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Blues host Canucks, clinch playoff spot with win

St. Louis, back home, can also move into tie for Central lead with Dallas

by Louie Korac / Correspondent

CANUCKS (27-33-13) at BLUES (43-22-9) 

TV: 8 p.m. ET; SN, FS-MW, NHL.TV

ST. LOUIS -- The objective for the St. Louis Blues on Friday in their game against the Vancouver Canucks is simple: Win and they're in.

A victory in any fashion against the Canucks clinches a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Blues. A victory also pulls the Blues into a tie for first in the Central Division with the Dallas Stars at 97 points.

With the amount of injuries the Blues have endured throughout the season, to be in the position they're in is certainly gratifying.

"We've been down this path and we have to keep trending our game in the right direction," captain David Backes said. "We'll use these last eight games to get to playoff tempo and playoff compete level. … We've got plenty of tough games ahead of us that'll prepare us.

"We've definitely hit adversity, we've had injury issues, we've had stretches where we haven't played very well; our goaltenders, which have been the backbone of our team, each injured at different times and we've come out of it with our heads above water and we're starting to get a bunch of healthy bodies back now. That being said, we really haven't accomplished anything. We can't think we've done something. We've made the playoffs, OK, check one off the list and then to get to No. 2, and that's the first round and figure out who we're playing, when we're playing and Game 1, and start focusing on that."

To have the chance to clinch in front of the home fans is something to be said, according to coach Ken Hitchcock. But the Blues are coming off a lengthy five-game, 11-day trip, and the first home game back can always be tricky.

"I think being at home, it's important," Hitchcock said. "The proverbial first game off the road trip … how do you play, how do you react? One good thing here is we've had an extra day to get ready. A lot of the stuff you get after you come off a long road trip is out of the way now and we're able to focus. We had a real good practice yesterday, great tempo in the practice, so that was a good sign. Our skating legs were there.

"As I told the players this morning, you've got to be careful. If you're a betting man right now, you've got to be careful how you bet on these games because you don't know what's going to happen. Some of the teams that have looked the best are teams that aren't in the playoffs; they looked very good last night. And the teams that are in the playoffs are hoping that the game's going to be a little bit easier and finding out it's not. We're up next; we've got to be ready for it. I thought Vancouver played great against Nashville last night (in a 3-2 shootout loss) and deserved probably a better fate."

The Blues start a back-to-back set that will see them play at the Washington Capitals on Saturday in the first game since the Blues acquired right wing Troy Brouwer, goalie prospect Pheonix Copley and a third-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft on July 2, 2015, for right wing T.J. Oshie.  

The Canucks, who have lost six in a row (0-5-1), had defenseman Andrey Pedan and center Jared McCann along with starting goalie Jacob Markstrom on the ice Friday morning after arriving in St. Louis late following the game in Nashville.

Markstrom comes in 2-6-0 his past eight starts. He will be opposed by Brian Elliott, who is 8-0-1 with a 1.61 goals-against average and .948 save percentage his past 10 games and is coming off back-to-back shutout wins.

Here are the projected lineups:

Daniel Sedin - Henrik Sedin - Jannik Hansen
Sven Baertschi - Bo Horvat - Jake Virtanen
Alexandre Burrows - Linden Vey - Emerson Etem
Brendan Gaunce - Jared McCann - Chris Higgins

Ben Hutton - Alex Biega
Dan Hamhuis - Nikita Tryamkin
Matt Bartkowski - Yannick Weber

Jacob Markstrom
Ryan Miller

Injured: Alexander Edler (leg), Luca Sbisa (upper body), Brandon Prust (ankle), Radim Vrbata (knee), Brandon Sutter (jaw), Christopher Tanev (back), Markus Granlund (upper body), Derek Dorsett (undisclosed)
Scratched: Andrey Pedan, Alexandre Grenier

Jaden Schwartz - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri - Paul Stastny - Troy Brouwer
Dmitrij Jaskin - Patrik Berglund - David Backes
Scottie Upshall - Kyle Brodziak - Ryan Reaves

Kevin Shattenkirk - Alex Pietrangelo
Carl Gunnarsson - Colton Parayko
Joel Edmundson - Robert Bortuzzo

Brian Elliott
Jake Allen

Injured: Alexander Steen (upper body), Steve Ott (hamstrings), Jay Bouwmeester (upper body)
Scratched: Magnus Paajarvi, Anders Nilsson, Petteri Lindbohm

Status report: Bouwmeester sustained an upper-body injury against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday and Hitchcock ruled him out for Friday and Saturday. Hitchcock said he's hopeful of Bouwmeester returning next week, and Bortuzzo will play in his place. Shattenkirk moves up to play with Pietrangelo in Bouwmeester's spot. … Dorsett was questionable for Friday but his absence on the ice in the morning was an indication he will miss a sixth straight game.

Who's hot: Fabbri has a point in eight of the past 10 games (three goals, seven assists). Schwartz has two goals and six assists the past six games. Stastny has three goals and six assists the past seven games. Tarasenko has five goals and four assists the past nine games. … Daniel Sedin has 39 points (11 goals, 28 assists) in 54 games against St. Louis; Henrik Sedin has 40 points (nine goals, 31 assists) in 55 games against the Blues.

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