Rookie winger Tyson Nash, the Blues player opponents most love to hate, hasn't played since suffering an injury to his left shoulder on March 12, but there's a good chance he'll return to the lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs tonight at Kiel Center.
"Just let me out of the cage," Nash said, with a laugh. "This is what it's all about. You play all year for this."
Nash played only 66 games this season, missing the last 13 with a shoulder injury suffered in a fight against Dallas' Aaron Gavey.
"Those fights are for the birds," Nash recently joked.
Although Nash has learned to back-up his aggressive style of play with his fists, he's most adept at drawing opponents into retaliatory penalties. He plays a clean game, hitting hard and often, but opponents often take exception to his robust style and spend an inordinate amount of time trying to enact revenge.
Nash's style puts him on the edge as well. Referees watch him extra closely, as he found out last season when he took a crucial elbowing penalty in Game 2 of the Blues' second-round series against Dallas.
"I learned a lot from that," Nash said. "You have to control your energy. As excited as I am right now, we have to go in there under control and do the things that kept me here all year. It'll be a little bit faster and better hockey, and I'll do whatever it takes to win.
"Playoff games are wars. After games, there's always going to be a lot of ice packs handed out. That's the price it takes to win in the playoffs."
Nash is the only injured Blues player assured of being back in the lineup for Game 1. He'll probably play on the fourth line with Craig Conroy and Mike Eastwood. If no one else returns, the lines probably will be Pierre Turgeon between Stephane Richer and Scott Pellerin, Michal Handzus with Lubos Bartecko and rookie Ladislav Nagy, and rookie Marty Reasoner with Jochen Hecht and Jamal Mayers.
Defenseman Jeff Finley, who has missed seven games with back spasms, practiced in a pairing with Chris Pronger on Tuesday. Unless his back flares up as it did before Sunday's season finale against Chicago, Finley is expected to play tonight.
"It felt good again today, and we'll see how it feels," Finley said. "I'm preparing to play."
If so, the blue line pairings probably will be Finley and Pronger, Marc Bergevin and Al MacInnis and Todd Reirden and Dave Ellett.
Winger Scott Young, who missed the last two games of the regular season with a dislocated right shoulder, practiced with the team Tuesday and repor ted that he's feeling much better. Although coach Joel Quenneville on Monday ruled Young out for Game 1, he left open the possibility on Tuesday that Young might play tonight because of Young's rapid improvement.
Pavol Demitra also provided some good news on Tuesday, telling the Post-Dispatch that he was headache-free for the first time since suffering a concussion on March 24. The Blues' leading scorer briefly worked out on an exercise bike, the first stage of his comeback.
"I feel better," Demitra said. "It's the first day I feel much better. ... It's my best day so far."
As of Tuesday morning, just 70 single seats remained for Game 1 tonight, according to Bruce Affleck, vice president of sales. At 2 p.m. this afternoon, however, Affleck said he would release 250 to 500 tickets that had been reserved for the league and the Sharks. They will be available at the Kiel Center box office.