By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The jubilation was quite evident with the Blues when center Patrik Berglund finally scored on Thursday.
It was an empty-net goal in a 5-2 victory against the New Jersey Devils, but for Berglund, it was his longest goal drought of his career (25 games); he last scored on Oct. 20 against the Calgary Flames and now has two goals in 31 games.
But for Berglund, who's in the final year of a three-year contract with an average annual value of $3.75 million, it's been a bit of an adjustment trying to anchor a third line the Blues (17-10-4), who host the division-rival Chicago Blackhawks (20-8-4) today at 7 p.m. (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM), the Blues are trying to get consistent production out of.
"You could see how happy people were at the bench for him and how happy he was," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "It's a big relief. He's had so many scoring chances. He had three more again and then just to work as hard as he's worked and played as hard as he's played and not be successful is a tough pill to swallow. That kind of relieves the tension and hopefully he can build it from there."
In Berglund's defense, having to shuffle linemates on and off the line has been challenging; he's played with Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie, Nail Yakupov, Alexander Steen, Jaden Schwartz, Robby Fabbri, Jori Lehtera, David Perron and Magnus Paajarvi.
"It's just been that way for a while now here," Berglund said. "I'm used to it now. Yeah, it doesn't make it any easier, but that's just the way it is here and I really don't want to get into it more than that."
Berglund will now play with Perron and Steen again for a second game in a row and for the first time all season, it's a combination that he really likes.
"I think so," Berglund said. "I think it's a solid line. We haven't played much together; we played one game. Just to find real chemistry and find them, they find me for good scoring chances. I think in my opinion it usually takes a while to kind of know where they'll ve and so on. I think it can be a good line that can play a solid two-way game against top lines. We've got to go from there, but I think for sure it's a solid line. I like playing with both guys and hopefully we can stick together and find some good chemistry.
"It looked really good [Thursday]. All four lines looked good. We'll see what's going to happen moving forward. So many things happen throughout a season. Injuries come and go, you have to adjust here and there. It's kind of hard to say that we're going to stick together so long. You never know what's going to happen. Hopefully we can and keep building this team."
Berglund has two goals and six assists on the season, and while that may not be the kind of production one might expect from $3.75 million AAV, Hitchcock said the changes in linemates has had somewhat an effect on his production.
"Possibly, but I also think that sometimes when you don't score, you don't think you can score, so then you stop trying to score," Hitchcock said. "It grows its own legs and I think 'Bergy' was in a position where he was losing a little bit of hope, and it didn't matter who we played him with, I think he was thinking that it wasn't going to happen so he really became a checker, but with the line he's playing on now, as we told him, that line doesn't do us any good checking people unless it's in the offensive zone, and that's what that line did yesterday. They hemmed the opposition in shift after shift and then ended up getting a lot of quality scoring chances. I think he's excited to play with those guys; I know he is, and I think he's feeling like this is his best opportunity to be productive offensively also. Not only do it defensively, but being able to do it by occupying the o-zone."
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The Blues, who are six point behind the Blackhawks, are likely to insert Carl Gunnarsson back into the lineup after the defenseman missed the past four games with a lower-body injury.
Gunnarsson took part in an optional skate today and said he's ready to come back when called upon.
"Yeah, I feel great. Absolutely," Gunnarsson said. "Three days now probably, it's been feeling good.
"Today was not really a push, but yesterday was a good full practice. The whole team was out there. Before that, it was kind of the practices we've had and I've been doing some extra. It feels good."
Hitchcock wouldn't say whether Gunnarsson would play tonight or not but did say he has to come back either tonight or Monday.
"I think we're going to have to get 'Gunny' in either today or the Edmonton game; we've got to get him part of the group," Hitchcock said. "He's healthy. He's a big part of our team. Whether we put him in tonight or Monday, we've got to put him in; we've got to get him going. I would look for him in one of the next two games."
When Gunnarsson comes back, Brad Hunt, who has a four-game point streak since being recalled from the Chicago Wolves (one goal, three assists), will come out, which won't be popular among Blues fans.
"It is tough, but out of respect for the players, if a guy's played well and he gets hurt and he declares himself healthy, you're pretty much obligated to put those guys back in in fairness to your team because everybody goes through that stuff as a player," Hitchcock said. "If he's pulled out because of performance, that's one thing, but to bring a guy out (because of) injury and to keep him out because somebody came in and played well, I don't think is the right way to do it to the players. We've always had a philosophy here that you go back in and if you do play well, you need to stay in, but you've got to put him back in first, I think."
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Goalie Jake Allen, who is 11-0-2 on home ice with an eight-game winning streak at Scottrade Center, will start.
The Blues, 6-3-1 the past 10 games, will put a 14-game home point streak (11-0-3) on the line; they're 13-1-3 overall at Scottrade Center.
Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko has 10 points (two goals, eight assists) during a five-game point streak, 11 goals and 17 assists the past 20 games.
Left wing Robby Fabbri has six points (three goals, three assists) the past five games.
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The first episode of "Road to the Outdoor Classics" aired on Epix and online Friday night, and initial reviews from players and Hitchcock were positive, but Hitchcock didn't get the chance to see it as of early Saturday afternoon; he just went on hearsay.
"I don't know how I got 300 channels on my TV and I don't got Epix," Hitchcock joked. "Ninety-seven history channels or whatever I've got on there, but I don't have Epix.
"Players said it was alright, not a lot of swear words, which is a good thing."
"I think it's pretty neat for fans to see because they probably don't really know what happens on a daily basis or behind the scenes stuff," Blues left wing Jaden Schwartz said. "We kind of see it every day and we're used to it."
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Tonight's game will be the last one between the teams before they meet up on Jan. 2 at the 2017 Bridgestone Winter Classic.
There's enough respect from both sides to go around.
"These are the big games that you really want to play in," Berglund said. "That's the ones where you really show your character. It's going to be a loud building and we're going to do all we can to get those to points."
"Leading the conference and we've played them a ton," Gunnarsson said. "We know how we should play in our game plan and what works against them. It's just a matter of execution. It's a good opponent. Whenever you come back, it's going to be a tough game."
"I like coaching in these games and players like playing in these games," Hitchcock said. "Chicago's such a good team, it's such a good rivalry. Hopefully we gained a little bit of a measure of respect of what happened last year. It's a great evaluator, individually, collectively. They expose holes in your team game defensively if you're not sharp. There's a bevy of information every time we play this team that we can learn from. I like coaching in these games."
"St. Louis has a team that probably has as much patience with the puck than any team in the league," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said. "I think they're familiar with one another around the offensive zone and where the other guys are and their defense are extremely patient with it as well. They've got a lot of options, a lot of different looks with it. There's definitely a lot of things you've got to be concerned with when you're playing St. Louis. They technically play a real strong game as well. All the little things you talk about going into the game, St. Louis does the little things well so you want to make sure you play your best and you're well-aware of what they can do."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Nail Yakupov
Robby Fabbri-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Dmitrij Jaskin, Ty Rattie and Brad Hunt. Robert Bortuzzo (lower body) is on injured-reserve.
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The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Ryan Hartman-Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Richard Panik
Andrew Desjardins-Vinnie Hinostroza-Jordin Tootoo
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Brian Campbell-Brent Seabrook
Michal Kempny-Trevor van Riemsdyk
Scott Darling will start in goal; Lars Johansson will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Tyler Motte, Michal Rozsival and Gustav Forsling. Corey Crawford (appendectomy) is on injured-reserve.