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Stanley Cup Final: Blues make lineup change; Grzelcyk game-time decision

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It looks as if the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins will both be making some lineup changes for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream).

Let’s start with the significant news on the Boston side where the Bruins might have all of their top defenders in the lineup for the first time since the beginning of the series. After missing the past four games, Matt Grzelcyk has been cleared for action and is officially listed as a game-time decision. If he plays, and it seems extremely likely that he will, he would replace Connor Clifton.

Grzelcyk has been sidelined since early in Game 2 when he was on the receiving end of an illegal check from Oskar Sundqvist, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Blues’ forward.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It remains to be seen how much of an impact he can make since he hasn’t taken any contact since the injury, but the Bruins have definitely missed his ability to move the puck.

“I think your adrenaline will carry you through,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday.

“The one thing about Matt if he does go in after missing some games is he’s been skating with us. It’s not like he just jumped on the ice yesterday. He’s been participating, albeit non-contact, so there is a little bit of a different animal there. At this time of the year you’re not into a lot of contact in practice anyway so he’s just going to have to understand, because he did obviously live the first whatever it was, game and a half with St. Louis, he knows they are physical. He’s been there. He’s been watching. He knows he’s gotta get back in a hurry, make good decisions with it, take a hit to make a play if that’s what is required, which it usually is against this team. That’s the challenge in front of him. We’ve had discussions with him about it and he’ll be ready for it.”

Two of the three Bruins’ losses in this series came in games where they were forced to finish with five defenders due to injury with Grzelcyk exiting Game 2 and Zdeno Chara being forced to miss most of Game 4 after being hit in the face with a puck. While Chara has not missed any further game action, Grzelcyk’s absence has been significant.

“If he’s able to come back and help us tonight, he’s an incredible puck mover,” said Bruins defender Charlie McAvoy. “He’s just kind of had that fire in his eye for the playoffs. He’s been playing awesome for us, and we’ve missed him terribly since he’s been out. He just gives us that extra jolt when it comes to breaking out. He’s a gifted puck-mover. If he’s back to night, I think he’ll do his job and help us out even more.”

On the St. Louis side, forward Ivan Barbashev will be returning to the lineup after missing Game 6 due to a suspension for an illegal check to the head.

He will replace rookie forward Robert Thomas on the team’s fourth line next to Alex Steen and Sundqvist.

That is not the only change the Blues will be making.

Coach Craig Berube also said that Joel Edmundson will be drawing back into the lineup in place of Robert Bortuzzo.

Why the change? With Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko playing so many minutes on the right side Berube wants to go with four left-handed defenders in his lineup.

“With Parayko and Pietrangelo on the right side, they’re just eating so many minutes up; there’s not a lot of minutes over there,” said Berube. “So, we decided to go with the four lefties, and what he can bring, he can bring a lot. I mean, he’s got some real good upside, shoots the puck well, big guy, big body, physical player, but he does do some things well in the offensive zone, so I like his shot.”

Edmundson played sparingly over the first four games of the series, recording zero points and finishing as a minus-3 in his limited minutes. Bortuzzo scored a goal for the Blues in Game 2 of the series in Boston and also scored a game-winning goal in the Western Conference Final series against the San Jose Sharks.

Edmundson will skate on the Blues’ third defense pairing alongside Vince Dunn.

“I played in I think three Game 7s now so this is going to be my fourth. None of them compare to this one,” said Edmundson. “Obviously it’s going to be the biggest game of my life. But everyone’s excited.”

Edmundson said his first reaction upon finding out that he would be in the lineup was to text his parents, who were already planning on attending the game. One member of his family not attending the game? His brother, Jesse, who has apparently been bad luck throughout the series.

“They were coming,” said Edmundson when talking about his parent’s plans. “My brother (Jesse) stayed back because he thinks he’s bad luck. He’s been bad luck throughout the series, so he stayed back, he’s taking one for the team.”

Whatever it takes.

More Blues-Bruins Game 7
• Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys for Game 7
• The Wraparound: It is all on line for Blues-Bruins 
• Which Blues, Bruins player will get Stanley Cup handoff?
• Conn Smythe watch
• Stanley Cup roundtable discussion

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Bruins vs. Blues: Three keys to Game 7 of Stanley Cup Final

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There’s good news and bad news for hockey fans.

On one hand, you get to witness Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins. On the other hand, this is going to be the final meaningful game until October. So make sure you enjoy tonight’s game, because the off-season begins tomorrow.

