Thursday, June 13, 2019

Finally, Blues reach pinnacle with franchise's first Stanley Cup with Game 7 win over Bruins

4-1 win at Boston signifies first Cup in 
nearly 52 years; O'Reilly wins Conn Smythe

By LOU KORAC
BOSTON -- As the seconds ticked off the TD Garden clock, those ticks signified the pinnacle of climbing that mountain that started on the bottom on Jan. 3.

On June 12, the St. Louis Blues climbed past 30 teams to reach the top and with it, won the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history with a 4-1 win over the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
The Blues pose with the Stanley Cup, their first in franchise history, after
defeating the Boston Bruins, 4-1 in Game 7 on Wednesday at TD Garden.

The Blues, who had the fewest points in the NHL on Jan. 3, became the first team in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup after being in last place at the turn of the calendar. 

The Blues, who won the series 4-3, got a goal and assist each from Conn Smythe Trophy winner Ryan O'Reilly and Alex Pietrangelo, and Jordan Binnington became the first rookie goalie in NHL history to win 16 games in one playoff season. 

The Blues, coming off a disappointing 5-1 loss in Game 6 to bring the series back to Boston in a winner-take-all game, built a 2-0 first-period lead on goals by O'Reilly and Pietrangelo 3:05 apart, a period in which the Blues were outshot 12-4 but got scintillating goaltending from Binnington.

Brayden Schenn and Salem, Mass. native Zach Sanford added third-period goals to cap off an incredible second half to the season and Stanley Cup Playoff run that culminated in the Blues' first Cup title.

"You build those relationships by going through tough times," said Pietrangelo, who logged 25 minutes 56 seconds of ice time. "A lot of us have played a lot of games here. We're close, tough start, this year just brings you closer together. It's a tight group, trust me. That's why we play the way we do.

"A lot of work and off-season's, seasons. It's unbelievable. It's probably hard to believe, but it doesn't matter now. Here we are."

Here they are, after significant free agent signings (Tyler Bozak and David Perron on July 1, along with the acquisition of O'Reilly from the Buffalo Sabres for three players and two draft picks and the signing of Oakville's Pat Maroon on July 10), a coaching change that saw Craig Berube replace Mike Yeo on Nov. 19, the Blues were 15-18-4 when they woke up on Jan. 3, then reeled off a franchise-record 11-game winning streak that vaulted them back into contention, then they eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in six games, Dallas Stars in seven games, San Jose Sharks in six games and now the Bruins in seven.

Somehow, some way, they found a way to reach the mountain top.

"We went through a lot as a team, you know, and we ended up battling our way into the playoffs, so then you start to think about what can happen, so we had to get there first of all," Berube said.

Once they got there, it was all systems go.

"We played a lot of games this year, it's going to be a short summer for me again," said Perron, who was on the losing end of the Stanley Cup last season with Vegas, which lost to first-time winner Washington. "This is the best summer possible. I can't wait to have my day with the Cup. We worked for this our whole lives. I'm really excited." 

"We've been waiting for this for so many freaking years," Maroon said. "And to be from St. Louis and put this sweater on every night, holy cow. We brought it. We brought it home."

Binnington, much like Game 5, gave the Blues a chance with some brilliant goaltending in the first period. 

The Blues were outshot 12-4, were careless with the puck in their own zone, but their netminder was there time and time again until the Blues got the game's first two goals.

O'Reilly's fifth in four games opened the scoring at 16:47 to make it 1-0. He deflected a Jay Bouwmeester shot between Rask's legs off a wrister from the point. 

O'Reilly became the third player in NHL history to score his team’s opening goal in four straight Cup Final games, joining Sid Smith in 1951 (Games 1-4) and Norm Ullman in 1966 (Games 3-6).

This is the same O'Reilly who was so excited to get traded to the Blues, his first words to general manager Doug Armstrong, who phoned him to welcome him to St. Louis were "Let's go win a Cup," he fulfilled his end of the bargain.

"It's a heck of a journey," O'Reilly said. "It's crazy. The ups and downs of it. The ability to just stay with it knowing it's a process, to actually lift that now, it's tough to describe. It's a dream come true. These guys worked so hard for it. There's so many people involved that we found a way to do it."

