Wednesday, April 3, 2019

(4-3-19) Blues-Blackhawks Gameday Lineup

CHICAGO -- Jordan Binnington wasn't dismissive about it, but he took another award from a rapid rise in the NHL in humbling fashion and of course, in stride.

Binnington was named the NHL rookie of the month for March, giving him the honor in back-to-back months for a goalie for the first time since 2006-07 (Steve Mason, Nov./Dec., 2008).

Binnington went 6-3-0 with a 2.37 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

"Any recognition in this league is special, so I'm excited about it," said Binnington, who tied Jake Allen's rookie record (2014-15) for most wins in a season with 22 on Monday. "You've seen the games, the team's been great. We're really playing together, so it's kind of where the fun's been. I'm looking forward and excited for the playoffs here."

What's funny about it all though was that one of the rookies Binnington beat out for the award was teammate Robert Thomas, who had 12 points (four goals, eight assists) in 15 games.

"I'm going to try and beat him this month," Thomas joked. "I've just got to keep putting up points. He's going to keep stopping it, so I've got to put up some good numbers to get past him.

"... I actually didn't even know I was in consideration for it. My mom actually sent me the tweet that (was) posted. That's how I found out about it. But it's pretty cool. Obviously he's been playing unbelievable for us. To get it back-to-back is pretty cool."

Binnington, who leads the NHL with a 1.85 GAA and third in the league with a .928 save percentage and is likely to get the start on Thursday at home against the Philadelphia Flyers with Allen getting the start against the Chicago Blackhawks today, was equally complimentary for Thomas, who has 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists) in 67 games.

"He's been great for us and you can tell how talented of a player he is and how good he's going to be as he gets older," Binnington said. "He's a special player, so it's nice to watch him day in, day out."

Thomas, a natural center, has thrived in his role of winger playing with Pat Maroon and Tyler Bozak.

"I think for the most part, lately I've been playing really well," Thomas said. "It's just a couple spots I keep on learning from from the start of the year where I make a better play now. As it keeps on going, you keep on learning. A  couple plays I probably could have shot it. It's all about a learning process for me this year. It's pretty cool I've been finding success in the meaningful games."

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Carl Gunnarsson will play in his fifth game tonight against the Blackhawks (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM) after coming back from wrist injury, a season that's been riddled with injuries for Gunnarsson.

It was a tough return a week ago Monday at home against Vegas but got progressively better in road games at New York and New Jersey before it culminated with his best game Monday against Colorado.

"It's been gradually coming back," said Gunnarsson, who's played in just 22 games this season. "The first game I felt real off, then the road trip there, I got better. I think last game at home was the best I've felt, timing and body-wise. A couple more things to add on to just to feel better and better. It's been in the right direction for sure."

He'll be paired with Robert Bortuzzo again tonight.

"I thought his last game was his best game," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "He looked like he was moving better and getting up the ice a little bit better and had more jump.

"I think he's handled it well. When you're coming in this time of year and teams are fighting for playoffs and fighting for spots in playoffs, they're already at level four and you're coming in, so you've got to be really prepared. Gunny works hard off the ice and he worked hard keeping himself in shape. So I think his game's coming around."

Getting that timing down has been challenging late in the season, but Gunnarsson feels he's getting geared up for the playoffs.

"It is, but at the same time, all our boys are at that level too," Gunnarsson said. "That helps me out, so I've just got take the best out of it.I'm just trying hard to get back. I would have loved to play 10 games, 15 games, but I'm just happy to get as many as I can before the playoffs and here we are. I just got lucky to be healthy enough to get back and play whatever it will be, seven games. That's great."

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The Blues (43-28-8) and Blackhawks (34-33-12) will play for the fifth and final time this season tonight, but for the first time since Nov. 14, when they played for the fourth time in just 16 games.

It's crazy to think, but the Blues have gone on a tremendous run to vault into the playoffs since then, while Chicago was eliminated from playoff contention Wednesday when Colorado beat Edmonton 6-2.

The two teams have replaced their coaches since the start of the season (Mike Yeo for the Blues and Joel Quenneville for the Blackhawks), but this final encounter has much more meaning for the Blues, who could pull into a three-way tie for first place with Winnipeg and Nashville with a victory. Each team will have two games remaining after tonight.

"It's a big game for sure," Berube said. "Obviously with the division and trying to get home ice. It's against the Chicago Blackhawks, so it's always a big game.

"... They're still a dangerous team. They've got a lot of firepower over there. [Patrick] Kane and [Jonathan] Toews are having career years. They've got a lot of good, young players. I don't expect it to be an easy game at all."

With a Blues win, all three teams will have 96 points.

"It's nuts, but it's kind of fun too, right," Gunnarsson said. "It makes those two last games extra exciting. ... It just gives that little extra spice. It's all standings, home ice advantage, all that stuff. You want to be feeling good going into the playoffs playing your game instead of just sitting back for the last three."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Zach Sanford-Ivan Barbashev-Alexander Steen

Vince Dunn-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

Jake Allen will start in goal; Jordan Binnington will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri, Mackenzie MacEachern and Michael Del Zotto. Joel Edmundson (lower body) and Sammy Blais (lower body) are out.

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The Blackhawks' projected lineup:

Brandon Saad-Jonathan Toews-Drake Caggiula

Brendan Perlini-Dylan Strome-Dominik Kahun

Alex DeBrincat-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane

Chris Kunitz-Marcus Kruger-John Hayden

Duncan Keith-Erik Gustafsson

Dennis Gilbert-Brent Seabrook

Carl Dahlstrom-Connor Murphy

Cam Ward will start in goal; Corey Crawford will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Gustav Forsling and Slater Koekkoek. David Kampf (facial/dental) is out.

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