Everything either team has done before now is absolutely meaningless if they don’t come away with a win tonight. The Blues and Bruins will have to put together their best effort if they’re going to win it all at TD Garden tonight.

What specific things do these two teams have to do to win? Let’s take a look.

• Depth players have to chip in

It would be shocking to see a wide-open Game 7 tonight. Expect to see both teams play a physical, tight-checking game, because every mistake will be magnified. That means that the star forwards on either team may not have much room to operate throughout the game. So, it might be up to some of the depth players on either side to decide the result tonight.

By now, you may have heard that Boston has 19 different scorers in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. The depth that they’ve displayed since the start of the postseason has been second-to-none. Can they squeeze a little more production out of Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom or Noel Acciari?

The Blues have had a strong fourth line of their own, and they’ll be getting Ivan Barbashev back after he was suspended for Game 6. Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist and Alex Steen have been really good on the fourth line for the Blues, who have also received depth contributions from guys like Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford throughout this series.

• Game-6 Binnington can’t make another appearance 

Obviously, both teams need to make sure that their goalies don’t cost them the game, but the Blues have to make sure Jordan Binnington turns in a better performance than he did in Game 6 on Sunday night. Binnington has found a way to bounce back a number of times since taking over as the team’s starting netminder, so there’s no real reason to doubt him heading into the biggest game in franchise history.

As for Tuukka Rask, it would be shocking to see him drop the ball tonight. He’s clearly the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy right now, and he’s come up huge whenever the Bruins have needed a big result. Down 3-2 in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was there in Game 6 and 7. Down 2-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round, he was there, again. Rask has been in the zone all postseason and expecting anything else in Game 7 would be silly, right?

• Walk that fine line

It’s no secret that both teams need to play with a physical edge to be successful. They’re both loaded with skill, but that extra grit is what has carried them this far. That should continue to be the case on Wednesday night, especially for a Blues team that likes to keep the game simple when they’re on the road.

Here’s the issue: you have to be able to play that physical style without taking penalties. Neither team can afford to spend much time playing shorthanded in Game 7. It’s just too risky of a proposition. Yes, both teams have been able to generate goals or scoring chances while shorthanded at different points of the series, but they can’t take that gamble with everything on the line. Basically, unless it’s a puck-over-glass penalty or something that prevents a goal from happening, you can’t afford to sit in the box tonight.

So play with an edge. Just make sure you don’t force the officials to call a penalty.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Thomas to return to Blues’ lineup for Game 6 vs. Bruins

ST. LOUIS — Robert Thomas will make his return to the St. Louis Blues’ lineup for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final Sunday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream).

With Ivan Barbashev suspended following his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 5, Thomas will likely find a spot on the Blues’ third line with Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon. Sammy Blais would shift down to the fourth line alongside Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen.

“I’m good to go. I’m ready,” Thomas said. “It feels great to be back out there with the guys and I’m good to go for tonight.”

The 19-year-old Thomas has not played since taking a hit in the second period of Game 1 from Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug.

“It’s the hardest thing to watch your teammates go out there and they put us in a great position,” Thomas said. “I’m happy to be able to get out there and hopefully help them out.”

Thomas had been dealing with a wrist injury during the playoffs, but Blues head coach Craig Berube said that his four-game absence had nothing to do with the play and that there was always a chance he could return later in the series.

“It was always in the back of my mind and obviously his mind, too,” Berube said. “He wants to play, he’s a gamer, tough kid, so he was always willing to play. But I think the time off has helped him, and he’s more prepared now.”

The Bruins will be making one change to their Game 6 lineup as well. Head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Karson Kuhlman will enter for Steven Kampfer, bringing them back to 12 forwards and six defensemen after going 11/7 in Game 5. Matt Grzelcyk remains out as he still has not cleared concussion protocol.

David Backes will sit once again, but he’s ready to support his teammates as they look to stave off elimination and force a Game 7 Wednesday night in Boston.

“We’re here to win,” he said. “If my part’s grabbing the pom-poms again, I’ll shake those things ’til all the frills fall out of them.”

Blues-Bruins Game 6 is Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports app.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS COVERAGE:
Three keys to Game 6 of Stanley Cup Final
Blues looking to seize opportunity, close out storybook season
Pucks tell the story of Blues’ rollercoaster season

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Blues’ Russian Two, Tarasenko and Barbashev, on verge of Cup

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Slava Fetisov called Vladimir Tarasenko midway through the second round of the playoffs to deliver an important message.

