Friday, April 21, 2017

Stastny, Lehtera could return for Game 5

Blues forwards took part in full practice, line 
rushes ahead of second elimination game against Wild

HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- All signs point to center Paul Stastny returning to the lineup for the Blues against the Minnesota Wild in Game 5 of the Western Conference First Round series on Saturday (2 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).

Stastny skated on the Blues' top line with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko Friday at practice and took part in drills on the Blues' top power-play unit with teammates. Stastny has skated regularly since last Saturday and for a fourth day with the team.

Blues coach Mike Yeo didn't want to divulge any potential lineup changes but was encouraged by what he saw.

"I thought he looked good, another good day," Yeo said. "I haven't had a chance to chat with him, but obviously we'll get together with him and determine where we go from here.

"We're not going to talk about our lineup, but obviously it was a good day for him. He's been progressing well and this was a big step to get him into a full practice, a competitive practice so that was a good sign."

Stastnt was injured when he got hit on the right foot area by teammate Vladimir Tarasenko's shot March 21 against the Colorado Avalanche. Trying to catch up to speed in the atmosphere of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has been as big a challenge as the healing process.

"To me, it's more catching up to the speed and thinking at a high rate," Stastny said. "When we have the team practices like we had two days ago was good and then [Friday's] team practice and then we'll go from there, but I never really want to put a date on when I return. I think for me, like I've told the guys, it's always been day-by-day. When I feel confident out there with myself, my abilities to help the team out any way I can, I will."

The Blues, who lead the best-of-7 series 3-1, have a second chance to close out the series after the Wild remained alive with a 2-0 win in Game 4. St. Louis could go with a more veteran-laden lineup, as center Jori Lehtera was in the shuffle in line rushes at practice Friday skating with Vladimir Sobotka and Magnus Paajarvi.

Rookies Ivan Barbashev and Zach Sanford could be scratched Saturday.

"Maybe, yeah, we'll see what happens tomorrow," Yeo said. "Getting a player back is always nice. It helps to stabilize things, it gives us a little bit more options, but at the same time, it's not like getting a player back is just the answer and going to make things better for us. I think in a lot of ways, we've lost players and it's sharpened our focus and guys have understood that they need to bear down and they need to do their jobs and do the little things and we need to make sure we continue to have that mindset. If we add a player like [Stastny], obviously then you become a better team."

Maybe the Blues, who are 2-4 in closeout games the past two seasons, could use another chance on the road; they're 11-1-1 away from Scottrade Center the past 13 games going to the regular season and have outscored their opponents 38-18.

"I think we're going into the game just trying to focus on ourselves," Blues center Kyle Brodziak said. "Individually, just making sure everyone's as sharp as they can be and as a team, we want to give them our best shot yet. We're not looking at it as home or away, we're just focused on how we're supposed to play."

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