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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.

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.

Stanley Cup Final: Blues’ Thomas out for Game 2 vs. Bruins

BOSTON — Robert Thomas is out and Robby Fabbri may be in for the St. Louis Blues in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream).

Thomas did not play a shift following the big hit he received from Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug in Game 1. Having battled through an injury for the last few weeks, so much so he rarely participated in practices morning skates, Blues head coach Craig Berube said he made the decision to take the young forward out on Tuesday.

Berube noted that the decision to remove Thomas from the lineup is not related to the Krug hit.

Defenseman Vince Dunn, who’s been out with an upper-body injury after last playing in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final, will miss out again.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Fabbri, who hasn’t played since Game 5 in Round 2, slotted into Thomas’ spot on the Blues’ third line with Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon during Wednesday’s morning skate at TD Garden. He is a game-time decision, according to Berube. But with Dunn out, Fabbri will probably get in since there was no indication they were planning on going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen for Game 2.

“It’s a change, for sure,” Berube said. “But these guys are veteran players who have been around a long time. They’ll be fine. It’s going to be a different look for them, that’s all.”

Blues-Bruins (BOS leads 1-0) Game 2 is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET from TD Garden on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Bruins get spark from Krug’s big hit: ‘That gave me some goosebumps’

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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.

Bruins get spark from Krug’s big hit: ‘That gave me some goosebumps’

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BOSTON — Torey Krug was happy with two things Monday night. 

The first was that the Boston Bruins won Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final 4-2 over the St. Louis Blues. The second was that he was glad he recently got a haircut because midway through the third period he got to show it off much to the delight TD Garden crowd.

After Krug was involved in what David Backes described as a game of Twister with Blues forward David Perron in front of the Bruins’ net, Krug lost his helmet during the battle while the play was in the other end. No penalties were called and when Krug was finally free, instead of making a line change he charged into the other zone and laid a huge hit on Robert Thomas.

The hit came with the Bruins up 3-2 and dominating play after St. Louis took a 2-0 lead in the second period. It was a play that riled up an already amped Garden crowd and resonated with Krug’s teammates.

“That gave me some goosebumps,” said Backes. “He thinks he’s playing 30, 40 years ago. That was an exchange that was Torey Krug establishing himself in this series. From my perspective that was a big boost.”

“You don’t want to mess with that guy,” said Connor Clifton, who scored the Bruins first goal. “Don’t make that guy mad.”

“He’s a type of guy who never gives up,” said Tuukka Rask. “I saw him battle in front of the net. I just wanted to tell him to get out of there, join the rush. He had no helmet on so he wanted to make sure he made the highlights.”

Said David Pastrnak: “He just got a haircut a couple of days ago, so he was looking pretty good.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The 5-foot-9 Krug said that he saw an opportunity to be a second wave of attack as he sped toward the St. Louis zone. A good pass would have caught him streaking in for a scoring chance, but the puck ended up along the boards and as Thomas tried to slap it out of the zone, Krug was there to deliver the hit. Thomas did not play another shift for the remainder of the game.

“It’s part of a game,” said Krug afterward. “Momentum swings, it gives your team a boost of energy. I don’t know what they were feeling on their bench, but if it pushes them back and catches them off-guard, then great for our team. But I think it gave our team energy and that’s all you’re trying to do out there is make little plays throughout the game that pushes your team in the right direction and that was one of them.”

Game 1 quickly developed into a physical affair. There was plenty of bad blood created early, and while some might expect hate between two teams from opposite conferences to take time to build, there was no waiting around for that, and for good reason.

“When everything’s on the line like that, it’s going to come to the surface a lot quicker,” said Krug. “So this is a team that we don’t see too often. That rivalry factor’s not there. But I’m sure by the end of the series it’ll be something to talk about for a long time.”

Blues-Bruins Game 2 is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET from TD Garden on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Stanley Cup Buzzer: Kuraly, Bruins overwhelm Blues

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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 rookie Thomas playing above his age in playoff run

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — He is the youngest player on either roster in the Western Conference finals, but Blues rookie Robert Thomas is playing well beyond his age.

Thomas, who won’t turn 20 until July 2, showed off the offensive skill and speed against Dallas that led St. Louis to make him the 20th overall pick in the 2017 entry draft.

One goal and four assists might seem modest, but Thomas’ speed and chemistry with linemates Pat Maroon and Tyler Bozak helped the Blues advance to their first conference final since 1996 and just their fourth since 1970. His plus-5 play in the postseason is second-highest on the team.

Thomas assisted on both goals in their 2-1 win over the Stars in Game 7.

”He had a really good game,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. ”From the get-go, he had the puck and he was doing some real good stuff with it.”

With his assist on Maroon’s game-winner in double-overtime, the Canadian became just the second rookie in franchise history to figure in a series-clinching overtime goal. Doug Gilmore did it against Detroit in 1984. Thomas also became just the second teen in NHL history to factor into such a goal, joining Boston’s Bep Guidolin, who was 17 when he did it in 1943.

He wasn’t nervous and it showed.

”No, once you get out there it’s like every other game,” Thomas said. ”Obviously, the pressure is a lot, but you have to stay composed and really just focus on the game.”

Thomas wasn’t guaranteed a spot on the roster when the team began training camp in September. He struggled at times in the regular season, but finished with nine goals and 24 assists in 70 games. He improved as the season went on.

”I think it just took time for him to get settled in here in the NHL and find a comfort zone for him and I’m not sure exactly when it clicked in,” coach Craig Berube said. ”From the get go you could see the skill and talent he has. It just took a while to get up to speed. The NHL is a lot faster than junior and things are done quicker and harder and all that. He’s obviously a very smart player and got acclimated pretty quick.”

Meshing with Maroon and Bozak was perhaps the most important development.

”With Thomas, just unbelievable skill,” Maroon said. ”His hands in tight, it’s like stick handling in a phone booth. The guy can do a lot of good things. He drives the bus on the team. He’s got young legs, good skill and sees the ice so well. He’s probably one of the best players on our team on top and below the circles, how he can cut back and turn and how he can make plays in tight areas.”

The line is a bit of a variety show: The skilled Thomas, Bozak a top faceoff man and Maroon a big body who goes to the net. On the game-winner against Dallas, Bozak won the faceoff, Thomas used this speed to cut back, circle and create space for himself to release a shot that clanged off the post and deflected off the back of Stars goalie Ben Bishop. Maroon was there to clean up the rebound.

”I knew it was a big game, so I had to step up and really make my mark on the game,” Thomas said. ”As a line, we’ve been saying this all series. That when the time comes, we’ve really got to be the line that steps up and we’ve got to create the chances.”

Thomas’ play was so strong in Game 7 that Berube double-shifted him at times. He finished with 22 minutes, 50 seconds of time on the ice, a career high by almost four minutes.

The rookie has been living this season with former Blues star Keith Tkachuk as he gets settled in as a NHL player. Both of Tkachuk’s sons play in the NHL, Matthew for Calgary and Brady for Ottawa. Both sons have returned home with their respective teams’ seasons over so the Tkachuk household is pretty full.

Thomas, who was a teammate of Matthew with London in the Ontario Hockey League, now has some added clout with is standout play.

”Oh yeah, I don’t think they can boss me around anymore,” Thomas said. ”That’s great.”

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