”I said, ‘Listen, you’ve got a good chance to win this year, so you’re gonna play 100 percent, maybe a little more,”’ Fetisov recalled Friday. ”’You get all your talents and your skill and you can win the Cup. And sometimes you think it’s gonna be tomorrow in that opportunity but it’s not.”’

Fetisov would know. He didn’t defect from the Soviet Union until midway through his career, and it took until age 39 for him to lift the Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings in 1997.

More than two decades since Fetisov and the ”Russian Five” shattered the myth that NHL teams couldn’t win with players from a nation unpopular in North America, the St. Louis Blues’ Russian Two of Vladimir Tarasenko and Ivan Barbashev is one victory away from lifting the same Cup after being inspired by the generation of countrymen who endured so much to get there.

”They give us reasons to dream about it and maybe one day we can do the same thing,” Tarasenko said.

How Fetisov, Sergei Fedorov, Vladimir Konstantinov, Slava Kozlov and Igor Larionov reached hockey’s mountaintop is documented in the award-winning film “Russian Five” released Friday. It’s co-produced by player agent Dan Milstein, who represents Barbashev, and tells the story of the first time in NHL history five Russian teammates took the ice at the same time.

Barbashev hasn’t seen the film, but those in hockey know the tale well: Detroit seeing the Soviet Union as a source of untapped talent, putting defensemen Fetisov and Konstantinov and forwards Fedorov, Kozlov and Larionov together as one unit like the old Red Army teams and winning the Cup in 1997 by sweeping the big, tough Philadelphia Flyers that featured the ”Legion of Doom” line.

Red Wings teammate and now Vegas coach Gerard Gallant says in the film that observers figured the Russian Five is ”gonna have to play the Canadian way. They’re gonna have to toughen up.” They heard plenty of criticism from the old guard, led by Canadian commentator Don Cherry who wondered, ”What is this, ‘Hockey Night in Canada’ or ‘Hockey Night in Russia?”’

The Russian Five adapted to different rules in North America, and Tarasenko and Barbashev are perfect examples of the effects of that hybrid of skill and toughness. Barbashev is a hard-hitting forward – and his check to the head of Boston’s Marcus Johansson actually led to him being suspended for Game 6 against the Boston Bruins on Sunday night – while Tarasenko has rounded out his 200-foot game to become even more difficult to stop.

”You learn you can’t only stand waiting for the puck to come to you and score goals,” Tarasenko said. ”You need to do more to help your team win the Cup.”

The Russian Five exemplified that. A car accident ended Konstantinov’s career, leaving four to win the second of back-to-back titles in 1998 and an emotional scene of him getting the Cup on the ice in a wheelchair.

Since then, 15 of the 19 champions have had at least one Russian player, and last year Washington’s Alex Ovechkin became the first Russian captain to win the Cup. Tarasenko is in the final for the first time and said he’s never touched or even looked intentionally at the Stanley Cup, but he knows what winning it means.

”We don’t really have a lot of NHL when we was growing up back home,” Tarsenko said. ”But Washington guys won the Cup, too. So any Russian guy win the Cup, they bring it to Russia and see how excited their families or friends and people in their hometowns (are).”

Tarasenko and the Blues might not be here had Fetisov not given him a pep talk with them trailing the Dallas Stars 3-2 during the second round. Fetisov was paying attention to the NHL playoffs for the first time in a while and took it upon himself to reach out to Tarasenko to offer some advice.

”They was down in the series and I call him and we have good conversation: You talk about the game and what the Stanley Cup mean to the players,” Fetisov said. ”Since this, he become a different player and I hope that’s gonna help him to win the Cup.”

Tarasenko, 27, doesn’t talk much on the phone this time of year aside from family, but it’s a good thing he made an exception for the Hall of Fame defenseman. After recording no assists in his first 11 playoff games, Tarasenko has six goals and five assists for 11 points in his past 13 since talking to Fetisov.

Coach Craig Berube has noticed and been impressed by Tarasenko’s hard work and competitiveness that often gets overlooked because of his sublime skill.

”He’s a very good skater and he’s using his speed and he’s playing a physical game,” Berube said. ”I know he’s scoring goals, but watching him and how he’s developed in the playoffs, in my opinion, throughout this year’s playoffs, his physicality, skating and compete level, all the things, especially without the puck, too. He’s doing a real good job of working extremely hard without the puck.”

The Russian Five together was able to play keep away with the puck. Tarasenko and Barbashev don’t play that style with the Blues, but they fit well into the straightforward, north-south game that has made St. Louis so successful since being last in the NHL in early January.

