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Tarasenko, Steen set to return Saturday for Blues

by Louie Korac /

ST. LOUIS -- It won't be a meaningless game Saturday for the St. Louis Blues, who have a chance to clinch the top seed in the Western Conference.

They will also welcome back left wing Alexander Steen, right wing Vladimir Tarasenko and defenseman Robert Bortuzzo from injuries.

Vladimir Tarasenko
Right Wing - STL
GOALS: 36 | ASST: 35 | PTS: 71
SOG: 260 | +/-: 25
The Blues already have the Central Division wrapped up with one regular season game remaining against the Minnesota Wild. All three will be in the lineup for one tune-up game before the start of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and the Wild could be a potential Western Conference First Round opponent.

Tarasenko (71) and Steen (62) were the Blues' top two point leaders when they departed the lineup with lower-body injuries. Steen has missed the past six games, Tarasenko has missed five, and Bortuzzo, who was out with an upper-body injury, has missed two.

The additions are a welcome sight, but the Blues (50-24-7) have a broader picture in mind.

"We've missed two significant parts of our team and we've got to integrate those guys in quickly and see how they look and see how our team looks," coach Ken Hitchcock said of Steen and Tarasenko. "They're our most creative players, they're the guys that have led our team in scoring all year. They're going to do nothing but help us. How it affects the way we play with everybody else is going to be a little bit of a change, so getting them in the lineup and having both of them play tomorrow is real good for us. They get to get integrated back in the team and we'll see from there."

Hitchcock said the Blues could have gotten the injured players back in a 2-1 win Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks but chose to wait another couple days. It was important to get these guys in the lineup once and back to game pace.

"This is the tough part. You're adding two significant players into your team," Hitchcock said. "We want to see how they look and then see how our lineup looks. I think the real judge is what we look like on Monday and Tuesday when we get back to work [at practice]."

Tarasenko, who also leads the Blues with 36 goals, said it made no difference for him if he played any games or not before the playoffs. He missed the final 15 games of the regular season last year with a thumb injury and came back against the Blackhawks in the Western Conference First Round and scored four goals. The biggest hurdle is the mental one.

"Last year, I missed one month before postseason. I skate only once with the puck and played in a game next day," Tarasenko said. "I don't think it really matters. It's all in your mind. It's now you're ready mentally if you play good or bad.

"I think the main part of it is if my mind is ready. I feel like my body is ready."

The Blues have won four of the past five games and have 107 points. Getting two of their top three scorers back in time for the playoffs will help them integrate into a more defensive style of play they had to utilize while missing their top two offensive weapons.

Alexander Steen
Left Wing - STL
GOALS: 24 | ASST: 38 | PTS: 62
SOG: 221 | +/-: 6
"We can adjust. We were forced to adjust; we did," Hitchcock said. "We went from more puck possession to more territorial. We went from soft match to hard match and we adjusted, and you're going to have to do that in the playoffs at times. We were able to adjust in a real good way that gave us a positive result, but it was a reality check that we needed to play with and I was very impressed with the way our guys played."

Steen, who has 24 goals and 38 assists, calls getting back in the lineup two-fold. He gets to play in a game and get a leg up in time for the playoffs.

"Important and important. It'll be fun, get back into things," Steen said. "It's been a long time for me, it feels like.

"You try to get as healthy as you can in the time you have. I feel good; felt good today so made the call to play tomorrow."

The Blues have some guys that Hitchcock called "banged up" and will sit 5-6 players Saturday without naming who.

"You've got to do what's best for Game 1 of the playoffs right now," Hitchcock said. "What's best for Game 1 is some guys need to get in and get playing, and some guys need to get healthier. We're going to do what's best for us. We're still going to ice a lineup that's capable of winning the hockey game and we expect to play really well tomorrow. If we've got guys at 70 percent or 80 percent or whatever, we're not going to ask them to play when we have healthy guys that can."

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