Robby Fabbri

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

Blues’ Barbashev will miss Game 6 of Stanley Cup due to suspension

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Ivan Barbashev of the St. Louis Blues will miss Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final after he was suspended for delivering an illegal check to the head of Boston Bruins forward Marcus Johansson Thursday night.

There was no penalty on the play and Johansson did not miss any time during the Blues’ 2-1 Game 5 victory.

“It’s physical hockey, it’s heavy hockey out there both ways, and they’re going to look at some stuff once in a while, so that’s the way it goes,” said Blues head coach Craig Berube.

Here’s how the NHL Department of Player Safety came to their conclusion:

As the video shows, Barbashev had time to change the angle of his hit so that he did not connect with Johansson’s head.

Barbashev is now the second Blues player to be suspended in the Cup Final after forward Oskar Sundqvist sat for one game after boarding Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in Game 2.

The Blues will miss Barbashev’s presence on the fourth line and penalty kill. Berube did not say on Friday who would take his place in the lineup. This could open the door for Robby Fabbri to re-enter the picture and go to the third line while Sammy Blais joins Sundqvist and Alex Steen.

“Somebody is going to have to step in and go do the job,  a lot like Sundqvist with the suspension there,” said Berube. “Somebody will come in and do the job.”

Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final will take place Sunday, 8 p.m. ET on NBC (live stream here)

MORE BLUES – BRUINS COVERAGE:
Both teams have seen officiating controversies even before Game 5.
Blues hope to keep emotions in check.
Cassidy rips officiating
Missed opportunities haunt Bruins.

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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.

Stanley Cup Final: Vince Dunn back in Blues’ lineup for Game 4

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ST. LOUIS — St. Louis Blues head coach Craig Berube is making some changes for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream) against the Boston Bruins.

Zach Sanford will be up on the second line back with Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron. Robby Fabbri will be scratched with Oskar Sundqvist back from suspension and Sammy Blais will be with Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon.

“I thought that was a real good line last game for us,” said Berube. “I thought [Sanford] was strong on the puck. He’s got good hands, he’s got real good puck skills and I thought that he had composure with the puck and he moved his feet and he was strong on it.”

The big return will be on the blue line where Vince Dunn will be back after a six-game absence taking the place of Robert Bortuzzo. Dunn took a puck to the mouth in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final and will be on a third pairing with Carl Gunnarsson. The Blues will get a boost in moving the puck, an area that needs improvement, with the 22-year-old’s return.

“He moves the puck as good as anybody on our team from our on end out transition-wise,” said Berube. “Dunn has the ability of doing high-end things in the offensive zone sometimes. Not all the time, but there’s just times where he can do things that wow you a little bit and make a great play, or score a goal from nothing. He can make something from nothing a lot of time in those areas.”

It hasn’t been an easy three weeks for Dunn, who recorded seven points in 16 playoff games prior to the injury. He currently has a mouth full of wires and has been consuming a little food and a lot of shakes to maintain weight.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“It feels like I have a mouthguard in at all times,” Dunn said Monday. “It’s not the easiest to be eating things. But other than that, I can’t really complain. I’m here in the finals, it’s very special to me, it’s very special to all of us.”

The Blues have had a difficult time transitioning out of their own zone and stopping the Bruins from maintaining possession and creating high-danger scoring chances. Dunn’s ability on the blue line to move the puck quickly and successfully out of the defensive zone will be a huge addition as they face the prospect of a 3-1 deficit.

 “We need to just move the puck up when the play’s there — not over-handle it, not overthink things — just make the play that’s in front of you,” Dunn said. “Our forwards have done a great job on the walls all season. We need to continue to trust them to be able to break the puck out, for our centers to support that underneath.

“I think the key to our game is to get out of our end, get through the neutral zone and get into the forecheck. I think our forwards are very good at cycling the puck and establishing a forecheck early. The faster we can do that I think the faster we’ll get to our game.”

Game 4 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Monday (stream here).

MORE BLUES-BRUINS:
Berube keeping the faith in Binnington after rough Game 3
Stanley Cup photos inside Bruins’ dressing room serve as inspiration
Conn Smythe Power Rankings entering Game 4
Fan runs 28 miles with giant Blues flag to attend Game 3

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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, Bruins turning to their depth for Game 3

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ST. LOUIS — John Moore has experienced entering a Stanley Cup Final in the middle of the series.

In 2014, while with the New York Rangers, he returned to the lineup for Game 2 against the Los Angeles Kings after serving a two-game suspension. Five years later, the 28-year-old defenseman is in another “next man up” situation, one that the Boston Bruins have gotten used to this season.

