By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Ivan Barbashev got a text from Chicago Wolves coach Craig Berube last week and didn't know what to make of it.
"I got a text message from my coach and he said, 'Good luck,'" Barbashev said. "I didn't understand it. It was like weird. And then 'Doc' called me and said I was going up and I was kind of pumped about that."
Up, as in going to the NHL, going to play with the Blues.
"I was really excited," Barbashev said.
Barbashev, the Blues' second round pick (33rd overall) in 2014, made his NHL debut in the Blues' 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild last Thursday. He was sent back down to the Wolves, played Saturday at Cleveland and was recalled again and will make his home debut when the Blues (24-20-5) host the Winnipeg Jets (23-25-4) at 7 p.m. today (FS-MW, KMOX 1120-AM).
"I was really nervous before the game (Thursday)," Barbashev said. "I couldn't sleep before the game; I don't know why. I was a little nervous, but after the first shift, I just started playing my game and I think our line played hard. I'm playing in the spot of (Kyle) Brodziak and I have to play hard and I have to play smart on that line. I think I did good.
"I'm really excited to be back in St. Louis to play my first game here in front of our fans. It's just going to be fun."
Barbashev has 19 goals and 18 assists in 45 games with the Wolves this season, a far cry from last season when he had just 10 goals and 18 assists in 65 games playing primarily on a fourth line for then-coach John Anderson.
Under Berube, it's been more of a primary role.
"I've been getting more ice time, that's for sure," Barbashev said. "New coach, and I've been playing on the power play, which is good. I think this season has been very good so far and I'm really excited about it.
"I know how to play on the fourth line. It's just a simple game. I played with 'Uppy and 'Revo' last game. They talked to be last game just to be smart on their blue line and get the puck deep and go play physical, hard and smart."
The expectations for Barbashev, who will play with Scottie Upshall and Nail Yakupov tonight, won't be too great. Coach Ken Hitchcock wants him to just play his game and get acclimated with the NHL.
"He's a young player and he's had a great year with the Wolves," Hitchcock said. "It's a little bit rich to ask him to score the points with us that he does down there because where he plays down there. He's got equal size to the people. He doesn't have that here. He's a net-front guy, a down-low guy in the American Hockey League. That's unrealistic to think that's going to happen at this level on a consistent basis just based on size. But we love what he brings to the team, he brings a savvy type of game, he brings a competitive game on the boards, he stays on the puck, there's a lot of young guys in the league now playing.
"This is really a reward for a guy that spent two summers here in St. Louis, worked his tail off, really came from being a fourth-line player last year to a third-line player in the American Hockey League and he earned the right to come up, and we've got some nice choices here. Him, (Wade) Megan, (Kenny) Agostino, these three guys have had great years offensively and I'd say over the next little while until we find out how long 'Brodzy' is out, all three guys might get a look here."
WIth Brodziak shelved with a foot injury sustained at Pittsburgh on Jan. 24, Barbashev could really make a case for his first NHL duty that could be a lasting impression in the long run.
"I'm really excited I got called up and it's just a big opportunity for me," Barbashev said. "It's a good experience for me to learn some stuff from those guys."
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If the playoffs started today, the Blues would be the first wildcard team through. But they share 53 points with the Calgary Flames and lead Los Angeles and Vancouver by one and Dallas and the Jets by three.
"We have an 'A' game and kind of a 'C' game going right now and our 'A' game, that's what we want to see," Hitchcock said. "We know what it looks like, we know what it feels like, we've had it for the last little while, we've kind of lost it and then brought it back so to me, it's pretty simple: When we put work in ahead of skill and we stay on that task we're hard to play against."
The Blues shuffled their lines around a bit in practice Monday, and Ryan Reaves will move up to play with Patrik Berglund and Robby Fabbri. Paul Stastny did not skate Tuesday morning but is expected to play tonight. Dmitrij Jaskin, who skated in Stastny's spot, will sit out tonight with Yakupov returning.
"I don't know that you'd call it a promotion right now, but we want to establish two third lines and give me the flexibility to decide on the opposition and how I want to play them," Hitchcock said of Reaves' move up. "I would say at the end of the night, 5-on-5, those lines are going to play equal minutes and obviously Berglund and Robby are going to pick up extra minutes on special teams, but I want to see it balanced out and how it looks.
"It will be based on the opponent and it will be based on the matchup that I get to have, especially at home. We're much better when we spread it out throughout our lineup and that's what we're looking to do."
Jake Allen will make his first start since Jan. 19; he has allowed 10 goals on the past 36 shots in three starts that he has been pulled from.
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One other lineup change for the Blues is on defense.
Carl Gunnarsson will replace Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup.
Gunnarsson has been a healthy scratch the past two games, and Bortuzzo played in eight straight since returning from a lower-body injury.
"(It's) not a competition," Hitchcock said. "It's whoever is playing well gets to play. Not competition. No. If it was competition, you'd have seven guys playing well and lots of choices for the coach."
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Left wing Jaden Schwartz has a goal and five assists the past 4 games.
Left wing Alexander Steen (three goals, three assists) has points in three of the past five games.
Right wing Vladimir Tarasenko returned to the ice Tuesday morning after missing practice Monday because of travel from Los Angeles for the All-Star Game.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-David Perron
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Patrik Berglund-Ryan Reaves
Scottie Upshall-Ivan Barbashev-Nail Yakupov
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 Robert Bortuzzo and Dmitrij Jaskin. Kyle Brodziak (foot) is on injured-reserve.
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The Jets' projected lineup:
Nikolaj Ehlers-Bryan Little-Patrik Laine
Andrew Copp-Mark Scheifele-Blake Wheeler
Shawn Matthias-Adam Lowry-Joel Armia
Brandon Tanev-Nic Petan-Chris Thorburn
Josh Morrissey-Dustin Byfuglien
Toby Enstrom-Jacob Trouba
Mark Stuart-Paul Postma
Ondrej Pavelec will start in goal; Connor Hellebuyck will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Michael Hutchinson and Julian Melchiori. Tyler Myers (lower body), Marko Dano (lower body), Ben Chiarot (upper body), Drew Stafford (lower body) and Mathieu Perreault (upper body) are all out.