DALLAS -- Call it gamesmanship, call it a no-brainer.
No matter what, it would have been a shock if Brian Elliott wasn't ther starter for Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round between the Blues and Dallas Stars today (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock didn't tip his hand and even acknowledged after a 3-2 loss in Game 6 in which Elliott was pulled after allowing three goals in seven shots that he "wanted to sleep on it." Well Hitchcock got to sleep on it two nights and got his answer on Tuesday before the team departed for Dallas.
"I wanted to talk to Brian, and Brian showed up at the rink yesterday to stop pucks, which surprised everybody," Hitchcock said. "He wanted to go on the ice.
"I think he's earned the right to go at it. He had a tough start to the game like our team. We had the tough seven minutes and paid for it, but he's given us a chance to get to the Game 7 again and I couldn't think of a better opportunity for him or for us. Really a no-brainer to be honest with you. I wanted to talk to him and make sure he was feeling good about himself."
Blues players and even Jake Allen, who would have been in line to start Game 7 had Hitchcock gone in a different direction, all felt Elliott was their guy and even acknowledged so after the game and on Tuesday.
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The Blues held a fully-populated optional skate this morning, with Hitchcock the lone exception not on the ice. So no line rushes were available and no defensive pairings ran.
But one likely insertion into the lineup is Steve Ott replacing Dmitrij Jaskin on the fourth line.
Ott hasn't played since Game 1 of the series.
"I’m ready to rock and roll. Absolutely," Ott said without tipping his hand on if he's in or not. "I feel good.
"... Now, it’s you play hockey, you play hard. You try to be physical. You worry about the big picture in the sense of momentum and energy you can create but being physical rather than being a deterrent."
The Blues played the final two periods with Alexander Steen centering the "STL Line" with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko, and "STL Line" center Jori Lehtera playing with David Backes and Patrik Berglund.
The move was something Hitchcock liked and something he will consider again.
"I'm thinking about it, yeah," Hitchcock said.
One of the reasons is the play of Berglund. When asked what has made Berglund effective, Hitchcock said, "Skating. He's skating very well with the puck, without the puck. He's got tempo back in his game, his thinking's automatic. He's playing with a lot of size and quickness now, which has been a big asset for us.
"I thought that line, when we put it together in the second period was excellent for us with Lehtera in the middle and 'Bergy' and Backes on the wings. They were a handful for anybody. They were really a handful in the third period and really helped us, scored a great goal, had three or four other scoring chances. They were really good for us."
As for defensive pairs, both Robert Bortuzzo and Joel Edmundson came off the ice together, so if there is a change there, it won't be known until the pregame skate.
"I want people in the lineup who can add to the group, add the energy to the group," Hitchcock said. "I'm looking for people that I think can ... I know how difficult this game is gonna go. I know this is going to be a difficult game, and it's going to be played with a lot of emotion and a lot of intensity more than probably even our players realize and I want people who are not going to spit the bit when that happens. I'll put those guys in accordingly."
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If Edmundson plays, he will join fellow rookies Colton Parayko and Robby Fabbri playing in consecutive Game 7s in their first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
They all were part of the Blues' 3-2 victory against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round and have a different, more expected feel, heading into this Game 7.
"It's pretty crazy," Parayko said. "Just being in the one was very emotional and a lot of fun. Obviously it's a do-or-die situation. Everyone's bringing their best game. It's a lot of fun, it's a great atmosphere. Everyone in the locker room is upbeat, everyone is just kind of putting everything on the line. We obviously want to go out there and lay a great team game, do whatever we can to put ourselves in the best position to win the hockey game.
"... I just think now that I've been through one, I know what to expect. I think as far as it goes, it's an elimination game for both of us. We know that everyone's going to be throwing they've got at us and we'll be trying to throw everything at them, too. We've put ourselves in a good position. I guess just know you've been through one and what it takes to get through one, I guess. I still expect it's going to be quite the game."
Parayko's 23rd birthday is tomorrow, and unless there's something out of the ordinary where the game goes into multiple overtimes and past midnight, he won't have the chance to score on his birthday like Backes did in Game 2 and Vernon Fiddler did for the Stars in Game 6.
"I didn't think about that," Parayko said. "There you go, that could be a thought."
He's never played on his birthday either and doesn't have any plans ... at the moment.
"No, I've usually been home," Parayko said. "This is kind of as close as it's going to be tomorrow.
"Not a thing, just travel home."
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When the Blues skated this morning, there was a complete focus -- and no 10-minute skate -- and guys were as loose and care free as they've been all season.
"Pretty close," Parayko said. "We want to come in, we want to be razor-sharp, but this was kind of an opportunity to come in and feel pucks, just get prepared for tonight. Tonight's most important obviously. Whatever gets everyone ready. It's kind of a good mindset, good mood around the locker room is obviously huge and key. That's one of the things that's going to bring us together tonight and make just a good feeling around the room because when it's feeling good, you play better and when you feel good, you play better."
Hitchcock said much of the game's prepwork was done Tuesday.
"We did a lot of our work last night, so today was a fun morning," Hitchcock said. "That's why it's fun, make sure they keep me off the ice. It's a good thing. ... We're good to go.
"We have a routine. This is our second go at Game 7s. As I told the players last night, I don't really care if it's Game 7 or Game 107. This is a great opportunity. We've taken so many steps as a team this year. This is foreign ground for a lot of guys, and it's a great opportunity to be able to play in a conference final. So you've got to play your best, you've got to go out and play really well. You've got to have every one of your elements going, but we already have that information from the Chicago series, so there's no surprises and that's why we followed our routine. We went through the routine and did all of our prep work the night before and today was just get a feel for it. That's the type of skate we had and let's go play tonight."
As for the rest of the day leading up to the game ...
"It's excitement," defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "These are the games that you dreamed of, and what you always talked about as a kid. A lot of guys here have played in big games, whether it's a championship at the junior level or the college level, whether it may be. All those moments prepare you for this. Again, we had a moment in the first series where were able to experience one of these games. We have to use that to our advantage and realize that it's going to be a slightly different because we're playing on the road."
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It will be the 16th Game 7 in Blues history, 12th for the Stars.
The Blues are 7-8 (3-6 on the road) all-time in Game 7.
Between Minnesota and Dallas, the Stars franchise is 5-6 (3-2 at home) in Game 7, including 1-2 against the Blues; the North Stars were defeated by the Blues 2-1 in the second overtime in 1968 and 2-1 in overtime in 1972. Minnesota exacted some revenge in 1984, defeating the Blues 4-3 in overtime to advance to the Campbell Conference Final.
The Stars will play their first Game 7 since April 23, 2007, a 4-1 loss at the Vancouver Canucks in the first round.
The Blues have won more than one Game 7 in a single postseason once. In their inaugural season in 1967-68, they defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 in the West Division semifinals and North Stars 2-1 in double overtime in the West Division Final before being swept by the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-Jori Lehtera-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches could include Robert Bortuzzo, Ryan Reaves, Magnus Paajarvi, Dmitrij Jaskin, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Ty Rattie and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Cody Eakin-Patrick Sharp
Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Valeri Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel-Radek Faksa-Ales Hemsky
Colton Sceviour-Vernon Fiddler-Patrick Eaves
Alex Goligoski-John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya-Stephen Johns
Kris Russell-Jason Demers
Kari Lehtonen will start in goal. Antti Niemi will be the backup.
Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak, Jordie Benn, Brett Ritchie and Curtis McKenzie are healthy scratches. Tyler Seguin (lower body) remains sidelined and Travis Moen (hand) is out for the playoffs.