Vladimir Sobotka was back in the Blues lineup for the first time since the end of the 2014 season Sunday nigh and scored the game-tying goal. (St. Louis Blues)

By Rob Rains

After a couple of years of trying to get Vladimir Sobotka back from the KHL, he was in the lineup for the Blues on Sunday night and immediately made his presence known, just in time for the playoffs.

Sobotka, playing his first game in the NHL since the end of the 2014 season, scored the game-tying goal 3:20 into the third period and his good friend Vladimir Tarasenko scored the game-winner just 1:19 later to give the Blues a 3-2 win over the Colorado Avalanche in the final game of the regular season.

Picking up a player such as Sobotka on the cusp of the playoffs could provide a major boost to the Blues as they prepare for a first-round matchup against the Minnesota Wild.

“We were missing him the last couple of years,” Tarasenko said. “He’s a great guy and a good player. He will help us a lot.”

Tarasenko’s goal was his 39th of the season and he just missed number 40 as he fired wide toward an empty net in the closing seconds of the game.

That wasn’t his focus after the game, however, as he already had turned his attention to the Wild, who knocked the Blues out in the first round of the playoffs two years ago.
Tarasenko hopes adding a player such as Sobotka will change the result.

“He’s a really skilled and competitive player,” Tarasenko said. “We used to play with each other a lot. I’m really happy to get him back.”

Sobotka already is familiar to many players on the Blues from his first stint with the team before he left to play in Russia. He joined the team on Friday after his KHL contract expired and he signed a new contract with the Blues, who had retained his rights since his departure.

“I was a little nervous,” said Sobotka, who received a nice ovation the first time he stepped on the ice but an ever louder response from the crowd when he scored his first goal with his old team, converted a pass from Jori Lehtera. “On the way here I was kind of thinking about when I played here. Everything came back.”

Sobotka had not skated for about 10 days until practicing with the Blues on Saturday and Sunday night marked his first game in about three weeks.

Considering that layoff and how he was stepping back into a new environment, Coach Mike Yeo liked what he saw from Sobotka, who was used on a couple of different lines and at both left wing and center during the game.

“Pretty impressive for me,” Yeo said. “The goal aside, we bounced him around and he seemed to adjust fine. I thought it was a real strong game from him. You can see his hockey sense, his competiveness, and the skill set to go along with it.

“We’re playing a team (Minnesota) that is a deep team. We’re going to be challenged every time we’re on the ice. It’s going to make us better from top to bottom. Wherever we put him in the lineup it’s going to give us flexibility. He’s also going to be a big factor on special teams.”

The Blues already knew their playoff assignment before Sunday’s game, which Yeo thought was still important for a couple of reasons – getting Sobotka acclimated to his teammates and trying to avoid getting anybody hurt.

He did get a scare midway through the second period when Jaden Schwartz limped to the bench after colliding with a Colorado player, but luckily he was able to return to the ice a few minutes later.

The Blues scored the first goal of the game with just 23 seconds left in the first period when another of their newest players, Zach Sanford, scored his second goal since being acquired from Washington in late February in the trade for Kevin Shattenkirk.

The Avalanche responded with a pair of goals in the second period, one each from Francois Beauchemin and Mikko Rentanan, his 20th of the season, before the Blues rallied in the third period.

The loss ended Colorado’s woeful season. They finished with the worst record in the league, and won only one game on the road after Dec. 23.

NOTES: The game was the first for LW Vladimir Sobotka for the Blues since April 27, 2014, the last game of a playoff series against Chicago. … The Blues rested D Alex Pietrangelo, C Kyle Brodziak and LW Scottie Upshall. ... The only Blues to play in all 82 games this season were C Patrik Berglund, RW David Perron and Tarasenko.