EDMONTON (AP) — Look who's back and healthy for the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues: Pretty much everyone.
The Blues were navigating through some key injuries before the season was halted in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. The hiatus allowed time to heal and now the Blues and Colorado Avalance — the top two teams in the Western Conference — return as Cup favorites.
The two teams get things rolling Sunday in Edmonton by facing each other to kick off a round-robin tournament to determine seeding in the West.
Back on the ice for the Blues is forward Vladimir Tarasenko, who underwent shoulder surgery in late October. Missing from the lineup, though, will be defenseman Jay Bouwmeester after experiencing a frightening cardiac episode during a game against Anaheim on Feb. 11.
"Looking forward to the playoffs," said Tarasenko, whose team rode the sounds of Laura Branigan’s 1982 hit "Gloria" — played after wins — all the way to the Stanley Cup title more than a year ago. "I'm ready to play."
The road to the Cup naturally goes through the Blues, who are looking to win back-to-back titles. The last team to do so was Pittsburgh in ’15-16 and ’16-17.
"Obviously, last year gave us a lot of experience from top to bottom in the dressing room," said Jordan Binnington, the goaltender who came up clutch for the Blues last season as a rookie. "Hopefully we can use that going into this year."
BABY ON THE WAY
Blues forward Ivan Barbashev is set to become a dad in August. The birth of a child is among the reasons an NHL player can leave the bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto. The player will be quarantined upon their return and needs to pass a series of COVID-19 tests.
"I understand it’s really hard for her, to see me going away when the baby is due, but I promised her I’ll be back," Barbashev said.
In June, Blues forward Chris Thorburn announced his retirement after a career that included 801 NHL regular-season games and hoisting last season’s Stanley Cup. The physical forward also played for Buffalo, Pittsburgh and the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
Blues All-Star forward Ryan O’Reilly and MacKinnon are both finalists for the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy, which is awarded for sportsmanship combined with a high standard of playing ability. The other finalists are Nathan MacKinnon of Colorado and Auston Matthews of Toronto.
O’Reilly won the award in 2014 when he was a member of the Avalanche.