ST. LOUIS — The drama was removed from the St. Louis Blues' most important Game 1 playoff lineup decision Tuesday morning when coach Ken Hitchcock said T.J. Oshie was in and rookie Vladimir Tarasenko was out.
Oshie has missed the last 15 games with a stress fracture in his left ankle that required a surgical procedure. Oshie played on a line with Patrik Berglund and David Perron and brought his usual energy and enthusiasm.
"I've played with Perry for a long time now and I always play well with Berg Dog (Berglund), so it will be fun," Oshie said.
The move also allowed Hitchcock to keep his fourth line of Chris Porter, Adam Cracknell and Ryan Reaves intact for Tuesday's opener against the Los Angeles Kings.
"I've always believed that that first kick at the can in playoffs is for veteran players," Hitchcock said. "You give them a go and then Tarasenko and (Dmitrij) Jaskin will probably get some time during the playoffs. But you want to give your veterans a chance to prove, unless they've really underperformed, that they really want to take the ball and run with it.
"That's what we're going to do and if somebody underperforms, we won't hesitate to replace and move from there."
The 21-year-old Tarasenko is in his first season in North America and had eight goals and 19 points in 38 games this season. His play fluctuated at times after a hot start that included five goals and 10 points in his first eight NHL games, but he also missed 10 games in February and March because of a concussion.
Tarasenko had no goals and three assists in his final 15 regular season games.
"In reality this has been a very difficult season for him," Hitchcock said. "Not from the competition side of things, but from an intensity, games played, no practice, no rest...I think he's found this season at times overwhelming just based on the proximity of games, 48 games in 100 days.
"This has been a strange season (with the lockout), so I think if this would be an 82-game season he would probably be energy-wise a little bit different. But this has been a very difficult season for him because he's never been through anything like this in is life."
Blues playoff rookies rewarded
While their wait hasn't been as long as Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester for their first NHL playoff games -- Bouwmeester played 784 games before making his postseason debut Tuesday -- cracking the playoff lineup was equally rewarding for Cracknell, Porter and rookie winger Jaden Schwartz.
"When you sit back and you look at it, look at the way our careers have gone, a couple of us started in the East Coast (Hockey League) for a couple years and slugged it out in the minors in the AHL," said the 27-year-old Cracknell, who was with the ECHL's Las Vegas Wranglers as recently as 2008. "But those leagues help you become who you are in the NHL and you never forget that. To have all that experience and to be here is rewarding."
For players like Cracknell, Porter and Reaves --who does have two NHL playoff games under his belt --the spotlight of the NHL playoffs was especially gratifying.
Porter, Reaves and Cracknell may be NHL playoff newcomers but they have 845 games of AHL experience under their belts.
Reaves and Cracknell combined for 14 hits through the first three periods Tuesday, including nine by Reaves.
"We've played together for a couple year now in Peoria, four years and to be where we are now we're very grateful," Cracknell said. "But what we had to go through to be here..sitting on the bus in Peoria, you're not going to be thinking you're going to be playing against the defending Stanley Cup champions, so to be here you never forget what it took to get here."
Porter also was happy to be in the lineup after beginning the season in Peoria.
"I never wanted to obviously end up in Peoria out of training camp, but that's the way the game is," Porter said. "I went down and worked hard and came back up and played the same game that I've always played. Luckily for me my impact stayed and I'm going to take whatever they give me and run with it."
The Blues' fourth line has been among its most effective in recent weeks.
"The fourth line as an energy line, those days are gone," Hitchcock said. "Those are dinosaur lines, they don't work any more in the league. Hockey's too good. Your fourth line needs to contribute and boy ours has come through in spades.
"They've scored, they've pressured on the forecheck, they've been able to play against top-six forwards."
Just let 'em play
Hitchcock was asked about what he said his pre-series meeting with NHL supervisor of officials Rob Shick.
"Message to the referees was stand in the third row, just get the hell out of the way," joked Hitchcock said. "Let us play because there's two teams that know what's at stake, two teams that play the game the right way, two teams that know how to play.
"This is a series that deserves to be played 5-on-5. Both teams are great 5-on-5 teams, it deserves to get played that way and I think the referees will act accordingly."
Hitchcock got little argument on that point from Kings coach Darryl Sutter.
"Both teams play similar styles, both teams are pretty much 5-on-5 teams when you look at it,' Sutter said. "I think as series go along there's things that happen that you want to address or try to do...but there's not a whole lot between the teams that causes a problem."