By LOU KORAC
David Perron had to fight back the emotion.
David Perron had to fight back the emotion.
He did his best, but for someone that knew Bob Plager as well as he did, probably better than any player on the roster today, it's been a tough 24 hours since Plager's passing on Wednesday.
Plager, who died in a car accident on Interstate 40 in the early afternoon hours Wednesday 13 days after his 78th birthday, was remembered with love and passion by the current Blues, who somehow have to park those emotions and play with heavy hearts when they end their five-game road trip and the first matchup of the season against the Minnesota Wild (7 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
"We woke up from a text from 'Army,'" Perron said of Blues general manager Doug Armstrong. "I woke up from a nap yesterday from that and it took me a while to think about something else. Pretty sad moment for the Blues organization, for the city of St. Louis. He really meant a lot to what we're trying to bring to our game every night as far as the pride and playing for the Bluenote, the city.
"He's the reason why I love St. Louis so much. Everyone keeps saying, 'Why do you keep coming back?' It's for that type of mentality, that type of guy right there. It's pretty tough.
"The one thing you can do is he'd like us to go out there and get a win for him, play as hard as we can, come together as a team more and more as the season goes by and kind of bring the pride that he's had for the city, for the team. It might not happen tonight or overnight, but that's something that when we won (the Stanley Cup in 2019), that's what we were doing. It's slipped just a little bit. We want that to really be a staple for our team."
One can talk to any of the players, and they can't pick out one memory they have of Plager, an original Blue who finally got his parade and got to hoist the Cup.
"I remember the first time I met him right when I got traded (to St. Louis), we kind of had like a new player reveal in the Ballpark (Village) area and just meeting and talking to him, him telling stories and as nice of a guy he was, how funny of a guy he was, it was just amazing to see that," captain Ryan O'Reilly said. "You could tell how much he meant to the city of St. Louis, everyone he met. You felt special, he gave you the time of day.
"It's so sad. We lost a huge piece of this organization and a great ambassador for the game. It's deeply saddening.
"It's more than just us. We're playing for guys like Bobby that took so much pride in playing for the Blues and representing the city in a great way. We look at it now and I think all of us feel an obligation. We have to go out there, play for him. He was a guy that loved to watch and I'm sure the greatest times of his life were when he was playing for the Blues. I think we've all got to think about that and go out there and leave it out there for him."
The Blues had to muster up the emotion on Thursday to go to the rink and prepare for a hockey game, in the middle of a playoff race, but coach Craig Berube wanted to make sure those that haven't been around the organization long enough to know Plager just who he was.
"Today I just wanted to talk about Bobby a little bit," Berube said. "I know a lot of our guys did know Bobby that have been here for a couple years and been around Bobby and Bobby's been around the team. Obviously with the Cup run and being around the Stanley Cup and things like that, but there's a lot of guys that didn't know Bobby because of COVID and not being around him and Bobby not being around the team. My message was to just let them know what Bobby was all about to the Blues and to life. I think it was important that they knew about Bobby and what he meant to the St. Louis Blues and meant to a lot of people.
"It's terrible news obviously to everyone that was associated with Bobby. He was a great ambassador for the St. Louis Blues. Obviously been there from the beginning. I knew Bobby pretty well, always enjoyed seeing him and running into him, talking and some stories. He was a great story teller and great guy to be around, a lot of fun for sure. Loved the St. Louis Blues more than anybody. It's terrible news."
So how do the Blues move on?
Simple? Probably not, but the show must go on, and Plager wouldn't want it any other way.
"It's human nature that they will (move on)," Berube said. "They've probably gone through similar situations in life. It's just a job. It's tough, I get it, but in the end, they've got a job to do, we all have a job to do and we've got to move on and do our job."
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The Blues (16-11-5) stand in fourth place in the West Division, four points behind the third-place Wild (20-10-1) but Minnesota has a game in hand.
It's imperative that the Blues start to gain some traction here and climb in the standings, because they sit only four points ahead of Arizona, five ahead of Los Angeles and seven ahead of San Jose for the race to be in the top four.
"With Minny, they're a hard-working team and that's what we have to become more of. We've seen it in spurts and just not enough," Perron said. "That's something the last few days Chief has really hammered home more and more. It's pretty clear that we can raise our level many ways in that regard and we have a big opportunity. We can see it in both ways, but I think the chance to play those top three teams for the last part of the year could be either big or not big, but it could be big if we gain points and we can even hopefully we can raise our standing there."
"They're a very good team," O'Reilly said. "They work very hard, they're playing very well. This is our first look at them this season and I think it's important that we start the right way, that we show these guys that they're going to be in for some tough games. Obviously crucial points for us. We need to get back going and respond after our last game, but I'm excited. It's nice to be playing someone new, but we're going to be playing a lot of these guys."
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Blues defenseman Colton Parayko skated again during Thursday's optional.
Parayko has missed 17 games with an upper-body injury and will not play tonight, but after taking part in a full practice on Wednesday, Berube was anxious to see how he felt after that.
"He's skating again today, so that's good news," Berube said.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jordan Kyrou-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-Mike Hoffman
Kyle Clifford-Dakota Joshua-Sammy Blais
Torey Krug-Justin Faulk
Marco Scandella-Vince Dunn
Jake Walman-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. Niko Mikkola and Jacob de la Rose are expected to be the healthy scratches. Colton Parayko (upper body), Tyler Bozak (upper body), Ivan Barbashev (ankle) and Mackenzie MacEachern (upper body) are out. Carl Gunnarsson (knee) and Oskar Sundqvist (knee) are out for the season.
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The Wild's projected lineup:
Kirill Kaprizov-Victor Rask-Mats Zuccarello
Marcus Johansson-Ryan Hartman-Kevin Fiala
Joseph Cramarossa-Joel Eriksson Ek-Jordan Greenway
Nico Sturm-Nick Bonino-Nick Bjugstad
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba
Ian Cole-Carson Soucy
Cam Talbot will start in goal; Kaapo Kahkonen will be the backup. Dakota Mermis and Brad Hunt are the healthy scratches. Marcus Foligno (lower body) and Kyle Rau (upper body) are out, and Zach Parise is in COVID-19 protocol.