ST. LOUIS -- Ken Hitchcock wouldn't play his card Monday. He did Tuesday: T.J. Oshie will return to the St. Louis Blues lineup for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Los Angeles Kings.
Who will Oshie replace? It was assumed one of the fourth-line players would be taken out, with Adam Cracknell at the top of the list. But Hitchcock will instead sit rookie Vladimir Tarasenko, at least for the first game.
"I've always believed that the first kick at the can in playoffs is for veteran players," Hitchcock said. "You give them a go. Tarasenko, [Dmitrij] Jaskin will probably get some time during the playoffs, but you want to give the veterans a chance to prove -- unless they've really underperformed -- they want to take the ball and run with it. That's what we're going to do. If somebody under performs, then we won't hesitate to replace and move from there."
Oshie, who has missed 15 games after blocking a shot against the Kings on March 28, required a surgical procedure to repair what ultimately turned out to be a stress fracture in his left ankle. The Blues went 12-3-0 without Oshie in the lineup, but he will return to play with David Perron and Patrik Berglund.
"I'm as ready as I'll ever be, I think," Oshie said after practice practice at the St. Louis Outlet Mall's Ice Zone. "I feel good. It's going to be up to the coaches whether I'm in or not.
"One big hit can lift the team up, one big blocked shot can get a team going or a hard back-check preventing a goal. It's little things like that that can turn around a series. Hopefully I'm able to do one of those at least."
Hitchcock called Oshie a big addition.
"I don't know that he can be a difference-maker, but he certainly carries the conscience of the team," Hitchcock said. "When he's in the lineup, we're better. I don't care if it's just 5-on-5 if that's all he can contribute right now, but we're better if he's in the lineup."
As for Tarasenko, it's been the most challenging season of his hockey life. After playing 30 games in the Kontinental Hockey League for SKA St. Petersburg and another 38 for the Blues, Tarasenko has found scoring tough after a strong start to his NHL career.
He had five goals and five assists in his first eight NHL games, but after suffering a concussion Feb. 20 at the Colorado Avalanche, Tarasenko had seven points in 21 games and scored twice -- in the same game against the Kings on March 28.
"In reality, this has been a very difficult season for him," Hitchcock said of Tarasenko. "Not from a competition side of things, but from an intensity, games played, no practice, no rest ... I think he's found this season at times overwhelming just based on proximity of games, 48 games in 100 days. He's found this to be challenging to say the least.
"He's played his best hockey when he's been rested. We expect him to come into the series and be a rested player, but he's a really good hockey player that's has his eyes opened about ... this has been a strange season. I think if this would have been an 82-game season, probably energy-wise he probably would have been a little bit different. This has been a very difficult season for him because he's never been through anything like this in his life."
Here are the probable lineups for the Kings and Blues in a rematch of a Western Conference semifinal series from last season:
Dustin Brown - Mike Richards - Justin Williams
Kyle Clifford - Anze Kopitar - Jeff Carter
Dwight Kings - Jarret Stoll - Trevor Lewis
Dustin Penner - Brad Richardson - Jordan Nolan
Robyn Regehr - Drew Doughty
Rob Scuderi - Slava Voynov
Jake Muzzin - Keaton Ellerby
Scratched: Alec Martinez, Colin Fraser, Tyler Toffoli
Injured: Matt Greene (undisclosed), Willie Mitchell (knee, IR)
Jaden Schwartz - David Backes - Alexander Steen
Andy McDonald - Vladimir Sobotka - Chris Stewart
David Perron - Patrik Berglund - T.J. Oshie
Adam Cracknell - Chris Porter - Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester - Alex Pietrangelo
Jordan Leopold - Kevin Shattenkirk
Barret Jackman - Roman Polak
Scratched: Kris Russell, Ian Cole, Vladimir Tarasenko, Dmitrij Jaskin, Scott Nichol, Jake Allen, Andrew Murray, Jeff Woywitka, Jani Hakanpaa, Taylor Chorney, Evgeny Grachev
Injured: Jamie Langenbrunner (hip, IR)