Oskar Sundqvist

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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.

Chara to play Game 5 vs. Blues; Bruins go with seven defensemen

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Zdeno Chara clearly is injured, but the captain is going to play through it to help the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues Thursday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream).

He reportedly suffered a broken jaw when Brayden Schenn‘s shot struck him in the face during Game 4 on Monday. He returned to the bench, but was forced to sit out for the third period. It seems that’s the extent of the time he’ll miss though. Not only is he going to dress for Game 5, but he’s one of Boston’s starters.

The fact that he’s willing to soldier through it is huge for Boston, which is already dealing with the absence of defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. He hasn’t played since being hit from behind by Oskar Sundqvist and while Grzelcyk was listed as a game-time decision on Thursday, he ultimately wasn’t out with his teammates for the pregame warmups. The silver lining there is that he did skate Thursday morning without the non-contact jersey he had previously donned.

Boston will also dress Steven Kampfer tonight, giving them seven defensemen. That might be a move to put a little less pressure on Chara and to that end, it will be interesting to see how much time each blueliner gets tonight.

To make room in the lineup, former Blues captain David Backes will not play for Boston against his old team. Backes has averaged just 9:44 minutes per game in the 2019 playoffs and was on the ice for 9:09 minutes in Game 4.

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

What Blues miss with Sundqvist suspended for Game 3

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With Matt Grzelcyk injured, the Boston Bruins lose a valuable puck-mover. The St. Louis Blues, meanwhile, will miss the guy who injured Grzelcyk, as Oskar Sundqvist was suspended for Game 3 (8 p.m. ET on Saturday on NBCSN; stream here) of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Like with Grzelcyk, you get a better idea of how much Sundqvist’s absence stings when you dig deeper.

While Blues coach Craig Berube is trying to keep things close to the vest heading into Game 3, Zach Sanford skated in Sundqvist’s spot alongside Alexander Steen and Ivan Barbashev on Friday, hinting at that being the possible trio. Berube spoke about what Sundqvist brings to the table, via the Blues website:

“You miss a lot (losing Sundqvist),” Berube said. “He’s a good player, does a lot of good things for us on both sides of the puck. Good penalty killer, plays center, wing, great defensively and has produced for us in the playoffs, too.”

[MORE: Berube instilled confidence in Blues when they needed it the most.]

Berube’s assessment looks pretty accurate, whether you dive deep or keep things simple.

Sundqvist’s averaged 15:55 TOI per game during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the sixth-highest average among Blues forwards. Sundqvist’s near-16 minutes of nightly ice time ranks comfortably ahead of Tyler Bozak (14:26) and Robert Thomas (13:19), which serves as a nod to Sundqvist’s versatility.

It’s pretty clear that Sundqvist has earned the trust of the Blues’ coaching staff, as his ice time really soared once the calendar year hit 2019. He’s been a steady penalty killer for St. Louis, logging 1:29 PK time per game, the third-highest total among Blues forwards (though right there with Barbashev’s 1:25 average).

Sundqvist distinguishes himself for more-than-breaking-even in deeper stats at Natural Stat Trick, even though he’s frequently been deployed in less glamorous situations. The sexiest fact might be that he’s been on the ice for 11 goals for versus just five against at even-strength so far during the postseason, but there are other promising numbers.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

And, even the simplest stats and considerations are positive. Sundqvist has four goals and five assists for nine points in 21 postseason games so far, which is impressive when you consider his so-so opportunities to score, and it’s not as though he’s enjoying absurd puck luck with just a 9.8 shooting percentage.

Sundqvist isn’t going to put up numbers that rival Alex Ovechkin like his teammate Vladimir Tarasenko, yet he’s a nice piece of a Blues team that enjoys a nice mix of top-end talent and depth. When you consider how deadly the Bruins’ power play can be, the PK might end up being the spot where Sundqvist is missed the most, although Sundqvist brings enough to the table that it’s open to debate.

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

More from the 2019 Stanley Cup Final

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Blues’ Sundqvist suspended one game for boarding Grzelcyk

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When the 2019 Stanley Cup Final shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 on Saturday night the host Blues will be without center Oskar Sundqvist.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Thursday night that Sundqvist has been suspended one game for boarding Boston Bruins defender Matt Grzelcyk in the first period of the Blues’ 3-2 overtime win in Game 2.

Sundqvist was only assessed a two-minute minor penalty during the game, while Grzelcyk did not return.