Pietrangelo made it 2-0 with 7.9 seconds left in the first after Jaden Schwartz chipped the puck in the zone past Brad Marchand, then went in and got it. As Marchand left the ice on a bad line change, Schwartz found Pietrangelo cutting to the net and he went forehand, backhand and lifted a shot over Rask on the Blues' fourth shot of the period. The goals came on consecutive shots.

Once the Blues got that lead, they locked it down in the neutral zone and defensively. Boston outshot the Blues 33-20, but most of those quality scoring chances came in the first period.

(St. Louis Blues photo)
Jordan Binnington hoists the Stanley Cup on
Wednesday. Binnington became the first rookie
goalie in NHL history to post 16 wins in one
playoff season.
When Schenn made it 3-0 at 11:25 of the third, off a pass from Vladimir Tarasenko, the coffin was shutting, and when Sanford, who used to watch the Bruins play as a kid with his father Michael, who passed away at the end of training camp prior to the regular season because of a heart attack, scored at 15:22, the celebration was beginning to percolate.

"It's pretty awesome," said Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who logged a game-high 28:34 finishing his 16th season. "You do for long enough and you always think, and you hope, that you have a chance. You didn't want to waste this opportunity. We have such a special group. This is what it's all about. To cap it off, it's something you're connected (to) forever."

Matt Grzelcyk, who returned to the Bruins lineup after sustaining a concussion from a check from Oskar Sundqvist in Game 2, ended Binnington's shutout bid with 2:10 remaining but the score was academic by then.

Then NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, after the Blues celebrated and shook hands with the Bruins, handed the Conn Smythe Trophy to O'Reilly, who along with Boston's Brad Marchand led the NHL with 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists) in 26 playoff games, before handing Pietrangelo the Stanley Cup.

Pietrangelo said there was no doubt he was giving it to Bouwmeester, who then handed it to Alexander Steen, who passed it on to Chris Thorburn and so forth.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

(6-12-19) Blues-Bruins Game 7 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- Joel Edmundson is in and Robert Thomas is out as the Blues will make two lineup changes ahead of the biggest game in franchise history when they face the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final today at TD Garden (7 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).

Edmundson, who was a healthy scratch for Games 5 and 6, will replace Robert Bortuzzo and play alongside of Vince Dunn.

"I spoke with Chief [coach Craig Berube] yesterday so I knew last night," Edmundson said. "I kind of found out for sure this morning. I've played in, I think, three Game 7s now, so this will be my fourth. None of them compared to this one. It's obviously one of the biggest games of my life.  

"It's going to be a helluva game tonight. We're excited. We're a confident group right now. We're just looking to get things going."

Berube cited that there will be a lot of minutes tonight played between Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko, so having two lefties on the third pair won't be an issue.

"With Parayko and Pietrangelo on the right side, they're just eating so many minutes up," Berube said. "There's not a lot of minutes over there. We decided to go with the four lefties then. What [Edmundson] can bring, he can bring a lot. He's got some real good upside, shoots the puck well, big guy, big body, physical player. He does do some things well in the offensive zone. I like his shot."

Berube cited Thomas not being in as a "coach's decision." Thomas, who returned for Game 6 after missing Games 2-5 with a lingering wrist injury and not stemming from a hit taken by Boston defenseman Torey Krug in Game 1, played just 9 minutes 21 seconds in Game 6 and had no shot attempts. 

It's pretty obvious that Thomas was not ready to play.

- - -

The Cup Final started 16 days ago, and both the Blues and Bruins have seen enough of each other throughout this series. 

With everything at stake and all players with that knowledge, what's left to be said?

"I don't think anything," said Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester, who will be playing in his 1,259th game (regular season and playoffs) tonight. "It is what it is. It seems like we've been playing these guys for a month. Everyone knows what's on the line. You prepare yourself. It's exciting and all that, but you've got to go play a game, so you just prepare yourself to play the best game you can.

"We've got a lot of time until the game, so you really don't want to get too excited right now. Everyone knows what's on the line, both teams. It's human nature. It's little nerves and things before the game. Once the game starts, you get into it as much as possible."

For goalie Jordan Binnington, who will be playing in the second NHL Game 7 (2019 second round, a 2-1 double-overtime win over Dallas) of his career, the feeling is no different.

