The St. Louis Blues' new-look blue line will face a big challenge right off the bat on Thursday night when the playoff hopefuls take aim at their first road victory over the Chicago Blackhawks in over three years.
Tied for ninth place with the Nashville Predators in the Western Conference with 38 points, one point back of eighth place, the Blues added defensemen Jay Bouwmeester and Jordan Leopold in separate deals in the days leading up to the yesterday's trade deadline.
Leopold made his debut for the Blues in Monday's 4-1 victory over the Minnesota Wild and St. Louis announced during the game that it had acquired Bouwmeester from the Calgary Flames for defenseman Mark Cundari, the rights to goaltender Reto Berra and a conditional first-round pick.
Bouwmeester, 29, is a two-time All-Star who has scored six goals to go along with nine assists in 33 games this year and has logged 71 goals, 229 assists and 463 penalty minutes in 750 career games. He has played in 621 consecutive games, a streak he is set to extend tonight.
The Blues are likely to pair Bouwmeester on the top defensive unit with Alex Pietrangelo and was a player long coveted by general manager Doug Armstrong.
"It's taken the better part of 10 months to find the piece," Armstrong told the Blues' website. "It goes back through when we were looking to add a player (last offseason). Jay was one of those type of players that when you look at someone in our age group, someone that could log a lot of minutes, he's an iron man obviously playing 600-plus games. He's a workhorse, he's everything that we had hoped to find."
With the added depth, the Blues dealt 35-year-old defender Wade Redden to the Boston Bruins on Wednesday for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2014. Redden had five points in 23 games with St. Louis this season.
The Blues will try to earn a rare victory in Chicago tonight. They have lost eight in a row there since a victory on Feb. 3, 2010.
St. Louis has lost four straight and eight of its past 10 in this series overall, including the first two of five meetings this regular season.
Though they added Bouwmeester, the Blues did lose goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a groin injury in Monday's win and he is out indefinitely. He made five saves before suffering his ailment in the final seconds of the first period and Brian Elliott made 19 saves on 20 shots faced in relief.
"It's part of the job description, you have to be ready to go all the time," said Elliott. "You never want to see a guy go down, but I just wanted to be able to help the team as much as I could."
Jaden Schwartz and Andy McDonald each had a goal and an assist, while Barret Jackman and Kevin Shattenkirk also lit as the Blues snapped a three-game slide.
St. Louis will be going up against a Chicago club that leads the Western Conference with 57 points, two ahead of the Anaheim Ducks with two games in hand, and is also expected to have sniping forward Marian Hossa back in the lineup tonight.
Hossa has missed the past six games with an upper body injury and the Blackhawks went 3-3-0 in that span.
"He means a lot. He enhances your team game, you can use him in special teams situations," said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. "He's a player that you like the way he plays in all areas of the ice."
Fellow forward Patrick Sharp, though, will miss his 12th straight game due to a shoulder injury and Patrick Kane did not practice on Wednesday due to illness but is likely to play tonight.
Kane and Brandon Saad scored in Monday's 3-2 shootout victory over the Nashville Predators, with defenseman Michal Rozsival putting home the game- winner in the tiebreaker with a backhander.
"It's the only move I have so I wanted to make it count," said Rozsival, who has not scored a goal in 20 games this season and had just one in 54 contests last season with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Corey Crawford stopped 25 shots in the win, Chicago's second in a row. The club was coming off a 7-1 rout in Detroit the previous day.
Thursday should also mark the first game for center Michal Handzus since being acquired from the San Jose Sharks on Monday in exchange for Chicago's fourth- round pick in 2013.
Handzus had a goal and an assist over 28 games with the Sharks this season.