His status for Games 3 and 4 of the series remains unknown at this point as he is currently in the concussion protocol and listed as being “day-to-day” by the Bruins. He did not accompany the team on its trip to St. Louis on Thursday.

Here is another look at the play as well as the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

It has been a breakout season for Sundqvist as he has emerged as a strong depth player for the Blues. After finishing the regular season with 14 goals and 31 total points, he has made a sizable impact in the playoffs with a handful of big goals and a strong defensive presence. Through the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final he has four goals and nine total points.

If Grzelcyk is unable to go — something that seems likely —  for the Bruins as a result of the injury it is going to be a significant loss for their blue line as he has become one of their best puck-moving defenders. If he can not play he will be replaced by either John Moore or Steve Kampfer in the lineup.

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

Related: Grzelcyk’s absence could be significant for Bruins

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.

Grzelcyk’s absence would be significant for Bruins

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Matt Grzelcyk isn’t one of the household names on the Boston Bruins’ defense, but do not let that take away from just how important he has become for the team.

That importance was on display for much of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night when he wasn’t available following a hit from St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist is facing a suspension for the hit, while the Bruins announced on Thursday that Grzelcyk is listed as “day-to-day” as he enters the concussion protocol.

He is also not making the trip to St. Louis with the team on Thursday, leaving his status for Games 3 and 4 of the series very much in doubt.

This would be a problem for the Bruins.

First, Grzelyck has developed into one of the more underrated players on the Bruins’ roster due to his ability to skate and move the puck. He may not be one of their big-minute players or one of their top point producers, but he is excellent when it comes to starting the rush out of the defensive zone and breaking down the opposing forecheck, an area where St. Louis feasted in Game 2, and especially after Grzelcyk exited the game.

“Losing the 15 to 16 minutes of [Grzelcyk’s] time, he’s a good puck mover and a guy that can break down a forecheck when he’s on,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy following the Game 2 loss.

“The forecheck was a strength of theirs tonight and a weakness of ours — breaking pucks out. [Grzelcyk] is good at the big escape and the big clean pass to get our forwards moving. We lost some of that element.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just to get a sense for how good Grzelcyk is at helping the Bruins move the puck and transition to the offensive zone, there is not a defender on the team that starts a higher percentage of their shifts in the defensive zone. Despite those tough assignments he is still one of their best defenders when it comes to shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and high-danger scoring chance differential. In other words, they are still creating more offense than their opponents when he is on the ice even though he is consistently being put into defensive situations, furthest away from the attacking net.

“He’s been fantastic,” said Brandon Carlo, one of Grzelcyk’s many defense partners in the playoffs.

“Obviously he’s gotten some pucks in the net here in the playoffs and brought that offensive presence. Have lot of respect for the way he plays. He’s very responsible offensively. I’ve had the opportunity to be played with him at times, and it makes the game a lot easier for his partner, just with the way he sees the ice and moves the puck.”

If he is not available the Bruins not only have to replace his spot (with either John Moore or Steve Kampfer) but there is also the potential trickle down impact that comes with him not being there. The Bruins have rolled their three defense pairings fairly evenly throughout the playoffs, and losing Grzelcyk’s minutes could put more pressure on some of the other blue liners that aren’t quite as effective as he is when it comes to moving the puck.

Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug are impact players and make plays in all three zones, but there is a pretty sharp drop-off on the rest of the defense when it comes to that aspect of the game. If either Moore or Kampfer were better than Grzelcyk, they would be playing over him, so there is obviously going to be some sort of a drop when it comes to his replacement. Zdeno Chara isn’t quite what he was years ago, and while Carlo is a strong defensive player he has some limitations when it comes to making plays with the puck on his stick.

The positive news for the Bruins is that dealing with injuries to significant players is not a new thing for them over the past two years. Just about all of their best players have missed an extended period of time (often times together) and they have still managed to keep winning games. It is a testament to the depth they have assembled and the job that Cassidy and his staff have done behind the bench.

But this isn’t some random stretch in the middle of November. This is the Stanley Cup Final where there is little margin for error, you are playing a great team every night, and that opposing coaching staff is doing far more intense scouting and game-planning that is designed to exploit whatever weakness you have.

If Grzelcyk is forced to miss time, that could prove to be a significant weakness that the Blues might be able to exploit.

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

MORE:
Blues’ Sundqvist facing hearing for Grzelcyk hit
Sundqvist only gets minor penalty for hit

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.