By LOU KORAC
CHICAGO -- When the Blues recalled goalie Ville Husso from San Antonio on Thursday, all sorts of speculation came to light as to the reasoning for the move, especially since the regular season boils down to two games.
It all came to light Friday morning.
Carter Hutton will make his first start tonight since March 3 against the Chicago Blackhawks and will be backed up by Husso, and Jake Allen, who's started the past 14 games, will be a healthy scratch and get a mental break ahead of the start Saturday in Denver against the Colorado Avalanche.
Blues coach Mike Yeo wouldn't confirm it, but it wouldn't be a surprise if Allen gets a head start on preparing for Saturday night's showdown and travel to Denver ahead of the team to get mentally prepared and be well-rested since the rest of the team likely won't get in to the hotel tonight until after 1 a.m. local time.
"I'm only going to say that 'Huss' is going to back up tonight," Yeo said. "I'll say that much. It's one thing for Jake to not get the start, but if he doesn't have to be a part of the meetings and even if you're a backup goalie, you still in the back of your mind are still preparing like you might play. I think it's a good opportunity for him to get some rest. Mental rest as much as physical rest, yes.
"... As far as Jake goes, I think this is a much-needed break for him. It's been an awful long time since he's had two days in between a game. He's played an awful lot of hockey and it gives him a chance to really collect some much-needed rest and get ready for tomorrow."
It's an interesting move considering the Blues (43-31-6), who have lost four in a row (0-3-1), sit just one point behind the Avalanche, who lost again Thursday, 4-2, at San Jose.
But all things considered, and with the struggles Allen had in the 4-3 loss to the Blackhawks on Wednesday, the Blues are looking for any chance to get Allen mentally prepared for what will come down to a winner-take-all showdown in the final regular season game.
Allen allowed four goals on 26 shots against the Blackhawks, including the game-winner off the stick of Duncan Keith with 8.5 seconds left in regulation in a game the Blues had complete control of when they led 3-1 early in the second period but somehow managed to let slip away in the second half of the game, particularly in the third period.
For Hutton, who sustained a neck injury in the morning skate against San Jose on March 8, it's a chance to get back in and make an impact; he played the final 36:09 against Arizona last Saturday in relief of Allen and getting his first action in a month, he allowed four goals on 19 shots.
"I always love playing. It's what we work so hard for, being in big games and play. It'll be fun for sure," said Hutton, who found out Thursday he was getting the nod. "I think I've got too much work in. You're (itching) at the bit to play. It's the same game, nothing changes. It's a simple concept, keep the puck out."
Yeo said after the game Wednesday the plan was to start Allen again tonight but those plans changed throughout the day Thursday.
"We obviously discussed a couple different scenarios, but we had a plan there yesterday and so the goalies knew that plan and that's where we are today," Yeo said. "We had a plan there yesterday based on the game we saw last night (in San Jose). This is 'Hutts' game. It's a good opportunity for 'Hutts' to get back in the net. He hasn't had a start in a long time. He's a battler. We have a lot of confidence in 'Hutts' going forward there and doing the job tonight."
Hutton is 16-7-3 with a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage on the season.
"It feels like a little while, but you get out there, it's fun," said Hutton, who was an undrafted free agent who started his career with the Blackhawks. "It's the same thing. I think I started the year really well and that was coming off of four months off with no games. It's just one of those games where you just play. There's a lot of things you can add into it. That's why you guys write storylines, but for me, it's just hockey. It's just a game and I do out there doing my thing.
"It's just another game truthfully. It's always fun getting to play at the United Center. It's such a franchise that's been so amazing. It's a team that really gave me my first shot. I've played for a couple organizations before, but in Rockford's where I really played a big chunk of my minutes and kind of really developed into the goalie I am now. A lot of guys gave me a chance. You really still have some friends over there. It's always fun getting to play the Hawks. It's a great team, great players and the atmosphere's always a lot of fun here."
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Forward Nikita Soshnikov will return to the lineup tonight in place of Oskar Sundqvist.