Matt Grzelcyk did not travel to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4 against the Blues after being boarded by Oskar Sundqvist of the Blues in Game 2. Sundqvist was suspended one game. Moore will take Grzelcyk’s place Saturday night.

“The forecheck was a strength of theirs [in Game 2] and a weakness of ours — breaking pucks out,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “[Grzelcyk] is good at the big escape and the big clean pass to get our forwards moving. We lost some of that element.”

Once again, Cassidy has to dip into his depth in an attempt to grab a 2-1 series lead (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) at Enterprise Center. Moore will likely fill in on the third pairing with Connor Clifton, and depending how the game goes, it’ll be interesting to see how the minutes are distributed on the back end.

For the Bruins, it’s been easy to slide in a new player when needed. The veteran core has seen their share of injuries over the years considering it’s a war of attrition to make it to the Cup Final.

“Well, I think for our team, our guys are so inclusive that they’re going to make that guy feel welcome,” said Cassidy. “Coming into good lineups, that certainly makes it easier. And it’s also on the individual. If he’s the type who a little more laid back, probably a little easier this time of year.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

“I feel like we’ve had that happen to us a number of times this season,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara. “Very early on, I think, in November, we probably lost three regulars on the back end and probably two or three regulars on the front and each time we had guys really stepping up playing big minutes and big roles and did a great job for our team. 

“I think that it’s not any different this time. We saw it in the playoffs a number of times guys played big, really answered some of the questions that we are answering today of how they’re going to be. They always respond well and this team always relies on the depth that we have.”

The Bruins (22) and Blues (21) have both needed to rely on extra bodies in these playoffs. As Cassidy deals with his own situation, Craig Berube will turn to Robby Fabbri and Zach Sanford to replace the injured Robert Thomas and suspended Sundqvist for Game 3.

Much like the Bruins, the Blues have had to use the “next man up” mentality. Despite two changes ahead for Game 3, the Blues are confident in their depth and they’re confident multiple new faces in the lineup won’t disrupt any part of their game plan.

“I think we have a good team. Anyone’s able to come in,” said Blues defenseman Colton Parayko. “We’ve done it all season long. Guys have stepped into different roles. Guys have done different things at different times. That’s the character of our group and it’s definitely not being tested.”

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 3:
The Wraparound: Stanley Cup Final returns to St. Louis
Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist suspended
Blues’ Tarasenko sniping at Ovechkin-like level
Grzelcyk’s absence could be significant for Bruins
Blues’ top line getting best of Bruins’ top line so far

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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.

Plugging holes: Bruins’ Moore ready to step in for Grzelcyk

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — John Moore is ready for his closeup and the chance to make an impact in the Stanley Cup Final.

Moore is expected to replace injured defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in the Boston Bruins’ lineup for Game 3 at the St. Louis Blues on Saturday night. Grzelcyk is in concussion protocol and didn’t travel with the team, and Moore took his place in practice Friday alongside Connor Clifton.

”This is why you train, why you prepare, why you take care of yourself,” Moore said. ”When you’re called upon, it’s time to do your job.”

The series is tied 1-1.

Moore for Grzelcyk is one of a couple holes being filled with injuries and a suspension affecting the plans for coaches Bruce Cassidy of the Bruins and Craig Berube of the Blues. Boston first-line center Patrice Bergeron and Blues first-line winger Vladimir Tarasenko are confirmed to play in Game 3 after each one missed practice for maintenance, but the lineups have to change slightly.

The Blues will be without important grinder Oskar Sundqvist after their only active player with a Cup ring was suspended one game for boarding Grzelcyk and knocking him out of Game 2 on Wednesday night. Zach Sanford is expected to go in the lineup for his first playoff action since the first round, though Berube wouldn’t confirm that and said injured forward Robert Thomas was a ”possibility” to play.

Neither one can replicate exactly what Sundqvist does for St. Louis.

”Does a lot of good things for us on both sides of the puck,” Berube said. ”Good penalty killer, center, wing, great defensively and has produced for us, too. Good player.”

Sanford hasn’t played since Game 3 of the Winnipeg series April 14. That’s an even longer layoff than Blues winger Robby Fabbri, who replaced Thomas in Game 2.

”The guys who haven’t been playing have done a good job of holding each other accountable,” Sanford said. ”We’ve been skating, working out. It’s a little different when you get into a game.”

Moore knows all about this stage after playing for the New York Rangers in the 2014 Cup Final against Los Angeles.

”It’s definitely one of those things you can take a deep breath, make sure you’re focused,” Moore said. ”There are a lot of distractions at this stage of the playoffs. If anything, I feel I’m more mature to handle that and be focused on my job.”

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