By LOU KORAC
ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Blues will play their final game before Monday's trade deadline with a chance to make it four straight wins against the Minnesota Wild (6:30 p.m.; NBCSN, ESPN 101.1-FM).
The Blues (35-17-10) have a one-point lead on the Colorado Avalanche for first place in the Western Conference and Central Division and four points ahead of the Dallas Stars, who the Blues beat 5-1 on Friday and who play the Chicago Blackhawks this afternoon.
St. Louis has allowed one goal in its part three games, with 3 minutes 33 seconds remaining on Friday, and have really tightened things up on the defensive end after a winless stretch of five games (0-3-2) and a 2-6-3 mark in which the Blues had allowed three goals or more in each game. They've gone four straight in which they've allowed two or fewer now and three in total.
"We have tightened things up," Blues defenseman Carl Gunnarsson. "I don't know what it is, but it's been clicking. The forechecking, and also for the D, it's been the forwards tracking back. It's a huge part of it, allows us to be tight and everything just comes from that. Just working hard for each other.
"Not all (the credit), but you've got to give it to (the forwards). It kind of bleeds down. We've got 2-on-2's or whatever, 2-on-1's and you get a backcheck and wonder how that happened. Sometimes the forwards get caught on the wrong side of things. Last couple games, they've been tremendous coming back backchecking and allowing us to be tight and that kind of feeds our offense too."
Defenseman Marco Scandella, playing in his third game with the Blues, sees just that.
"I feel like it's a very structured game," Scandella said. "Easy to read off each other, a lot of pressure. Fits into my game.
"The forwards help out tremendously and then even offensive zone holding onto pucks, but they're tracking really hard helping us out, making those reads a lot easier knowing that there's back pressure and it's a lot tougher for the opposing team. It allows us to have those good gaps and if you do get beat or get a piece of the guy, you have a guy tracking really hard and helping you out. I feel like just a really good team game overall."
When forwards backcheck, it enables the defensemen to really hold firm and stand their lines, which coach Craig Berube said is key.
"That's what kills a lot of plays," Berube said. "When they're not, then they're going to see numbers coming at you and back in.
"It goes together. When we're playing as five-man units like that together, we're tight defensively, we're a pretty solid team."
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The Blues will get one key member back in the lineup tonight, as defenseman Alex Pietrangelo returns after missing Friday due to illness.
"He should be good to go tonight," Berube said. "He's fine. He got some good rest yesterday, so he's good to go."
Pietrangelo, who leads all Blues defensemen in goals (13), assists (34) and points (47), will step in for Robert Bortuzzo, who was solid Friday playing the second-most minutes of the season for him against Dallas at 18:19.
"He did a good job, I thought he was a good player," Berube said of Bortuzzo. "He's physical and moved the puck well. Him and [Vince] Dunn have good chemistry together, which is nice. They go play together and we moved [Justin] Faulk up with Gunnarsson and they looked good. All the D played well in a tough game. That's a tough game."
Forward Tyler Bozak, who also missed Friday with a lower-body injury, will miss a second straight game and is day-to-day.
Bozak took the ice before the morning skate but left early, and Berube said it's nothing long term.
"He just said he wanted to go and try it and I saw him out there and he didn't look good, so I just said, 'Go off,'" Berube said. "We've got guys that are healthy. We don't need him to go in there unhealthy and play."
Forward Oskar Sundqvist was not on the ice for the morning skate, but Berube said he's good to play.
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Speaking of Scandella, it's his 30th birthday today and he got a free meal out of it Saturday night with a bunch of former Wild teammates, including Jared Spurgeon, Matt Dumba and Jonas Brodin.
Scandella, who was acquired from Montreal on Tuesday for a 2020 second-round pick and conditional 2021 fourth-round pick, spent the first seven seasons of his NHL career with the Wild before being traded to Buffalo in 2017.
"I went for dinner with Dumba and a few buddies from back here," Scandella said. "It's my birthday today, so they picked it up. I know all those guys. I was there for seven years. It's always fun playing against them.
"It feels like home. I've been back three times since I got traded in 2017, the summer of '17. But it still feels like home. It's nice to be back here, it's a lot of fun. This is going to be a great building to play in. I always like coming back."
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Vladmir Tarasenko, who is rehabbing from a dislocated left shoulder, is on the trip and took part in the morning skate today. It's his fourth straight team practice and fifth overall.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Brayden Schenn
Zach Sanford-Robert Thomas-David Perron
Alexander Steen-Oskar Sundqvist-Jordan Kyrou
Mackenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Sammy Blais
Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo
Marco Scandella-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Justin Faulk
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches would include Robert Bortuzzo and Jacob de la Rose. Vladimir Tarasenko (shoulder), Jay Bouwmeester (cardiac episode) and Tyler Bozak (lower body) are out.
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The Wild's projected lineup:
Zach Parise-Eric Staal-Kevin Fiala
Marcus Foligno-Joel Eriksson Ek-Jordan Greenway
Alex Galchenyuk-Ryan Donato-Mats Zuccarello
Victor Rask-Mikko Koivu-Ryan Hartman
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba
Brad Hunt-Greg Pateryn
Devan Dubnyk will start in goal; Alex Stalock is the backup.
Healthy scratches include Gerald Mayhew and Louie Belpedio. Luke Kunin (upper body) and Carson Soucy (upper body) are out.