By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The Blues will make a surprising lineup change when they play a virtual must-win Game 2 against the Nashville Predators today (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1 FM).
Rookie Ivan Barbashev will return to the lineup after missing Game 5 of the first round series at Minnesota and Game 1 of this second-round series, and make Magnus Paajarvi a healhy scratch for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Barbashev didn't register a point in the series against the Wild, and Paajarvi has three points in six games, including the overtime game-winner that eliminated the Wild and assist on Vladimir Sobotka's game-tying goal in the third period on Wednesday.
"'Barby' will play tonight," Blues coach Mike Yeo said. "We like to give players a chance to respond and a chance to get back in there when they come out of the lineup. We saw what that did for (Jori Lehtera). This is in no way anything against Magnus. We're very grateful and appreciative of what he's done and very confident in what he can do for us. But Barby's been a good player for us for a long time, too. Having him out of the lineup, he'll be energized, he brings a physical element but there's more to his game than just that. He has the ability to make plays, he plays with a conscience as far as how he plays without the puck. But when he gets the puck in the offensive zone, he has a chance to create something. And so we'll see what he can do here tonight."
Barbashev is eager to return after feeling like his game slipped a but in the series against the Wild.
"For sure it's going to make it better because I didn't play for a couple games," Barbashev said. "I'm back in the lineup and it just feels like I'm going to be better than I was before because my game slipped a little bit away the last couple games. Just a good learning thing for me just to be out of the lineup for a couple games and it's good to be back and I feel it's going to be a better game today.
"It's hard to say. Maybe when I got here at first, I was winning every battle in last couple games, (but) especially in series against Minnesota, I was losing a lot of (battles) and that's probably why I was out of the lineup. I'm just going to try and do my best tonight."
Yeo said he spoke with Paajarvi before Game 5 in Minnesota about perhaps playing a little tentative and the speedy winger responded.
"He bounced back, he had a great Game 5," Yeo said of Paajarvi. "There's obviously parts of our game last game where a number of guys we didn't feel were quite up to the speed and battle level that we needed, but he'll be fine. That was Game 1 after a bit of a layoff, and so we still have tons of confidence in Magnus and know he's a guy that can come back at any time and help us out."
Barbashev his objective is simple.
"Tonight, to help the team win the game," he said. "That's first thing. Just do my best, work hard, winning some puck battles and dig on the forecheck and be a good teammate to win the game.
"... It is a process, but I don't care if I'm up there (in the AHL) or down here. I'm always positive. I'm not trying to think why I'm not playing or something because I know the coaches are going to come and talk to me if something's wrong or not. Otherwise, it's just good learning stuff."
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Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo spoke for the first time since his check that resulted in Kevin Fiala's broken left femur and knocked him out of the playoffs.
It happened early in the second period as Bortuzzo was driving Fiala to the ice and cut his speed from getting behind the net with the puck. As a result, Fiala crashed hard into the back boards and needed to be taken off on a stretcher.
Fiala had surgery at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and is expected to make a full recovery.
"It happens incredibly fast out there, I'm looking to end his progress, poke the puck off his stick," Bortuzzo said. "I wasn't really focused on whether he was falling. Just mostly trying to impede progress. Like I said, it was an incredibly unfortunate result. I wish him the best.
"You never want to see something like that. It's a terribly unfortunate result to a play. You kind of just have to put it behind you. You wish him the best in his recovery but, you have to move forward and put it behind you. It's a tough sport out there."
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The last thing the Blues want is to head on the road, despite their success, and have to face an 0-2 deficit in the series. So winning on home ice tonight seems to be imperative and in the process, try and derail Nashville's 5-0 start in the postseason.
"We've got to find a way to win this one," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "We haven't had a good record at home here in the playoffs (1-2 this season, 5-8 the past two seasons); we know that. Opportunity here to kind of build something here and go into their territory feeling good about our game."
"It doesn't really matter what you want to call it," Bortuzzo said. "We're out here to win every night. It's going to be an intense atmosphere in a good building so we're hopefully going to use some of that to our advantage."
The Blues would be well-advised to try and draw their home crowd into the game early, as evidenced by how raucous they were when the Blues scored twice in the third and tie the game 3-3.
"It would be nice to get them into the game early," Blues defenseman Joel Edmundson said. "We just want to keep grinding until the game's over. If it's a one-goal game, it doesn't matter, we'll keep grinding until the buzzer goes, but we want our fans into it right from the get-go."
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Jaden Schwartz has six points (three goals, three assists) in six playoff games.
Edmundson (two goals, two assists in six games) is plus-7 the past two games.
Sobotka and Alexander Steen each have four points (two goals, two assists) in six games.
Jake Allen has a 1.87 GAA and .944 save percentage in six starts.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Ivan Barbashev-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Sobotka
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 Magnus Paajarvi, Zach Sanford, Dmitrij Jaskin and Jordan Schmaltz. Robby Fabbri (knee) and Nail Yakupov (lower body) are out.
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The Predators' projected lineup:
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson
Colin Wilson-Mike Fisher-James Neal
Craig Smith/Calle Jarnkrok-Colton Sissons-PA Parenteau
Cody McLeod-Vernon Fiddler-Austin Watson
Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber
Pekka Rinne will start in goal; Juuse Saros will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Anthony Bitetto, Brad Hunt, Miikka Salomaki, Pontus Aberg and Harry Zolnierczyk. Craig Smith (undisclosed) and Calle Jarnkrok (undisclosed) are questionable. Kevin Fiala (leg) is out.
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