"It's all actions now," said Binnington, who is 7-2 with a 1.86 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in the postseason following a loss. "It's the biggest stage we can play in. It's exciting and I think the group's really excited to get started tonight.

"I'm exited. It's obviously a huge stage, biggest stage you can get. It should be fun. ... It's one game. Whoever wants it more will get it. ... We know we can win in this building. It's a tough building to play in, but they're going to come hard tonight and we're going to come hard. It'll be two good teams going at it. It should be fun to watch. It's a special opportunity, it's something you dream of as a kid. We're here, we're living it here today and hopefully tonight."

- - -

The Blues and doctors have already made Laila Anderson's life a living dream with her inclusion to attend games during the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Flying her and her mom Heather to Boston for Game 7 was the ultimate dream, one that made the little girl diagnosed two years ago with Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocystosis, or HLH, a rare immune disorder that required her to undergo chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant in January.

"It’s great," Berube said. "I think it’s great inspiration and obviously a great story, and we’re really happy about it."

Here's the video her mom posted, sent through the Blues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFV6mBxpafk

"Oh, it’s amazing," Blues forward and Oakville native Pat Maroon said. "That video last night her mom posted was truly amazing. She’s been an inspiration to all of us throughout the year and Alex Steen has done a good job of bringing her and making her feel comfortable, Colton Parayko the same way, making her feel welcome to the team and the St. Louis Blues welcome her and her family. It’s been truly amazing. 

"She’s a fighter and she’s going to continue to fight. She’s our inspiration. We look up to her, what she has to go through every single day. To get on that plane, I know the doctors are questionable of getting her out there because of her health and to say that she gets to come on the plane and travel out here to see us play, that’s truly amazing. I’m so happy for her."

- - -

* Blues center Ryan O'Reilly, who has four goals the past three games, can become the third player in NHL history to score his team’s opening goal in four straight Cup Final games, joining Sid Smith in 1951 (Games 1-4) and Norm Ullman in 1966 (Games 3-6).

* Home teams own a 12-4 advantage in the 16 prior Game 7s in the Stanley Cup Final, but road teams have won each of the past two – in 2011 (BOS at VAN) and 2009 (PIT at DET).

* Including all rounds, this marks the 178th Game 7 in NHL history. The team that scores first is 131-46 (.740), including 11-5 in the Stanley Cup Final and 3-2 in 2019. Home teams are 104-73 (.587), including 4-1 in 2019.

* The Blues are playing their 18th Game 7 (9-8) and 11th on the road (4-6). Only two franchises in NHL history have played more Game 7s as visitors: the Maple Leafs (16) and Canadiens (12).

* The Blues are seeking to become the seventh team in NHL history – and first since 2000 – to win three games as a visitor during the Stanley Cup Final. The only teams that have done so: the 1921 Senators (at VMI), 1928 Rangers (at MMR), 1945 Maple Leafs (at DET), 1966 Canadiens (at DET), 1990 Oilers (at BOS) and 2000 Devils (at DAL). Each of the prior six won the Stanley Cup.

* The Blues are 9-3 on the road this postseason, including 5-0 after a loss, outscoring opponents 38-29. Only five teams in league history have won 10 games as visitors during a single playoff year: the 1995 New Jersey Devils (10-1), 2012 Los Angeles Kings (10-1), 2000 Devils (10-2), 2018 Washington Capitals (10-3) and 2004 Calgary Flames (10-4).

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Sammy Blais-Tyler Bozak-Pat Maroon

Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Joel Edmundson-Vince Dunn

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Robert ThomasRobert Bortuzzo, Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Chris Butler and Ville Husso

- - -

The Bruins' projected lineup:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Karson Kuhlman

Marcus Johansson-Charlie Coyle-Danton Heinen

Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo

John Moore-Matt Grzelcyk 

Tuukka Rask will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.

The healthy scratches include David Backes, Connor Clifton and Steven Kampfer. Chris Wagner (arm) and Kevan Miller (lower body) are out.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

"Our best players have to be our best players"

One game, one winner, one prize; Blues' top guns want to perform at their best 
in biggest game of their careers with Stanley Cup on line in Game 7 vs. Bruins

By LOU KORAC
BOSTON -- Coaches use the term all the time, mostly heard during games throughout the regular season.

