Veteran defenseman Carl Gunnarsson will return to the St. Louis Blues’ lineup tonight for Game 5 after missing Game 4 with an upper-body injury.
Blues coach Ken Hitchcock made it official after using Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo in the third defense pairing during Thursday’s morning skate at Scottrade Center. The Blues hold a 3-1 lead over the Chicago Blackhawks in their best-of-seven first-round playoff series.
Bortuzzo replaced Gunnarsson on Tuesday in the Blues’ 4-3 win in Chicago and will remain in the lineup. Rookie defenseman Joel Edmundson will sitting out as a lineup scratch after playing in the first four games of the series.
What kept Gunnarsson out of Game 4? This is the playoffs, so no injury news is ever forthcoming.
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“Just a little booger in my nose; we got that out so we’re good,” Gunnarsson joked Thursday before talking about his return after missing Game 4.
“Your pain threshold goes up during playoffs, but at that point I felt like, you know what, if something happens during the game it’s going to make it worse,” he said. “I don’t feel like that’s going to benefit the team. So I’d rather have a healthy guy in there to be ready to play a full 60 minutes.”
Blues hope to clinch series tonight
To a man Thursday morning, the Blues were resolute in their desire to end the series in five games and clinch the victory in front of their home crowd.
Each time the Blues have had a 3-1 series lead during franchise history with a chance to wrap up the series at home, they are 5-0. The Blues are also 5-2 in their previous seven home playoff games against the Blackhawks.
“We don’t want to let it go back to Chicago,” Blues winger Troy Brouwer said. “This is a team that knows how to win. They’ve come back in series, Detroit a couple years ago being able to find ways to win games and not have poor efforts in elimination games. We need to have our best game of the series tonight.”
Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo had the same thoughts in mind in regards to the fans.
“It’s been tough for them the last couple of years, so we have to try to reward them a little,” Pietrangelo said.
Kane and Toews together again
Chicago’s lineup was going to change anyway for Game 5 because of a one-game suspension to forward Andrew Shaw, but Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville also reunited superstars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane on the top line.
The pair have been held without a goal through the first four games of the series.
“At this point of the playoffs, sometimes things call for change,” Kane said. “We haven’t played with each other much, so hopefully it’s kind of that instant chemistry and we can get a win tonight. That’s the most important thing, so hopefully it helps us.”
The Blues are aware of the offensive firepower possesses by Kane and Toews. Kane led the NHL in scoring this season with 46 goals and 106 points while Toews had 28 goals and 58 points.
The Blackhawks have managed only seven goals through four games against Blues goaltender Brian Elliott. Can a change like this make a difference?
“Yeah, I mean, you like to think so,” Kane said. “It’s tough when you get the chances and you’re not capitalizing, especially in big moments in the game. (I) think I had a couple chances Last game in the second period there that would’ve given us a 3-1 lead or make it 3-2, so you score one of those it’s a totally different game.
“You can get as many chances as you want, but it comes down to producing. So, hopefully the chances are there and it’s on the verge of breaking through.”
With two goals and four points in four games, Shaw had been Chicago’s top scorer. He was suspended for one game and fined $5,000 for shouting a homophobic slur near the end of Game 4 and also making an obscene gesture on the ice.
“You could say he’s maybe been our most effective forward in this series,” Kane said. “I know he’s scored a couple goals around(the net) but on goals we’ve had as a team in general he’s been standing in front and creates a lot of havoc.
“We’re going to miss a lot. He’s a passionate kid and he plays the game that way too. Hopefully we can fill the void tonight.”
Here are the Blues’ forward lines and defense pairings for Game 5:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Robby Fabrri-Patrik Berglund-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Steve Ott
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Kevin Shattenkirk-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks
First-round playoff series
Wednesday, April 13
Blues 1, Blackhawks 0, OT
Friday, April 15
Blackhawks 3, Blues 2
Sunday, April 17
Blues 3, Blackhawks 2
Tuesday, April 19
Blues 4, Blackhawks 3 (Blues lead series 3-1)
Thursday, April 21
Game 5: Chicago at St. Louis, 8:30 p.m. (TV: Fox Sports Midwest; NBCSN)
Saturday, April 23
Game 6 (if necessary): St. Louis at Chicago, TBA
Monday, April 25
Game 7 (if necessary): Chicago at St. Louis, TBA