ST. LOUIS — In 15 games without impressive young winger Vladimir Tarasenko in the lineup, the St. Louis Blues were 6-9.
Out since March 15, Tarasenko had surgery to repair a fracture in his right hand and has been battling hard through rehabilitation and conditioning skates to regain a lineup spot.
The original target date set by the club was six weeks, but it's only been a month and there is a chance Tarasenko could be in the lineup Thursday for the Blues' playoff opener against Chicago.
He practiced Tuesday and Wednesday, even taking shifts with the power-play unit on Wednesday and skating on a regular line with Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Sobotka.
On Tuesday, Tarasenko could be seen firing off wrist shots, another good sign. He had six goals and 15 points in the 18 games before his injury.
"He's starting the road back," Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. "He's trying to get back to where he feels like he's comfortable. He looked OK today."
Tarasenko was one of the Blues' most potent offensive weapons this season. He had 21 goals and 43 points in 64 games and for his two-year career, the 22-year-old Russian has 29 goals and 62 points in 102 games.
"The analytics on him are that he's in the top 10 percent in the league on rush attack scoring chances, net shots, goals...so when you miss a player like him (it's tough)," Hitchcock said. "He's one of the best players at making you pay for making mistakes and then scoring off the rush."
Backes knows Tarasenko is pushing har to return.
"I skated with him two days ago where he was firing pucks and skating around," bBackes said. "He might be in some of the best shape he's been in since he's been here with a couple weeks of bag skating
"When you've got a guy like that he can provide instant offense at times. Hopefully he's in the lineup."
Backes (foot injury) also returned to practice as did Sobotka (lower body injury). Winger Brenden Morrow (foot) practiced Tuesday and Thursday.
"Fighting through a few bumps and bruises for guys really makes that pain subside," Backes said. "We'll roll 20 good bodies out there and we're going to stick together and play great hockey. It's a process to get back on the ice after not skating for a week, but we've been on the bike and working on staying in shape so that it's a quick learning curve.
"Skate today, skate in the morning, then be ready for real action (Thursday) night."
Blues winger T.J. Oshie did not practice Wednesday after participating in the workout a day earlier, while forward Patrik Berglund (upper body) remains out.
Among the lines Wednesday were Steve Ott with Alexander Steen and Backes, Schwartz with Sobotka and Tarasenko, Morrow with Derek Roy and Ryan Raves and Chris Porter with Maxim Lapierre and Adam Cracknell.
"I don't think you should read anything into our roster today," Hitchcock cautioned. "We are literally going to be game-time decisions every day for a little while. What you saw today, there's a good chance it won't be what you see tomorrow. We've got guys in various stages, guys getting various treatment getting ready to play.
"One thing I can tell you is that at some time during this series, everybody's going to be in. I can't tell you if it's Game 1 or Game 5 or 6 or 7 or whatever."
Translation? This is the playoffs and no coach is going to tip his hand on the final roster until he has to, especially Hitchcock given the Blues' injury glut.
"Just don't read anything into what we're doing right now," Hitchcock said. "We'd like to be able to say these are our four lines and these are our six defensemen and away we go. We can't do that.
"Guys that were out today could possibly skate tomorrow. Guys that were in today are testing the waters and we'll see where they're at. We're in that area where you're seeing who can play right now."