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Blues hope defensive depth helps in playoffs

by Louie Korac / NHL.com
ST. LOUIS -- St. Louis Blues defensemen Zbynek Michalek and Carl Gunnarsson will be in the lineup against the Minnesota Wild on Thursday in Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round [9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN360, TVA Sports 3, FS-N, FS-WI, FS-MW].

Michalek and Gunnarsson, acquired in separate trades with the Arizona Coyotes and Toronto Maple Leafs, respectively, have close to 1,100 games of NHL regular-season experience.

Their Stanley Cup Playoff resumes have them playing a combined 27 games. That will change playing for a much more experienced and polished Blues team, and they were acquired to give them the added defensive depth they had been was missing in the past.

"This is what you play for. You're competing for a Stanley Cup," said Michalek, acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline after previously playing in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2012. "The last couple years I haven't had a chance to do so. I'm not getting any younger, too, so you don't know how many more chances you're going to get going for the Cup. This is really exciting; I'm really excited. I'm looking forward to getting going tonight.

"This team has been good all season long. Now that everybody's healthy it's good. Because if you want to make a playoff run it's nice to have a deep team like this. Hopefully we can use it to our advantage and make a good run."

Gunnarsson, acquired at the 2014 NHL Draft for defenseman Roman Polak, played all seven games with the Maple Leafs in 2013 against the Boston Bruins, but that's it.

"I haven't played too many playoffs. This is going to be fun," Gunnarsson said. "We've got a good feeling in here. Different or not, you get a little extra excited for the game. Everything's kind of pumped up. You know it's going to kind of be a good atmosphere and everything's going to be up to high levels. I'm excited.

"We all feel like we've got great depth. We've been playing well at the end of the year too. We feel confident about both special teams and all that. I think the whole group is confident on its own."

Here are the projected lineups:

WILD

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Chris Stewart

Zach Parise - Mikael Granlund - Jason Pominville

Thomas Vanek - Charlie Coyle - Nino Niederreiter

Sean Bergenheim - Kyle Brodziak - Justin Fontaine

Ryan Suter - Jonas Brodin

Marco Scandella - Jared Spurgeon

Jordan Leopold - Matt Dumba

Devan Dubnyk

Niklas Backstrom

Scratched: Ryan Carter, Erik Haula, Jordan Schroeder, Christian Folin, Nate Prosser, Darcy Kuemper

Injured: Keith Ballard (concussion), Matt Cooke (undisclosed)

BLUES

Jaden Schwartz - Paul Stastny - T.J. Oshie

Alexander Steen - Jori Lehtera - Vladimir Tarasenko

Dmitrij Jaskin - David Backes - Patrik Berglund

Steve Ott - Marcel Goc - Ryan Reaves

Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester - Zbynek Michalek

Barret Jackman - Kevin Shattenkirk

Jake Allen

Brian Elliott

Scratched: Olli Jokinen, Chris Porter, Chris Butler, Robert Bortuzzo, Ty Rattie, Niklas Lundstrom

Injured: None

Status report: Coach Ken Hitchcock said it was tough to leave Bortuzzo out of the mix on defense. Hitchcock said he wouldn't hesitate inserting Bortuzzo moving forward if the Blues need to make a change. "We're missing a player that can add to the group," he said. "If we need to put Bortuzzo in, he's played very well for us." … St. Louis reported no injuries.

Who's hot: Allen went 5-1-1 in his past seven starts and allowed two goals or fewer in each. ... Lehtera scored two goals in the Blues' 4-2 defeat of the Wild in the regular-season finale last Saturday. ... Schwartz has four goals and three assists the past six games. ... Shattenkirk and Pietrangelo each had four points in the final four games they played. Both sat out the regular-season finale.

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