By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Robert Thomas will not play and it gives Zach Sanford another chance to seize the opportunity when the Blues face the Dallas Stars on Saturday (7 p.m.; FS-MW, ESPN 101.1-FM) for the first time since their epic seven-game series in the Western Conference second round last season.
The Blues (0-1-1), who opened their season with a 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals on Wednesday, eliminated the Stars in seven games when Oakville's Pat Maroon scored in double overtime of a 2-1 win.
Thomas sustained an upper-body injury in the loss to the Capitals and did not take part in the team's portion of practice on Friday; he was put through conditioning drills with head athletic trainer Ray Barile.
Thomas, who is coming off surgery to the left tendon in his wrist, is listed as day-to-day, and it gives Sanford, who will make his season debut, another chance to impress after a not-so-impressive camp; he was terrific for the Blues when they put him in the lineup in the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
"I'm pumped," Sanford said. "Obviously I didn't really have the camp that I wanted to. It's just an opportunity for me to get back in and get back to my game, find my spot.
"I think when I came in then, I was playing fast, I was playing hard, finishing hits. I think that's going to be my job tonight, just play hard and play physical, don't think too much out there. Just go out and play."
That's the Sanford, who signed a two-year, $3 million contract this past off-season, the Blues are hoping to see.
"Zach didn't have the camp that he wanted and us too, we wanted him to be better than he was, but in saying that, he's ready to go and I think it's a good opportunity for him here tonight to just show us the old Zach Sanford that we saw here in the playoffs," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He's a a young guy still. It takes time sometimes. Every individual is different. I expect he's going to have a good game."
Sanford will play on a line with Tyler Bozak and Robby Fabbri.
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Defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will also make his season debut tonight after sitting out the opener against the Capitals.
Gunnarsson will replace Robert Bortuzzo, who had a strong game against Washington, and play alongside Alex Pietrangelo against a Stars team that brings more speed and finesse to the lineup.
"I would have wanted to be in last game, but that's just the way it is," Gunnarsson said. "I'll get my chance here tonight and it'll be fun.
"You can always look at it two ways, right? Just try to see it the way that we're going to need all seven guys for the whole season. If you play well, you're going to be in. If you don't, then they want to get someone else in there, and that's it. That's the competition of our group and at the end of the day, that makes us better. I just try to look at it that way because it sucks being on the outside. You've just got to be ready for your chance."
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Forward Sammy Blais is OK after being removed midway through the third period of the loss to Washington to be evaluated for a concussion.
Blais, who scored the opening goal, was involved in a strange sequence when he was checked by two former Blues (Lars Eller and T.J. Oshie) with the hit by Oshie catching him to the head area underneath the chin.
Concussion spotters buzzed down to have Blais get looked at but he was able to return to the bench and practice on Friday; he will be in the lineup tonight.
"I had to go through the concussion protocol, but I got back on the bench and there was like 30 seconds left in the third and I didn't go back (in) after," Blais said. "I really had no choice but to go in (and get checked out). It takes like 15 minutes. ... Normally I don't get hit like that. I just try to play physical. That's my job now and I'm not going to change it. When you look at the replay, the hit was on my head, so they called in and said I had to go do the protocol. Everything is good now."
Blais led the Blues with six hits in the game.
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Ben Bishop normally looks forward to coming home.
This past summer wasn't normal. It was anything but.
Bishop, who will start in goal for the Stars tonight, had to live through a gut-wrenching loss to his hometown Blues, the team that drafted him in 2005 in the third round, when he was on the wrong end of a 2-1 double overtime loss in Game 7 of the second round.
Bishop, who grew up in Des Peres and has his family, including his parents Ben and Cindy, allowed a goal to Oakville's Pat Maroon that clinched the series for the Blues and end the season for Bishop and the Stars.
"It was a little different absolutely," Bishop admitted about coming home this summer. "Obviously the Blues were still playing. It was a little tougher to watch, but at the end of the day, it was great for the city. Obviously a lot of deserving fans and people around this town that have been waiting a long time for that. Happy for those people and the city was more than deserving.
"It was a little different. It would have maybe been a little easier to root for them if they didn't go through us. I would have been a little bit more on their bandwagon, but obviously when they go through you, you're not really cheering for anybody after that. Good for them and it's obviously a new year now and obviously they're still a very good team and it'll be a good test for us tonight and there should still be some blood kind of flowing over from the end of last season, so it should be a fun game, Saturday night, this place will be hopping and it'll be a fun game."
Bishop, who trains in the summer and skates during informal workouts with many of the Blues players prior to heading down to Dallas, said his message, as tough as it was at the time, for the Blues was to go win the Stanley Cup.
"That's pretty much the message I had for a lot of those guys in the handshake line," Bishop said. "I've known a lot of those guys over there, played with some of them coming up and spent some summers with all those guys. Happy for them on a personal level. As far as the competition, still a little, I guess more jealous now, but a lot of good guys over there, very deserving. You can see why they had success, a lot of good team chemistry over there, a good group of guys, obviously led by 'Steener' and some good leaders over there.
"You can park it. Unfortunately I've had to do it before. I've been in the finals, two wins away from winning it all and lost, so that was maybe a little bit harder, but you kind of have to. It's part of the job. There's only one team that can go home happy every season. You've got to do your best to put it behind you and get ready for next season and try to come back even better. You watch it and try to gain some fuel, think kind of that what-if and it helps you through the summer and work a little bit harder. At the same time, you've got to turn the page and get ready."
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Zach Sanford-Tyler Bozak-Robby Fabbri
Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Justin Faulk
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo and Mackenzie MacEachern. Robert Thomas (upper body) is day-to-day.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Radek Faksa-Tyler Seguin
Alexander Radulov-Roope Hintz-Joe Pavelski
Denis Gurianov-Justin Dowling-Mattias Janmark
Andrew Cogliano-Rhett Gardner-Nick Caamano
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen-Andrej Sekera
Jamie Oleksiak-Taylor Fedun
Ben Bishop will start in goal; Anton Khudobin will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Joel Hanley and Joel L'Esperance. Jason Dickinson (upper body), Corey Perry (foot), Blake Comeau (lower body), Roman Polak (upper body), Stephen Johns (post-traumatic headaches) and Martin Hanzal (back) are all out.
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