"Our best players have to be our best players," they say.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (57) and Ryan O'Reilly are hoping to, as O'Reilly said, "play
the best game of my life" in Game 7 tomorrow against Boston.

Former Blues coach Ken Hitchcock was notorious for saying it in his media comments. Current coach Craig Berube not so much, only when asked, he'll use it, but coaches will often say it.

Game 7. Stanley Cup Final. First-ever chance for the Blues to win it.

This game doesn't get any better. It doesn't get any bigger.

Biggest moment.

Spotlight.

Bright lights.

Best players.

Come on down, Vladimir Tarasenko.

Step to the plate, Ryan O'Reilly.

Make a big splash, Brayden Schenn.

Strut your stuff, Alex Pietrangelo.

Yes, the bill fits. If the Blues' best players are going to be their best players for a game, ONE GAME, this need to be it.

"Absolutely. No doubt about it," said Blues forward Brayden Schenn, who centers the top line with Schwartz and Tarasenko. "Game 5, it was tight out there. Game 6, we weren't as good, but at the end of the day, we're guys that get put in offensive situations, play a lot of minutes, a lot of key minutes, help the forward group go. We've got to step up and have a big game tomorrow night.

"... It's a great opportunity for everyone on both sides. You may never get this chance again in your lifetime. You go out there, have fun with it, enjoy it and make the most of it."

O'Reilly, who has four goals the past three games and has 21 points (seven goals, 14 assists) in the playoffs for the Blues, tied with Brett Hull (1990) for the most in team history, was acquired July 1, 2018 from the Buffalo Sabres and in his first conversation with general manager Doug Armstrong after the trade, said, "Let's go win a Cup."

Well, the Blues have that chance. 

By winning a game.

If their best players be just that, those chances are amplified.

"That's something I can't control right now. It's just getting the body feeling good and staying light, but for sure, this has got to be the best game of my life," O'Reilly said. "I feel everyone in the room feels that as well, and that's what Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final is. It's that, it's everyone bringing everything they have and our best will hopefully beat their best."

It doesn't mean the role players won't be counted on. This will be a 20-man effort, a lineup Berube feels is best equipped to win what is now the biggest game in Blues history.

"If you can take this, you would take it any day of the week, right," Berube said. "We're in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals. You should be excited and everybody is excited to go play. It's not really adversity. It's a great challenge and a great opportunity. One game."

One game, he says. Simple enough, right?

"Everyone's going to be ready," said Blues forward Ivan Barbashev, who returns after missing Game 6 due to a suspension. "This is the last game of the season and you've just got to give everything you've got. Game 7, there's nothing better than that. If you lose it, it hurts. If you win, it's even (a) better feeling."

Is it ever.

"Here we are, what an exciting time to be a hockey player," Schenn said. "You have to win one game to lift the Stanley Cup. We would have taken that back in January when we were in last place. ... Anything can happen on one game. You've got to bring your best and we'll see what happens."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Alex Pietrangelo (right) hopes he and the Blues are
doing the celebrating in Game 7 against Boston.

And how about Pat Maroon, who signed with his hometown Blues, the team he and his dad and brothers grew up watching years ago, the kid from Oakville who spurned more money to sign a one-year deal to help the Blues get here.


The puzzle, which Maroon helped keep alive with his dramatic Game 7 double-overtime winner in the second round against the Dallas Stars, can complete itself with a win.

One more win.

"It’s awesome," Maroon said. "To do it in my hometown and put that sweater on every night, the team I grew up watching, to have an opportunity to play in a Game 7 and live out my childhood dream is truly amazing. It should be a fun game tomorrow.

"It’s been a roller-coaster of events. There’s been a lot of highs and lows throughout the season for me. We stuck together as a team, guys came together close and guys just battled hard for each other. That’s why we are where we are right now. It’s an opportunity where winner takes all and they get to take home that big old trophy that everyone has been waiting for eight months of hockey. This is something that guys in this locker room will never … you never know when this opportunity is going to come. It all comes down to who’s going to work harder tomorrow."

