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Blues hope return of regulars will boost offense

2014-04-14T11:14:00Z 2014-04-16T21:30:14Z Blues hope return of regulars will boost offenseBy Jeremy Rutherford jrutherford@post-dispatch.com 314-444-7135 stltoday.com

Can the return of a few injured forwards help the Blues find their much-maligned offense Thursday in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks?

That's what the club is banking on.

The Blues will open the postseason looking for their first goal in 143 minutes, 59 seconds, after being shutout in the final two games of the regular season. Their offensive woes pre-date their slew of injuries, having been blanked in seven of their final 25 games.

But Blues coach Ken Hitchcock believes the club will be OK as long as some of its top forwards bounce back in time. 

The club did not practice today, so there were no injury updates. However, it is expected that T.J. Oshie (upper-body injury), David Backes (foot) and Vladimir Sobotka (lower-body injury) could be back in the lineup for Game 1. 

Oshie was second on the team with 60 points, Backes was third with 57 and they also combined for 48 goals. For that matter, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo, who missed Sunday's game with an undisclosed injury, is also expected to be available Thursday, and he ranked No. 5 on the roster with 51 points.

"The offense goes when you get the people that have coordinated us all year coming back in," Hitchcock said. "It's pretty simple. This (playing with replacements) is a perfect example of 'Try like crazy, try hard, battle away,' but you need your best players in the lineup to be going.

"When you start dropping guys out, it's hard to create. For us, just get the players back in, get the thing coordinated, get guys back playing with people that played with each other all year and see where it goes from there."

The three players not expected to be ready for Game 1 are Brenden Morrow (foot), Patrik Berglund (upper-body injury) and Vladimir Tarasenko (hand).

Tarasenko is still wearing a cast on his hand, but he continues to skate with the team and could be fit for action as soon as the end of the first round.

The injuries to Morrow and Berglund are thought to be serious enough to keep them out awhile; however, Hitchcock did say on Sunday: "I would imagine during this series at some period of time, every player that was out for both squads is going to be a participant."

The Blues are back on the practice ice Tuesday at St. Louis Outlet Mall; however, starting in the playoffs, practices are closed to the public.

***

MILLER BACK IN POSTSEASON

Blues goaltender Ryan Miller will be making his first appearance in the playoffs since 2011. He went to the postseason with Buffalo four times, helping the Sabres advance to the Eastern Conference finals in 2005-06 (they lost to Carolina in seven games) and '06-07 (lost to Ottawa in five games).

In 47 playoff appearances, Miller is 25-22 with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .917 save-percentage.

"It's a great opportunity anytime you make it and in any position," Miller said. "You see in the last few years what teams have done from different positions, different rankings, and what they've been able to do. I'm just happy for the opportunity. There's challenges in every season, we're facing ours right now. I think it can end up a positive."

***

BOLLIG VS. BLUES

Facing the Blues, his hometown team, is nothing new for Chicago Blackhawks forward and St. Charles native Brandon Bollig. However, the regular season is one thing and the postseason is another.

"I've never played against them in a playoff series," Bollig said. "Being my hometown it (will) be fun to go back and play in an atmosphere like that and such high pressure."

Bollig's family and friends in the St. Louis area are lifelong Blues fans, but after Bollig signed with the rival Blackhawks in 2010, they quickly learned to pull for the enemy.

"I think they'd be rooting for me," Bollig said. "I've tried to convert as many as I can over the years. I think I've done a good job and hopefully ... we come out on top and I convert a couple of more."

***

TV SCHEDULE

Fox Sports Midwest announced today that, in addition to coverage on NBC and its affiliates, it will carry Game Nos. 1, 3, 4, 5 and 7 of the Blues-Blackhawks series.

***

 ODDS & ENDS 

Chicago's Jonathan Toews (upper-body injury) and Patrick Kane (lower-body injury) are expected to be ready for Game 1, after both missed the end of the regular season. Toews, who has 28 goals and 68 points this year, sat out the final six games. Kane, who has 29 goals and 69 points, missed the last dozen games.

• The Blues' penalty-killing unit finished the regular season ranked No. 2 in the NHL, behind New Jersey, with a success rate of 85.7 percent. However, in five games against Chicago's power play this season, the Blues killed only nine of 14 man-advantage opportunities.

• The Blues and Blackhawks have faced each other 10 times in the NHL playoffs — the last time in 2002. The Blackhawks have won seven of the 10 matchups, but the Blues have taken the last two.

Jeremy is a reporter at the Post-Dispatch. Follow him on Twitter at @jprutherford.

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