By LOU KORAC
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Despite a 1-0 series lead against the Minnesota Wild, the Blues are going with a pair of lineup changes for Game 2 of their first-round series today (7 p.m.; FS-MW, KYKY 98.1-FM).
Robert Bortuzzo, who's missed the past six games with an upper-body injury, will return and take the place of Jordan Schmaltz, and it appears that Jori Lehtera will be a healthy scratch for the playoff debut of Zach Sanford.
Bortuzzo, who was injured following a check against the Colorado Avalanche on March 31, will step in and play alongside third-pair partner Carl Gunnarsson.
"Barring any setbacks, we're excited to jump back in there," Bortuzzo said. "Obviously it's going to be a good test tonight. Looking forward to it.
"... It's exciting. It's a fun time of the year. It's almost better if you can jump into an intense situation like that getting into it right away. Looking forward to the challenge and it'll be fun."
Bortuzzo can add some size and a mean streak in his game, something the Blues could perhaps use against a Wild team that will be looking to even the series.
"He was playing really, really well for us when he was in the lineup," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Since the (Kevin) Shattenkirk trade, obviously his role increased. Big body, veteran guy and he’s got a little nastiness to his game. So obviously in front we know what their game plan is that makes it a little bit difficult, a little bit more challenging to get there, but we said this before, they’ve got guys that can possess the puck, [they’re] strong on the puck, and 'Borts' certainly has the ability to separate some guys down low and make them pay a little bit of a price."
It will be Bortuzzo's 14th playoff game, and after a a series of practices the past couple days, deemed himself good to go.
"Yeah, done everything in terms of preparation to be ready to go and contribute," Bortuzzo said. "Now it's just getting in there and doing such.
"I think we can take away some of their time and space in the O-zone. They cycle a lot of pucks and like to carry it around the offensive zone. If we can put an end to some of those plays, that's kind of when the crowd gets into it. If you can get in and out of your end and not play in your D-zone, it's a huge part of it."
Gunnarsson is happy to have his partner back and feels Bortuzzo brings a certain element, something perhaps missing in Game 1.
"Yeah, it's been a while but happy to get him back," Gunnarsson said. "It was pretty quick, but it's good.
"Physicality, aggressiveness, being a little nasty. That's what he's real good at and I think that will be good tonight. ... A little bit. We could probably be a little more dirty, nasty, a bit more angry out there. Bringing in a body like 'Bobbo,' it's going to be great tonight."
Schmaltz played a team-low 9 minutes, 18 seconds in Game 1, including just six seconds out of 17:42 of overtime.
"I thought he did well," Gunnarsson said of Schmaltz. "A couple plays and he was like, 'You think we can make more plays?' I told him just the way we were playing last game, too, we'll keep it simple right now. Punch it out and we'll build from there. I think the whole team, we defended a lot, and that's probably not the time to try and do something fancy. He just kept it simple and I think he did a good job of that."
As for the forward change, Alexander Steen didn't take the morning skate and in his place was Sanford, but Yeo confirmed Steen will play and didn't say it in so many words, but Lehtera would be the odd-man out tonight.
Steen is expected to center a line with Vladimir Sobotka on the left and Sanford on the right.
Yeo did have an extended conversation with Lehtera after the morning skate, one assumes it is to discuss the change.
"So you’re assuming that we’re … it was a long conversation."
Lehtera played 16:53, the lowest of the center icemen for the Blues in Game 1.
As for other injury updates, Yeo said center Paul Stastny is still day-to-day.
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Game 1 co-hero Joel Edmundson, who earns those honors with goalie Jake Allen and his 51-save performance, had a scroll of messages after scoring the overtime game-winner in the 2-1 win Wednesday.
One of them was from Shattenkirk.
"'Shatty' texted me. He always talks about the off-hand one-timer," Edmundson said. "He kept telling me not to do it. So he said, 'What did I tell you about that off-hand one-T?' I guess it worked this time. ... Just guys like that. Of course, always nice to hear from your boys.
"... I think I woke up with more because it was a late night, so I woke up with a bunch. But it still hasn't really stopped. My Twitter and Instagram has been blowing up. It's kind of new for me, but it's pretty cool at the same time."
