It took Ken Hitchcock 26 seconds to confirm what everyone wanted to know and what everyone suspected following Tuesday's practice. The head coach answered just two questions during his daily media scrum but he confirmed that the Blues will have a healthy lineup heading into Wednesday’s Game 1.
“Yep, 100 percent we are ready to go,” said Hitchcock. “Let’s play.”
While Hitchcock did not allot the opportunity for follow-up questions, his response indicates that forwards Troy Brouwer and David Backes will be in the lineup against Chicago.
Backes missed the final three games of the regular season with a lower-body injury and hadn’t practiced with the team in over a week prior to his return to the ice Tuesday.
“I feel pretty good,” said Backes. “I’m ready to go. Now I just have to make sure I can crack the lineup and get a spot on one of the four lines for Game 1.”
Backes will do more than just crack the lineup. Based on Tuesday’s practice lines, Backes will play on the right side of Patrik Berglund and Alexander Steen. That line was formed prior to Backes’ injury and the forward’s transition from center to wing was showing results.
With 21 goals this season, Backes found the back of the net more than any other Blue except Vladimir Tarasenko. He played in 79 games, missing only the final three of the season.
The captain told fans in an on-ice presentation Saturday that nothing would keep him out of the playoff lineup but when Backes missed Monday’s practice, there were some doubts.
“That was my mindset from the get-go, that Game 1 I would be (ready),” said Backes. “You get the adrenaline going and you can play through a lot of stuff. We are feeling well and we are a go.”
Brouwer, whose status was in-question after he, too, was absent Monday, was also on the ice Tuesday for the team’s final pre-playoff practice. Brouwer missed several practices down the stretch for what the team called “maintenance days”. With Steve Ott (colitis) also skating--but as an extra--it was the first time in a long time that the Blues were able to boast a full squad.
“It was good,” said Hitchcock. “First time all year. Nice to see we have some choices tomorrow.”
“I think it’s the first time since December where we have had every healthy body available to us and that is impeccable timing because you want all your weapons on-hand and we have that,” said Backes.
The Blues have not played a single game this season with all of their players healthy. So, Wednesday, at the most important time of the season, will be a 2015-16 campaign first.
“It’s pretty crazy,” said forward Patrik Berglund when asked about the injury-riddled season. “It has been a crazy year. We are just excited that everyone is healthy. It’s real nice to see everyone healthy.”
Assuming there are no unknowns in play, this is what the Blues’ Game 1 lineup will look like:
Jaden Schwartz-Jori Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Robby Fabbri-Paul Stastny-Troy Brouwer
Patrik Berglund-Alexander Steen-David Backes
Scottie Upshall-Kyle Brodziak-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Kevin Shattenkirk
Carl Gunnarsson-Colton Parayko