St. Louis Blues

Nichushkin expected to return to Stars’ lineup tonight vs. St. Louis

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Valeri Nichushkin, who was recalled from his conditioning assignment on Thursday, is expected to return to the Stars’ lineup tonight when Dallas plays host to the St. Louis Blues.

Nichushkin has missed nearly five months after undergoing hip surgery in November.

Stars coach Lindy Ruff would not confirm Nichushkin’s return to the lineup, but Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News reports that it’s a safe bet the 20-year-old will appear in his first game since Nov. 6.

“He’s real excited to be back playing, to be back here and have the opportunity to play,” Ruff said.

Nichushkin had 14 goals and 34 points in 79 games during his rookie campaign last season while playing alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.

He played in just four games registering a minus-3 rating this season prior to the surgery.

Ruff admits the club has missed the presence of the 6-foot-4, 205-pound forward.

“We’ve missed his size,” Ruff said. “For the most part, Seguin, Benn and Val were a good line. He was a guy who could hang onto the puck down low, physically dominate some teams, and even come off the wall in the offensive zone and make plays. And I really felt by the end of [last] year he was one of our best defenders coming back defending.”

Tonight concludes the five-game season series between the two clubs. Each team has won twice.

Luongo collects 400th win, but major milestone’s bittersweet

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Roberto Luongo is only the 11th goaltender in the league’s history to reach the 400-win mark and he earned that milestone in style tonight by turning aside 31 of 32 shots in a 6-1 win over Carolina.

Nevertheless, the timing of this event could have been better.

“I don’t take it for granted. I’m blessed to play this long in the NHL and something that I love, but at the same time I would’ve liked to have got it a few games earlier and maybe get a few more points in the standings,” Luongo told the Sun Sentinel.

Luongo’s point is that despite tonight’s win the Panthers are still likely to miss the playoffs. Had he earned his 400th victory on Tuesday against Boston, the Panthers would be in a better spot.

Nevertheless, this is a remarkable accomplishment for Luongo. He earned 252 of his victories with Vancouver and 141 with Florida. That split has provided him with the rare distinction of being the all-time leader for both franchises. His other seven victories came with the New York Islanders, which drafted him back in 1997, but traded him along with Olli Jokinen to Florida in 2000 in exchange for Mark Parrish and Oleg Kvasha.

Luongo is also just one win shy of Chris Osgood and 10th place on the all-time list.

Goalie nods: Slumping Elliott sits, Allen starts for Blues

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All the latest from the blue paint…

St. Louis turns to Allen

With Brian Elliott having lost four straight and the Blues winning just once in their last six, Ken Hitchcock will turn things over to Jake Allen tonight for a tilt against Calgary.

Allen — who was in goal for St. Louis’ last win, a 3-2 OT decision over Pittsburgh — could potentially throw a wrench into the Blues’ plans of Elliott being their definitive playoff starter. Elliott hasn’t played well lately, going 1-3-1 with a .902 save percentage over his last five games, and Hitchcock did leave the door open slightly when asked if Ellliott could be usurped as the postseason No. 1.

“Obviously if [Elliott] doesn’t play well at all, then we’ve got to reassess it like any team does,” he explained, per the Post-Dispatch.

As for Allen, he’s gunning for his 20th win tonight and is coming off two pretty solid performances, stopping 24 of 26 shots in the aforementioned win over Pittsburgh, and 23 of 25 in a 2-1 OT loss to Detroit on Mar. 22.

For Calgary, Jonas Hiller will start in goal.

Elsewhere…

Isles at Jackets: Jaroslav Halak vs. Sergei Bobrovsky

Caps at Habs: Braden Holtby vs. Carey Price

Bolts at Sens: Ben Bishop vs. Andrew Hammond

Bruins at Wings: (No Boston starter yet) vs. Petr Mrazek

‘Canes at Panthers: Anton Khudobin vs. Roberto Luongo

Rangers at Wild: Henrik Lundqvist vs. Devan Dubnyk

Canucks at ‘Hawks: (No Vancouver starter yet) vs. Corey Crawford

Oilers at Kings: No starters for either team yet.

Hitch admits coaching the Blues was ‘a struggle’ earlier in the season

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Good read here on Blues coach Ken Hitchcock, by Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Long story short, apparently Hitch wasn’t exactly loving his job earlier this season.

“There were times in November and December where I thought, ‘This is a struggle.'” he said. “That ended in January. It’s been off and running since. We had some trouble getting players to buy in and you start wondering if we could do it the way we did before. But when you see what this team can do, it’s invigorating.”

Granted, the Blues didn’t look too good in their last outing, a 4-1 loss to Vancouver on Monday that led d-man  Zbynek Michalek to conclude, “I don’t think there’s one good thing about our game right now.”

And to be sure, if St. Louis is once again eliminated early in the playoffs, there will be questions about Hitchcock’s job status.

But for what it’s worth, GM Doug Armstrong has said that Hitchcock will coach the Blues until Hitchcock no longer wants the job. And right now it sounds like he still wants the job.

St. Louis is back in action tomorrow versus the Flames.

Slumping Blues lose Tarasenko to lower-body injury

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Not the news St. Louis wanted to hear — on Wednesday, the club confirmed that leading goalscorer Vladimir Tarasenko is out with a lower-body injury, sustained during Monday’s 4-1 loss to Vancouver.

Tarasenko, who sits tied for fifth in the NHL with 36 goals, didn’t practice today and appears unlikely to suit up for Thursday’s home date against Calgary. The Russian sniper’s injury comes at a bad time for the Blues — the club is just 1-3-2 in its last six games and, with 99 points, is in danger of being passed in the Central by third-place Chicago (98 points, with six games left) and current wild card holder Minnesota (95 points, with six games left).

There is a silver lining to the injury, though, in that it creates a roster spot for AHL Chicago sniper Ty Rattie. The AHL’s reigning player of the week — he had seven points in three games — Rattie has 42 points in 59 games this year and looks as though he’s on his way to St. Louis. PHT’s Dhiren Mahiban was at Wolves practice on Wednesday and confirmed Rattie was pulled off the ice, presumably so he could be shipped off to the Blues.

Update: Blues made the Rattie recall official. Also, head coach Ken Hitchcock said that Tarasenko (and fellow injured forward Alex Steen) are both day-to-day, and will be ready for the playoffs.