The much-anticipated first-round playoff series between the Blues and the Blackhawks is now just two days away and it sounds as if the Blues are getting healthy just in time.
Listen closely and you can almost hear the thumping of the horses’ hooves coming over the hillside.
“The cavalry is coming,” Blues forward Brenden Morrow said.
Morrow, who was in a walking boot just a few days ago, was a surprise skater in Tuesday’s practice, but he wasn’t the only one making progress toward playing in Game 1, or least at some point the series.
T.J. Oshie returned to the ice four days after taking a vicious head hit in Minnesota, Vladimir Tarasenko has shed the cast on his right hand and was firing off a series of shots and defensemen Alex Pietrangelo and Barret Jackman were back after missing Sunday’s regular-season finale against Detroit.
So the news seemed positive Tuesday, despite the notable absences still of David Backes, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka, who are also recovering from recent injuries that aren’t considered overly serious.
“We’re going to have everybody back at some point in the first round,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock declared, though cautioning not to read too much into which players were on the ice Tuesday. “Till they participate in a (full-squad) practice, the guys are in various stages. I get the fact that guys are trying to play, but we got to get a proper evaluation off a hockey practice and see when the tempo goes up if they can keep up. Our roster is really fluid right now.
“We’re not as set as, say, Chicago is. They’re going back to the same lineups that played us the last two home games. They’re set. We’re not there yet. We’re hoping that we get more set by Thursday and get some really good news. I don’t think any of us can tell right now until we get a real hockey practice, which will be the first and last (Wednesday).”
Oshie appears to be gearing up for a return for Game 1 Thursday, after an illegal hit by Minnesota’s Mike Rupp last week in Minnesota sidelined him the past two games.
“It felt good to get around, sweat a little bit,” said Oshie, who returned home St. Louis from Minnesota to bring his newborn daughter, Lyla, home from the hospital. “The first couple of days were pretty tough for me, but I’ve been getting a lot of rest, a lot of time at home with the family, relaxing. I woke up this morning, felt pretty good and went out there skated and felt pretty good out there.”
Asked if he could play in Game 1, Oshie replied: “I don’t know ... got to see how I am (Wednesday) morning. It really is a day-to-day thing. If I can, if medically it’s OK and I’m not going to hurt myself worse, or hurt my team, I’ll be in.”
Hitchcock, who watched Tuesday’s practice from the bleachers, said: “Oshie had a smile on his face, he looked like he was happy going out there. (But) I’m not sure where the clearance area is, or what’s going on there.”
Tarasenko is no longer limited by his cast, having it removed Monday, one month after suffering a broken hand that required surgery. He’s missed the past 15 games.
“I skated before, but this is my first time with the guys,” Tarasenko said. “It was pretty hard, but I’m so happy to be back. It feels good. I hope everything will be good.”
The Blues’ original prognosis had Tarasenko being re-evaluated after six weeks, or towards the end of the first round. Now taking shots, is he ahead of schedule?
“No,” Hitchcock said. “On schedule? Yes. He’s on schedule, which was six weeks and then evaluation, and that’s coming up pretty soon. Then that will be the doctor’s call. The nice part for us is he’s going to be able to jump in and play right away because he’s had harder work than anyone on the team. He wonders if we like him or don’t like him with all the work he’s had to put in.”
That Morrow put in any work Tuesday was a bit a mild shock. He was said to be sidelined with a fractured foot, the result of being hit by a shot in practice when the Blues played in Minnesota last week.
Morrow didn’t deny the severity of the injury, but said: “It doesn’t look like you can make things worse; everyone does whatever they can to be out there. I’m no different. As long as you’re not a liability out there, everyone wants to do everything they can to be a part of this time of the year. I’ve got to knock the rust off and hopefully be ready on Thursday.”
Hitchcock said, however, that Morrow would have to prove that he could be a factor before the Blues could count on him.
“We love Brendan’s heart and we love what he’s trying to do, but he’s got to show us (Wednesday) that he’s a good practice player, that he’s up to speed and he’s going to really help us,” Hitchcock said. “He’ll play on one leg if he could, but if it doesn’t help us we can’t put him out there.”
The Blues hope today will also bring further clarity on Backes, Berglund and Sobotka.
“I’m not ruling anyone out for Thursday,” Hitchcock said. “I’m not ruling one guy out, including the guys that didn’t skate today. We’ll get a better read at practice (Wednesday).”