By LOU KORAC
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Expect a different look for the Blues when they play the San Jose Sharks in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final on Thursday (8 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).
The Blues, who are tied in the series 1-1, held an optional skate at SAP Center Thursday morning but some surprise players came off the ice early, including that of Magnus Paajarvi, who is expected to make his Stanley Cup Playoff debut, in place of Steve Ott.
"We're making changes," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "We've always done it when we don't feel our group is performing the way we've wanted to. We've been fortunate every time we've made the changes, we've played better and we're looking to make changes again."
Defenseman Robert Bortuzzo, who has played in four games this playoff season, will come into the lineup for Joel Edmundson, and Dmitrij Jaskin will come in as well, for Scottie Upshall, who has been dinged up and could sit a game to rest or perhaps to give the Blues a different look.
"Don’t know," Jaskin said when asked if he was playing. "If I am, I am."
"They skate well, they check well," Jaskin added about the Sharks. "Just trying to put as many guys as they can in their zone and just squeeze us. Just have to get around it and spread them out.
"We’ve got to work hard and make room for yourself."
Magnus Paajarvi will suit up in his first Stanley Cup Playoff game and play for Steve Ott.
Paajarvi, who's played in 276 career regular season games, has skated against the Sharks 11 times with one assist.
"I've never played playoffs, so that would be cool if that would happen," Paajarvi said. "I would not think too much. I would try to keep it as simple as I can, if I get in and give them hell. You go all in.
"... I'm not happy sitting and watching, that's for sure. I want to be in there and help the guys out. But that's the thing too, you've got to stay mentally ready. It can happen fast and it will happen fast. One injury here, one injury there, and you're in. So mentally I'm preparing for every game, but yeah it's been tough not playing. I'm here to play, not to sit and watch."
What makes the Blues' line changes good successful is that they've been used to it. Injuries throughout the season have forced their hand to play different lineups at different times throughout the season with a seamless transition.
"I think it's really helpful," Hitchcock said. "I think what's more helpful is we've had players who have played multiple positions and that's what's helped us. You're not having a guy who's never played center go and play center or a guy that's played center and play wing. I think the significant injuries, long-term injuries have really helped us because it's put people in positions really starting in October that they had not played before that they had to get used to and I think it has really helped us in the playoffs because we've put people in positions where it's surprised some of the media, it's surprised some of the opposition and yet our players, in some cases, they've played 40 games in that position, so it's really helped us. I don't think we would be here today without having that flexibility because that flexibility really allowed us to be almost seamless in some of the things that we're able to to win hockey games."
Players can see it however they want, but bottom line, it's meant to be a wakeup call.
"I think so. When he switches the lines up, he's also sending a message of how he wants us to play," Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said of Hitchcock. "Different line combinations change the way we play a little bit in what we're geared towards, offense, defense, whatever it may be. The first series we had Stastny-Brouwer and Steen and they were the shut down line. Now you see the lines we need for scoring. It's just a message for us we're going to change it up a bit, this is what we want. It just kind of puts us in a new fresh mind going into tonight's game. We need to answer the bell and be ready to make those adjustments."
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The Sharks' lopsided 4-0 win in Game 2 definitely won't go to the home side's head. They expect the Blues to come at them with a big push tonight.
"They’re going to come hard," Sharks center Joe Thornton said. "They’re a better team on the road. That’s been documented in the post-season here. So they’re going to come with their best game. I expect us to do the same."
Hitchcock expects it also.
"We know we're going to play better. We know," Hitchcock said. "Whether we play our best game ... we knew the playoffs is all about getting better. We need to play better than we did in Game 2. We know we will and we know what it looks like.
"It's a game based on effort and puck support. It doesn't matter what the opposition does. If you've got that going, you're going to be in good shape. We know we're going to play a lot better. We still hung around mentally from some of the Dallas series. I think we've gotten our minds a little bit better for what's taken place. I think there was such a different game than when we've played the Stars than when we played San Jose. I've said this to people before, San Jose plays a mirror image of ourselves and we had to get mentally into that and I think we're going to get better at it today."
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The Blues have won Game 3 in both previous playoff series. ... The Blues are 10-2 on the road since March 19. ... The Blues will look to improve on their franchise-record five road wins in the playoffs. ... Backes has 19 hits in two games in the series. ... Blues have never been shut out in back-to-back playoff games.
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The Blues' projected lineup (updated):
Jaden Schwartz-Alexander Steen-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-Jori Lehtera-David Backes
Magnus Paajarvi-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin
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 are Joel Edmundson, Ryan Reaves, Steve Ott, Scottie Upshall, Petteri Lindbohm, Chris Butler, Peter Harrold, Ty Rattie and Anders Nilsson. The Blues report no injuries but Upshall could be dealing with some ailment.
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The Sharks' projected lineup:
Tomas Hertl-Joe Thornton-Joe Pavelski
Patrick Marleau-Logan Couture-Joonas Donskoi
Melker Karlsson-Chris Tierney-Joel Ward
Dainius Zubrus-Nick Spaling-Tommy Wingels
Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Justin Braun
Paul Martin-Brent Burns
Brenden Dillon-Roman Polak
Martin Jones will start in goal. James Reimer will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Matt Tennyson, Dylan DeMelo and Micheal Haley. Matt Nieto (undisclosed) is out.