BY LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester can scratch another number off a milestone 15-year career.
When the Blues (34-21-4) take on the Dallas Stars (33-20-4) at 7:30 p.m. today at American Airlines Center in another key Central Division battle, Bouwmeester will suit up in the 1,100th game of his NHL career.
Drafted with the third pick of the 2003 NHL Draft by the Florida Panthers, Bouwmeester is in his sixth season with the Blues.
"I don't know. It's kind of neat," Bouwmeester said. "It's another sign you're getting a little older. It's like birthdays, after a certain point you don't want to know what number it is. It's cool. Going into this season, I knew it would probably happen. I don't know, it's not a big deal to me.
"... I've been pretty fortunate throughout my career with injuries. I got to 1,000 games at a relatively young age. That was a cool thing. That's a neat number to hit, more of a milestone. Now it's just you want to keep playing as long as you can. I feel I can still play. It's a neat little reminder when you hit milestones like that. All that's stuff you think about more when you're done playing more than when it's going on."
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, Bouwmeester's partner for much of his Blues career, was unaware of the feat until told in the locker room Friday but once he found out, was proud of his teammate.
"You've got to be a pro to get to that point, right," Pietrangelo said. "You've got to take care of yourself day in, day out and prepare. He's the prime example of someone to follow. There's a reason why he's played that many games. He just continues to keep going."
It's been a challenging season for Bouwmeester, who has played relatively injury-free throughout his career, even holding down the NHL's ironman streak of 737 games before that ended during the 2014-15 season.
Bouwmeester's been dealing with lower-body injuries throughout the season and has taken many practices and morning skates off but being available for games.
"It's really amazing, impressive," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "Obviously durability is one thing, but he's a guy ... what's impressive about him is how hard he plays, the way he blocks shots, the way he shows up to play night after night. A great accomplishment for him.
"I think it would be tougher for a younger player. 'Bouw' has been around a long time and obviously knows what he needs to do to be successful. As you get older and more mature in your career, then I would say it's easier to prepare mentally and not rely as much on the physical side of things. ... He's done a great job for us. I've been very impressed."
The time off the ice is not something Bouwmeester, who has 397 points (84 goals, 313 assists) in his career, is accustomed to.
"It's been a little different," Bouwmeester said. "A little difficult at times. It is what it is. Kind of dealing with a couple things but that's part of experience. I know how to get myself ready for the games and felt fine in them. The start of this season wasn't great, getting hurt in training camp (fractured ankle), missed the start of the season, that was frustrating, then it's been a little frustrating as we go. As long as you're playing the games, it's all good."
Bouwmeester still remembers his first game; actually, his first exhibition game in 2002.
"A little bit. I remember my first exhibition game because it was in Montreal and I thought, 'every game is going to be like this. No chance,"' Bouwmeester said. "Then we went to Florida the next night and played an exhibition game in front of 500 people or something. I think the first game was against Tampa at home, you remember a few things, specifics, I don't know. But I remember a lot of guys I played against and being nervous. When you hit numbers like this, that's what you reflect on, your career as a whole, not so much about the hockey, the guys you played with, a lot of the fun you've had along the way."
Bouwmeester, 34, still has one year remaining on his five-year, $27 million contract he signed with the Blues in 2013, and as far as the future holds ...
"I don't know. It's one of those things, I've got another year left on my contract, hopefully be back next year, after that, you go from there," Bouwmeester said. "You have a lot of different things you think about now. I've got a family now, it's growing, those are things we'll sit down and decide about, but as long as I feel good, I'd like to keep going. That's one thing you talk about, when you do retire, you can't go back. So you have to enjoy it and play as long as you can because once it's over it's over."
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The Blues won't have newly-acquired forward Nikita Soshnikov at their disposal for 7-10 days so he can obtain a working visa in the United States, and after acquiring the Russian-born Soshnikov, 24, from the Toronto Maple Leafs on Thursday for a 2019 fourth-round pick, it will give the Blues ample time to get acclimated with their new player.
"I've heard a lot of really good things," Yeo said. "I think it's going to be a really good move for our organization just in terms of his work ethic, his skating ability, his ability to play on both sides of the puck. I think that talking to some people and hearing from some people in Toronto, they actually really liked him. Coaches liked him. He's one of those guys that they had a lot of time for.
"... Obviously we've got a little bit of time before he can join us anyways. I spoke to him yesterday. He's real excited about joining us. Everything I'm hearing about him and the type of player that he is, I believe that he'll be a good fit with our group."
Soshnikov is technically still on injured reserve and when he arrives in St. Louis, will be examined by Blues doctors. He is coming off a lower-body injury but played in five games with Toronto of the American Hockey League during a conditioning stint; he had five points (two goals, three assists).
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The Blues are going to try and move closer up the Central Division standings while also try to fend off the Stars, who could move into a tie with the Blues with a regulation win.
The Blues are five points behind first-place Nashville and three points behind second-place Winnipeg.
"This is going to be a good one tonight," Yeo said. "They're going to be real jacked up here playing in front of their crowd and looking at the standings and looking at the opportunity that they have. They're going to be real excited and why wouldn't they be? We need that same type of excitement. It should be a fun game, it's going to be an intense game."
Blues defenseman Vince Dunn agreed.
"It's definitely crunch time," Dunn said. "Everyone's chasing everyone. It's not like it's the top three teams fighting for first place. It's kind of all the way down to eight. Every game matters, especially the ones in tour division and conference. It's crunch time now. We've got to play like it's playoff hockey."
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The Blues are going back to Jake Allen in goal tonight.
Allen has started three of the past four games and last played Sunday in a 4-1 loss to Pittsburgh.
Yeo was asked about the goalie situation, where it stands and if it's still on a day-to-day basis. He brushed it off as if it were no big deal.
"I don't know. I don't think we need to answer the question," Yeo said. "It doesn't stand anywhere. What we've got is two good goalies, guys that we believe in. We approached the game tonight and we felt that Jake was the guy we'd throw in net tonight and to say that we have a plan or going forward with anything like that, we don't. Both goalies, I think, are aware of that, and let's just concentrate on tonight."
Defenseman Colton Parayko, who left practice a little early Thursday with what Yeo called "tightness," will play tonight.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Patrik Berglund
Ivan Barbashev-Vladimir Sobotka-Dmitrij Jaskin
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Chris Thorburn
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Robert Bortuzzo-Vince Dunn
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Chris Butler and Oskar Sundqvist. Joel Edmundson (forearm) and Robby Fabbri (knee) are out.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov
Remi Elie-Radek Faksa-Tyler Pitlick
Mattias Janmark-Jason Spezza-Devin Shore
Gemel Smith-Martin Hanzal-Brett Richie
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Dan Hamhuis-Greg Pateryn
Marc Methot-Stephen Johns
Ben Bishop will start in goal; Kari Lehtonen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Jason Dickinson and Julius Honka. Antoine Roussel (back spasms) will not play.