ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The only thing preventing rookies Ivan Barbashev and Jordan Schmaltz from channeling their emotions on the ice soon for the Blues, who open the Western Conference First Round against the Minnesota Wild tonight is the fact that the puck won't actually drop until 8:45.
"I can't wait for the game to start," Barbashev said. "It's going to be fun and I'm really looking forward to it. I just can't wait to be honest."
The Blues and Wild, who finished as the Nos. 3 and 2 seeds, respectively, in the Central Division, begin their quest for the Stanley Cup tonight. Both Barbashev and Schmaltz, with a combined 39 games of NHL regular-season experience (30 for Barbashev), will be making their playoff debuts.
"I think I’m excited," Schmaltz said. "Nerves will probably kick in a little bit before the game when the place is amping and pretty loud but right now just kind of approach it like another game, even though it’s not, and get ready to play."
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Barbashev will be centering the Blues' top line (how about that?) between Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko. With Paul Stastny (foot) out of the lineup, it's a big chance for Barbashev to cement his already impressive rookie year.
"I'm going to play in my first playoff game and it's going to be really interesting and I'm going to be excited," Barbashev said. "I don't know, I'm just going to play hard and probably keep it the same way we played last two months.
"Everybody (is) saying it's a lot of emotions. I've never been to the NHL playoffs. I'm guessing it's just going to be fun. I mean for sure, it's going to be tough every single game. I'm going to do my best out there."
Blues coach Mike Yeo, facing his former club for the second time (he coached the Blues' 2-1 regular-season win here on March 7), has the utmost confidence in the 21-year-old Barbashev.
"First off, he earned the opportunity, and now we get into the playoffs, we all know there's a different level of play and different level of intensity, so we're anxious to see how he can respond to that," Yeo said of Barbashev. "He's a kid that played in the world juniors twice, so it's not like he hasn't been on the big stage before, but this will be a new test for him. For us, we want to see if he can do it, and if he can, we feel it gives us some strength in other areas of our lineup."
For Schmaltz, it's been a smaller sample size of nine NHL games, but with Robert Bortuzzo (upper-body injury) missing the past five games, Schmaltz has his chance to shine.
But playing with a veteran partner like Carl Gunnarsson, it'll be up to him to help keep Schmaltz's nerves in check, especially early.
"I think he'll be fine," Gunnarsson said. "He's a calm guy. He's cool on the ice, he's cool off the ice. He's going to be a little nervous; everyone is. First playoff game ever and a bunch of guys that have played playoff games before are going to be nervous tonight, too. Get a couple shifts under the belt and then after that, I think you just get a good feel for the game and how it's going to be.
"... We talk about plays out there coming in and sitting on the bench. That's what we do, nothing crazy. Not going to change anything now. That would be just stupid. We've got to keep going like we've been doing. If anything happens, I'll be there for him, but I think he's going to do great tonight."
In 2013-14 and 14-15, Barbashev represented Russia at the World Junior Championships, so playing on the big show certainly won't give him stage fright.
"I played twice in the World Juniors. It's pretty much the same thing," Barbashev said. "It's a huge thing. It was fun, that's for sure. I played in the final and we played against Canada and it was a really tough game for us.
"I'm pretty sure it's going to be the same thing, but it's going to be like every single game. It's going to be tough and I know it's going to be fun."
Who else to get some advice from than a linemate who's been through it before.
"I talked to Vladi (Tarasenko) a lot," Barbashev said. "He told me some stories about the playoffs. Seems to be fun, to be honest. I don't know, just looking forward to it."
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