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Blues' Stewart earned top-line promotion

by Louie Korac
CHICAGO -- With his play in recent games dictating what his ice time will be like moving forward, the St. Louis Blues have elevated Chris Stewart back to a familiar role.

A scoring role.

Stewart, relegated to the third line and sometimes taking shifts on the fourth line, will move up and play on the Blues' top line Tuesday, with David Backes and T.J. Oshie, against the Chicago Blackhawks.

Although his offensive production doesn't jump out at you, looking at Stewart's game-by-game totals recently, he's become more noticeable and coach Ken Hitchcock said he feels Stewart is ready to go back where he belongs -- at least for now.

"Yeah, a lot," Hitchcock said when asked if he's noticed Stewart more often on the ice. "We've worked hard on his conditioning, he's worked hard on his conditioning. He's quicker, he's quicker to pucks, he's more engaged, he's got his speed back. I think he went through a phase where he didn't have his speed, so he was kind of late going to the net, but he's got his speed back. He's a very attractive player now because of the way he's been playing. It's been good for us."

Stewart, who's averaged 12-14 minutes per game in the last 16 games played (he only played 9:22 Sunday at Columbus because the Blues spent a lot of time killing penalties), he's become more aggressive and his play around the net is earning attention.

"You don't really read too much into that," Stewart said when asked about his ice time. "You just have to accept your role. If I'm going to be on the third line that night, I'm going to play hard, and if I'm going to be on the first line, I'm going to have to bring that offensive production and I'm going to try to contribute that way, too. That's the good thing about this team. We have guys who can fluctuate to those roles to win hockey games. We find a way.

"I've only been only playing 13 minutes or so the last 5-10 games, but I've had some quality opportunities. I got on the power play the last game, too, and got some good looks. I feel good about my game right now."

Stewart played earlier in the season with Backes and Oshie; Hitchcock used him there earlier in the season with the thought that they could get Stewart going.

"We're just going to be the line that pushes the tempo and the physical play," Stewart said. "When we're on our game, we're going to control the puck. We're going to get it down low, have strong cycles and really make it hard on guys like (Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook, who are going to play their big minutes. We want to give them a lot to handle.

"When you play with guys like that (Backes), you don't want to over-think. You just want to simplify. That's what's going to come easy. We're not going to be a line out there that's going to try to make seam passes and tic-tac-toe plays. Not to say that we can't if an opportunity presents itself, but we're really going to grind down teams and make their big bodies play tough minutes."
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