Yet their success has made countless Russian players aim to win the Stanley Cup.

”I hope they come to the United States and Canada for the biggest prize in professional hockey, for the Stanley Cup,” Fetisov said. ”And you see more and more guys fight and try to win the Cup. I’m very happy for them. The teams get more and more reliable on Russian players.”

Barbashev doesn’t want to talk yet about he and Tarasenko joining the list of Russian players with their names on the Cup, though he does draw inspiration from what the Russian Five accomplished 22 years ago.

”Every time you look at those names who played in the NHL, the guys that won the Stanley Cup all together, it’s just amazing,” Barbashev said.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Lineup shuffling benefits Blues in Stanley Cup Final

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Had Oskar Sundqvist not gotten suspended and Robert Thomas ruled out with a nagging injury, Zach Sanford might never have gotten a chance to show his stuff on hockey’s biggest stage.

If Vince Dunn not taken a puck to the mouth during the last round, Robert Bortuzzo might not have had the chance to score a key goal in the Stanley Cup Final.

This is the magic of the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs and even more specifically their series against the Boston Bruins. They’ve dressed a lottery ball machine amount of lineup combinations this postseason and because of suspensions and injuries in the final will have their sixth different lineup in six games.

Instead of interrupting continuity that’s usually paramount in the playoffs, the Blues’ game of musical jerseys with players in and out of the lineup has given them a variety of looks for the Bruins to contend with and contributed to St. Louis being on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup.

”You never want to see guys get suspended or go down with an injury,” forward Patrick Maroon said Saturday. ”But Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais and Robby Fabbri have done a really good job filling in. Thomas was playing until he went out. They’ve been here all year, and they know what it takes to win.”

Maroon is one of only 12 skaters plus goaltender Jordan Binnington to play in all 24 of St. Louis’ playoff games so far. That number will dip to 11 with Ivan Barbashev suspended and the very real possibility Thomas is ready to return after missing the past four games with what’s believed to be a hand/wrist injury.

Injury attrition can take its toll this time of year, something the San Jose Sharks found out when the Blues eliminated them without Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. The Blues have kept on chugging through the injuries and gotten impressive performances from players shuffling in and out of the lineup like Bortuzzo or returning off a long layoff like Sanford and Fabbri.

Barbashev isn’t available for Game 6, and coach Craig Berube said other decisions will be made closer to puck drop. Top-line forward Vladimir Tarasenko and bottom-six grinder Alex Steen are expected to play after missing practice for maintenance, but there are other questions about who’s in and out and St. Louis won’t have much of a drop-off either way.

”We have good depth, which is very important on the back end and up front,” Berube said. ”A guy like Sanford coming in and doing a good job for us after being out for some time, and Sammy Blais, just different guys. It’s really important.”

Sanford has had some significant jump in his legs the past three games after sitting out six weeks as a healthy scratch. Dunn showed little rust from missing almost three weeks before getting back in for Game 4.

And there has been no pouting from guys like Bortuzzo and fellow defenseman Joel Edmundson trading places on the ice and in the press box.

”There’s been different circumstances for different things,” Bortuzzo said. ”You’re going to get in there and you’re going to be excited to play. You’re going to be refreshed regardless of what’s going on.”

The Blues had already done a strong job in the first three rounds of wearing down opponents as series dragged on, and they’re in the process of doing the same to Boston. They play the same style, but the Bruins never seeing the same St. Louis team twice in a playoff series that usually breeds familiarity and contempt makes it even more difficult to prepare.

Boston could dress its same lineup from Game 5 because forward Noel Acciari is expected to play after leaving in the third period Thursday and Marcus Johansson had no lingering effects from the hit on him Barbashev was suspended for.

While the Bruins promoted Johansson to their top power-play unit to get that unit going, the Blues have to adjust without Barbashev, who’s a key penalty killer.

”He’s physical for us,” forward Brayden Schenn said. ”He does a good job on the PK, scoring some goals. We can’t worry about him being out. You’ve got to worry about someone else stepping up, stepping in and filling his role.

That has been key to the Blues’ run the past two months, in large part because of injuries and Berube shaking things up with coach’s decisions for performance. The suspensions of Sundqvist and now Barbashev forced Berube’s hand even more, but it hasn’t led the Blues to abandon their bruising approach.

”If that was a thing, then we’d have slowed down on our physical game and that’s not us,” Carl Gunnarsson said. ”I think we’ve just got to keep on going, just going to keep it clean and keep doing what we’re doing.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports