By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Robert Bortuzzo has been putting in the work, waiting for his turn to make an impact for the Blues in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He'll get his chance tonight when the Blues, who lead the Dallas Stars 3-2 in the best-of-7 Western Conference Second Round series with a chance to clinch their first spot in the conference final since 2001, can close things on home ice (7 p.m., NBCSN, KMOX 1120-AM).
Bortuzzo will replace rookie Joel Edmundson and step in and play with Kevin Shattenkirk, moving the right-handed Shattenkirk to the left side.
"One's a defending player and one's an attacking player," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "Our feeling is we need more attacking right now. 'Borts' is a guy that jumps up on the play, really attacks. He plays on his toes and he's good at joining the rush and making plays from the red line in 'Eddy's more of a defending player, stay-at-home kind of guy."
The Blues want to counter-attack the Stars' ability to skate, and Bortuzzo, who hasn't played since Game 6 in the first round against the Chicago Blackhawks, gives them that element.
"Yeah, it's exciting," Bortuzzo said. "We're always preparing like we want to play every night and are doing the same things. It's nice to come into our building for a first game back. It's exciting and looking forward to it.
"Throughout the year, we've kind of played with everyone as a d-core. Everyone's kind of familiar with each other and that comfort factor is definitely there. 'Shatty's a world-class player and I'm sure he's going to make it easy on myself."
Shattenkirk said to expect some fun between the two.
"Yeah, we'll start some scrums tonight," Shattenkirk joked. "We're going to be going against some of their guys who I think are usually the guys who like to get a little nasty out there too. I keep getting the enforcers next to me, so it's easy to start and then pop out.
"... It's been good for us. I'm happy that he's got a chance now. He's always answered the bell. I think for someone like him, we've talked about it all year, in and out of the lineup, but handles it well and whenever he does come back he makes an immediate impact."
Hitchcock has used Shattenkirk on either side and doesn't think it's a difference.
"None, he can play either side," Hitchcock said. "It doesn't matter; he's done it all year. It gives us some good flexibility, especially when we've added another attacking defenseman there.
"Our feeling is that it's a skating series. We need to have as much puck control as we can, numbers on attack and we've got to probably add a little risk to our game if we're going to be better offensively and we think we've got to create more scoring chances so we're going to add as many attacking, and in (Dmitrij) Jaskin's case, as many puck-control people as we can."
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The Blues, who have won seven of 10 matchups with the Stars this season, want to avoid any type of lulls and try to feed off the crowd, which is expected to be boisterous like Game 7 in the first round against the Blackhawks.
"That's all part of it," Bortuzzo said. "As I'm sure you guys have seen, there's a lot of momentum to the series. It's definitely nice to have our great crowd back with us tonight."
"Well, I think tonight it's not so much us having lulls, it's knowing when the momentum is changing into their hands," Shattenkirk said. "It's going to happen, it's a playoff game. It's not going to be our game for a full 60 minutes. We just have to make sure that when it does happen, we get back to the smart simple plays that are able to ease that and make sure that we're getting back on the right side of things.
"... I think they're going to bring their best all game, play their top guys more than usual. It's going to be like that from the start of the puck drop, so we have to make sure that we're ready for that and be able to answer back. I don't think we just see what they're going to bring and then try to bring our best. We're going to be ready for it with our best game as well."
The Blues were so focused in on their morning skate today that Hitchcock cut it short, down to 10 minutes.
"Our zip in our pregame skate was crisp and our execution was high, so we cut it off," Hitchcock said. "I'd seen enough and after 9, 10, 11 minutes, we were done. That's what you want to do. Keep it brief, keep the execution at a high level and let them play.
"... I think when you're getting eliminated, you're bringing up past history and togetherness and everything like that. You're building on the emotional part of it. When you're trying to eliminate a team, you're trying to eliminate any fear. Just go out and play. You're not trying to get too far ahead of yourself. Both coaches are experienced coaches who have been in this before and know how to keep the players in the moment. Your whole focus is what do you have to do to keep the players in the moment and what do you have to do to not waste any energy."
The Blues will stick with what they've been doing since Game 7 against Chicago and stay at a hotel to avoid the distractions of home.
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The Blues will try to continue their dominance on the penalty kill this series. They're 15 for 16 against a potent Stars attack, despite missing Tyler Seguin (lower-body injury).
"I don't think it's any different than the regular season," Hitchcock said. "I think our penalty kill and our goalies were the story of the regular season and I think the biggest thing for us is when to pressure and we know when to back off. It's a very experienced crew back there with a very experienced coach. (Associate coach) Brad (Shaw) has done this for a long time and he's very good at it. I think the thing that's impressed me is that they handle … it's a spot on the ice killing penalties that you have to accept criticism. And because a lot of times you're not looking a lot of times at the good things you do, you're looking at the mistakes that have to be corrected. I think the players on the PK look at it and they take it to heart. It's a very proud group and it's been that way since the day I got here. I inherited a good coach with a good group of penalty killers and it just carried on. For five years, we've been at the top of the league."
Taking away the Stars' prime scoring opportunities has been essential.
"We've done well with taking away those seam plays and those plays that end up with a high-percentage shot," Shattenkirk said. "I think a lot of their shots have either come from the point or the flankers. More importantly, we've done a good job in collapsing to the net and taking away those rebounds because that's what their whole system is predicated on, is putting pucks at the net and having bodies and momentum at the net. When we can handle that, it takes a lot away from them."
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The Stars, who finished with the top seed in the Western Conference in the regular season, could get right wing Patrick Eaves back in the lineup.
Stars coach Lindy Ruff called Eaves "a game time decision" after the veteran skated on the Stars' fourth line. He hasn't played since Game 1 after being hit with teammate Stephen Johns' shot from the right point.
But judging by talk from teammates in the locker room and Eaves skating on a line this morning, chances are he's playing.
"Better than yesterday," Eaves said when asked how he felt. "I just got off the ice, got through the morning skate, which was fine. We'll see how it reacts. It's kind of wait and see. Still have decisions to be made.
"(Skating's) improving, which is a good sign. A lot of things are out of my control when it comes down to it. I have to talk to the trainers and see what it does this afternoon."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Kevin Shattenkirk-Robert Bortuzzo
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko
Brian Elliott will start in goal. Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Joel Edmundson, Ryan Reaves, Magnus Paajarvi, Steve Ott, 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/Brett Ritchie-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, Antoine Roussel or Brett Ritchie, Curtis McKenzie and Travis Moen are healthy scratches. Tyler Seguin (lower body) remains sidelined.