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Teams would be satisfied with getting a split to begin a series on the road.
Not the Blues.
Winning Game 1 assure them they get home ice in the series, but to win a second one on the road, it would put a stranglehold on the series heading back to Scottrade Center for Game 3 on Sunday afternoon.
"Who cares about last game? This is all-in tonight," Gunnarsson said. "If we win one tonight, we'll be in a great spot; we all know that. We can't linger back and think about what happened last game. It's just going to be all focus on tonight and we'll see what happens. We'll go home either 1-1 or 2-0, but we're going all-in for 2-0 here."
The Blues have gone 10-1-1 on the road the past 12 games, and they're 18-6-1 since starting the season 5-11-1.
"I think for so long, we’ve played in games that are must-win games," Yeo said. "And we’re playing those games on the road. So we didn’t have the luxury of saying, ‘We’re on the road tonight, we’re not going to quite put it all in.’ And so maybe that helped us build a little confidence going into the playoffs. But like you said, it’s the playoffs. It’s a different story. We got the first one, and tonight, we’re looking forward to a better challenge."
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The Blues, who were 0-for-4 on the power play in Game 1, made a few subtle changes to try and get some better production.
Rookie Ivan Barbashev will stick with the top unit and regular linemates Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. Jay Bouwmeester took Steen's spot on the point, but Steen will man that position with Alex Pietrangelo tonight.
On the second unit, Sobotka was with Sanford and Patrik Berglund down low and point-men David Perron and Colton Parayko.
"Our power play was not good enough," Yeo said. "Our penalty kill was very good (3-for-3). Power play, I thought, was slow. It matched our 5-on-5 game, to be honest with you. We were a little bit slow, a little bit deliberate, and certainly we’d like to see ourselves be more aggressive.
"We’ve got to move the puck a lot quicker. It made it easy for them to defend. And they defend well, so if you don’t take them outside of that structure by moving the puck quicker and shooting when you have the opportunity, then you’re not going to have a lot of success."
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The Wild, despite being down in the series, feel like they don't need to change much of anything aside from the final outcome.
And perhaps get to the interior more.
Of the Wild's 52 shots on goal, roughly 30 percent came from the slot area. Coaches always talk about getting more opportunities between the dots.
"I think we had a lot of shots on net last game," said former Blue and Wild wing Chris Stewart. "That's not good enough. We have to play to the inside. There's a lot of loose change around the net there. They've got some pretty good defensemen and we've got to up our battle level and play to the inside and get some of those greasy goals."
And perhaps try to wear on the Blues' defensemen.
"It’s tough," Wild right wing Nino Niederreiter said. "They did a pretty good job of not allowing us in front of their net. That’s why Allen saw a lot of the pucks. On the other hand, we have to try and outmuscle them and try and get to the net to make it even harder on them.”
"I feel like it was definitely a good game for us and we know we can pick it up another notch and even do a few things a little better; net front and getting pucks through even better. It’s think it’s little things."
Solving Allen would have to be a priority.
"He’s playing well so it’s going to be second, third and fourth efforts; rebounds garbage goals, stuff like that," said Wild center Charlie Coyle, who was robbed by Allen late in the second from the doorstep. "We've gotta get him moving side to side, take away his eyes more and create some more traffic in front of him. It’s tough when a goalie’s playing well. You've gotta keep at him, just keep shooting and it’ll go in eventually."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Ivan Barbashev-Vladimir Tarasenko
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Vladimir Sobotka-Alexander Steen-Zach Sanford
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Jori Lehtera, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jordan Schmaltz and Luke Opilka. Paul Stastny (lower body), Robby Fabbri (knee) and Nail Yakupov (undisclosed) are out with injuries.
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The Wild's projected lineup:
Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Zach Parise
Erik Haula-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund
Jason Zucker-Martin Hanzal-Charlie Coyle
Chris Stewart-Joel Eriksson Ek-Jason Pominville
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba
Jonas Brodin-Christian Folin
Devan Dubnyk will start in goal; Darcy Kuemper will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Jordan Schroeder, Ryan White and Nate Prosser. Victor Bartley (arm) is on injured-reserve.