we've got to play him hard. He's a very good player."
There will be a few screeching female voices that will let their appreciation be shown, and Shattenkirk said the ratio should be noticeable.
"I think there's probably going to be like a 70-30 girl to guy ratio," he said. To which Berglund joked, "I think that would be more of my standing ovation. I don't think that would be his.
"No, I hope it will be a good ovation for him," Berglund added. "He's been doing great things and we all miss him for sure."
"It's going to be a little weird going up against the big 'Berg Dog,'" Oshie joked. "I already told all the boys to keep their head up because I'm coming tonight."
Oshie got to meet Libby, who's video went viral her mother shot of her daughter crying after learning Oshie was traded. He said he thought he got "four big hugs" from the little girl, but the first text he received was from former Blue Barret Jackman, who also played his first game back here earlier this season with the Nashville Predators.
"That's the first text I got this morning was from 'Jax.' Just said, 'Good luck, enjoy it,'" Oshie said. "It's obviously going to be a little emotional out there tonight, but should be a good battle."
Capitals coach Barry Trotz went through a similar situation after spending 13 seasons
"I talked to him for about a minute and a half about it. I said, 'I sort of went through this in Nashville,'" Trotz said. "It's going to feel a little bit awkward. I think it's good that it's Game 81 that he's geting back here in that sense because it gives you a longer separation. ... Tonight, there will be people with signs and well-wishers, friends and all that. He'll have great memories and I'm sure they'll so a tribute of some sort, which most teams do. It'll get a little emotional. It's OK if you tear up or show that emotion and then you'll just have to try and reel it in and play.
"I can see why the Blues people, the fans and the organization think so highly of him. T.J., when you have him for a year, always a smile on his face, makes time for everybody."
No doubt, Oshie will feel the emotions in the building in pregame and when he first steps onto the ice.
"A lot of positives from being here, lot of life-long friends," Oshie said. "Fans seemed like they supported me extremely, extremely well, even from before I got here and through to now too. Very grateful for my time here, lot of really important people, lot of important role models that I met here that have guided me to where I am now."
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Blues players said they won't be doing any scoreboard tonight. The coaches are in a different mindset, but the players said Saturday morning they won't pay attention to what's going on in the game between the Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators.
The Blues and Stars are deadlocked in points with 107, and depending on what happens in their respective games Saturday, it will determine who wins the Central Division and top seed in the Western Conference.
The Stars and Blues share identical 49-23-9 records, but the Stars hold the tiebreaker with 46 regulation/overtime wins to the Blues' 42. If both win, Dallas will win the division.
"We haven't been scoreboard watching for the past month," Shattenkirk said. "That's why we've been playing so well (winning seven of the past eight). We've just been worrying about ourselves. We've been in a position where we've just been doing what we have to do, which has forced us to play our best hockey, which is a good thing. This time of year in years past, we've had big leads and kind of squandered our good play and now we have something to play for and I think it's bringing the best out of us."
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock and his coaching staff, they have other ideas in mind.
"We have a way to know when it's time to go and when it's time to shut it down," Hitchcock said. "We'll know. I have a TV set in my office that they gave me when I came here so I can turn that on and put that game on. We'll have an idea what's going on period by period. ... If it's time to go, we're going to go full. If it's time to close it out, we'll close it out."
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Rookie Robby Fabbri will return to the lineup after missing the past four games with a lower-body injury sustained March 29 against the Colorado Avalanche.
Fabbri, who has 18 goals and 19 assists in 71 games, will slot back into the lineup alongside Paul Stastny and Brouwer, who missed the morning skate for maintenance but will play.
"It feels like forever when you're not playing," Fabbri said. "The days go by slow. I'm excited to get back in the lineup and work on getting everything back ready for the big game tonight and the playoff push.
"It's definitely a big game for us here and a big test against the Caps. We know what they're going to bring. We played them a couple weeks ago and we know what they're going to bring."
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Defenseman Joel Edmundson was all smiles in the locker room Saturday morning, a day after signing a two-year, $2.1 million extension.
Edmundson's average annual value is $1.05 million. He has a goal and eight assists in 66 games.
"If you would have told me about this one year ago, I would have laughed at you," Edmundson said. "I've put in a lot of hard work and it's definitely paid off. Coming back from the back injury (last season), I didn't know how good my camp was going to be or what this season would turn out like. I'm really happy with it so far.
"It was pretty scary (with the back injury). I couldn't even sit on my couch and watch TV. I had to walk around my living room. That was a huge concern for me. Doctors suggested surgery but I tried to avoid that. Right now, I'm as healthy as can be."
Fabbri, Edmundson's roommate, was pleased.
"He's had a great year, and I'm not just saying that because he's my roomie or teammate," Fabbri said. "He's proved himself in this league, proved himself clearly to the Blues. I was pretty happy for him yesterday and pretty happy when I get a free meal out of it."
Edmundson could have been a restricted free agent this summer but in his mind, no need to wait.
"I don't think anything's going to change from now until this summer, so might as well get it over with now," Edmundson said.
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Brian Elliott, who starts tonight, is in search of his 12th straight win, and right wing Vladimir Tarasenko is looking to be first Blue since Brad Boyes (43 in 2007-08) to reach 40-plus goals. Tarasenko sits at 39.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Jaden Schwartz-Patrik Berglund-Magnus Paajarvi
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Anders Nilsson will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Dmitrij Jaskin, Robert Bortuzzo and Petteri Lindbohm. David Backes (lower body), Jake Allen (lower body) and Steve Ott (colitis) are out.
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The Capitals' projected lineup:
Alex Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Justin Williams
Andre Burakovsky-Evgeny Kuznetsov-T.J. Oshie
Jason Chimera-Marcus Johansson-Tom Wilson
Daniel Winnik-Mike Richards-Jay Beagle
Karl Alzner-Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik-John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov-Mike Weber
Braden Holtby will start in goal. Philipp Grubauer will be the backup.
Taylor Chorney, Nate Schmidt, Stanislav Galiev and Michael Latta will be the healthy scratches. The Capitals report no injuries.