Soshnikov, who has missed the past seven games with an upper-body injury although he was cleared for Wednesday's game but the team just didn't play him, adds a speed element that the Blues could use.
"It's a good opportunity tonight," Soshnikov said. "It's still an important game, so it's really nice to get to go out there tonight. I've been skating for a while, so we'll see how it goes. ... I was cleared [Wednesday] but coaches decided to give me one more day or whatever. It's a good opportunity tonight."
Look for Sundqvist to get back in against the Avalanche Saturday.
"We've got two games in two days," Yeo said. "His speed could end up being a factor, but we don't really know because he hasn't played in a long time here. So get him back in here and see what he can do, and obviously we've got back-to-back games. I would 100 percent expect 'Sunny' to factor back in the lineup tomorrow. He'll be fresh and he's been playing well for us. I think that he's going to be a big part of that game tomorrow as well."
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WIth Colorado's loss to the Sharks on Thursday, the Blues' clinching scenarios have been laid out as such:
-- Blues can lose in regulation on Friday and get any win on Saturday
-- Blues can lose in OT or shootout on Friday and get any win on Saturday
-- Blues can win in regulation or OT on Friday and get any win or an OT or shootout loss on Saturday
-- Blues can win in a shootout on Friday and get any win or a shootout loss on Saturday
Here are the NHL tie-breaking procedures:
1. The greater number of games won, excluding games won in the shootout. This figure is reflected in the ROW column
2. The greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs
* NOTE: If teams have played an unequal amount of home games against each other, then the team that has hosted more home games is forced to drop their first home outcome in order to calculate the head-to-head tiebreaker. In the case of St. Louis and Colorado, St. Louis must drop their 3-1 win against the Avs on Jan. 25 at Scottrade Center.
2017-18 Blues / Avs Reg. Season Series
Oct. 19 - Blues 4 at Avalanche 3
Jan. 25 - Blues 3 vs. Avalanche 1 -- game is dropped from consideration for head-to-head tiebreaker in order to make for an equal number of home games.
Feb. 8 - Blues 6 vs. Avalanche 1
Mar. 15 - Avalanche 4 at Blues 1
Current Head-to-head: Blues 4 points, Avalanche 2 points
3. If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any "odd" games, shall be used to determine the standing. The greater differential between goals for and against for the entire regular season.
Did Yeo stay up to watch the Avalanche-Sharks game?
"I was in bed before the start of it," he said. "May have checked the score in the middle of the night though."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Patrik Berglund-Kyle Brodziak-Alexander Steen
Dmitrij Jaskin-Vladimir Sobotka-Tage Thompson
Nikita Soshnikov-Ivan Barbashev-Chris Thorburn
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Vince Dunn-Colton Parayko
Chris Butler-Robert Bortuzzo
Carter Hutton will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Jake Allen, Oskar Sundqvist, Mitch Reinke and Nolan Stevens. Jordan Schmaltz (upper body) is day to day and did not make the trip. Scottie Upshall (lacerated kidney) is out indefinitely. Jay Bouwmeester (hip), Robby Fabbri (knee) and Carl Gunnarson (knee) are out for the season.
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The Blackhawks' projected lineup:
Brandon Saad-Nick Schmaltz-Patrick Kane
Tomas Jurco-Artem Anisimov-Andreas Martinsen
Dylan Sikura-Victor Ejdsell-Alex DeBrincat
Patrick Sharp-David Kampf-Vinnie Hinostroza
Duncan Keith-Brent Seabrook
Erik Gustafsson-Connor Murphy
Blake Hillman-Jordan Oesterle
J-F Berube will start in goal; Jeff Glass will be the backup.
The healthy scratch is Jan Ruuta. Jonathan Toews (upper body), Corey Crawford (upper body), Anthony Duclair (lower body), Anton Forsberg (lower body) and John Hayden (upper body) are all out.
Jurco is sick and if he can't play, the Blackhawks will go with seven defensemen, which means Ruuta will be in.