Monday, June 10, 2019

Blues embrace Game 7 winner-take-all for Cup

Despite chance to close out Bruins on home ice, 
opportunity still exists; Stanley Cup still within grasp

By LOU KORAC
BERKELEY, Mo. -- As the Blues boarded a flight to Boston, there were no 'oh woe is me' attitudes.

Why would there be?

The Blues will be competing for a Stanley Cup in the ultimate of games, Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins on Wednesday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues coach Craig Berube talking to his players during Game 6 against the
Boston Bruins on Sunday.

It's the kind of games dreams are made of.

And these Blues, who all will be playing in a Game 7 Cup Final game, can achieve those goals. So why not embrace it?

"You have to," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "You grow up playing in the Stanley Cup Final, Game 7, that’s what you talk about as a kid. It’s a great opportunity. We’ve played well on the road so we’re excited.

"... That’s it. Winner take all. It’s one game. Get your mind ready. It’s just one more game."

Did the Blues blow a big chance to win the Cup in Game 6, a 5-1 loss, at home, in front of their raucous fans that spilled out onto Market Street and surrounding areas in downtown streets, with Charles Glenn performing for the final time, with 11-year-old Laila Anderson in the house, with Jon Hamm in the house, with Jenna Fischer in the house, with 50-plus alumni watching up above and those that have been diehards for nearly 52 years? Yeah, they did. It doesn't mean all is done. All it means is that there will be another game, and with another game means there can very well be one more win.

Somebody will win the Cup on Wednesday, and the Blues still can do it.

"They're already over it," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said, referring to Game 6. "Every kid, every player dreams about a Game 7. They probably played a hundred of them in their heads already as a kid or even adult, whatever. That's over with, Game 6. They've moved on from that already."

Have they?

"It's tough not to think about different games, especially in the playoffs, but I think we've done a good job as a group just taking games, putting them behind us when need be and just focusing on the next one and I think this is going to be like no other," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "We're just going to do that and we're going to focus on Game 7. This is the biggest game obviously of all our careers. This is going to be a fun one and this is going to be one we'll never forget."

It has been repeated a number of times, including in this space, that the Blues for some reason or another, play better on the road. Their 9-3 record in the playoffs is proof positive of it, and they've already won twice at TD Garden, and will have to do so a third time in order to achieve ultimate glory.

"We had a lot of practice on the road in January and February," Berube said. "I think that really helped a lot."

Certainly it did, because the Blues were in a win-now mode since early January, and playing a lot of games away from Enterprise Center were in the makings. That success spilled over into the playoffs. The Blues went 3-0 at Winnipeg in the first round, 2-1 against Dallas in the second round, 2-1 against San Jose in the third round and are 2-1 against Boston.

"I think we've got to approach it the same as all games right now, the way that we play on the road," Parayko said. 'We're simple, we get pucks in deep, we just play hockey that's hard to play against and when we do that, we're tough to beat. I just think that we're going to focus on that, make sure that we stay consistent with our game and if do that, we'll give ourselves a good chance to win. I think that's what we should do."

But this isn't any road game. This is THE game. This is the winner-take-all game. This is for all the marbles, so how can you just take this as a simple road game?

You can't.

"Yeah, I mean, you're going to be nervous. That's natural," Berube said. "You should be. It means you care and you want to do well. But once you drop the puck, you get a shift in or two shifts in, that goes away, you just play hockey. That's what it really boils down to.

"It's just about the effort and competitiveness and getting some bounces, winning your one-on-one battles. That kind of stuff is what you focus on out there."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
In order for the Blues to win the Stanley Cup, they'll have to win one more
game on the road, like Game 5 of the Cup Final in Boston.

That's why as the Blues boarded their charter plane on Monday afternoon, not much needed to be said.

"I don’t think we really have to say much," Blues forward Jaden Schwartz said. "I know everyone’s very, very excited, anxious to get there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, something you dream about so, just talking to a few guys coming over in the car, it’s pretty easy to see how excited guys are and how pumped up they are.

"We’re in the Cup Final for a reason. We’ve got a lot of confidence in our game and ourselves. Just comes down to one game. Everyone’s excited and we still have that belief; we never lost it."

Blues fall flat in bid for Stanley Cup with 5-1 loss to Bruins in Game 6

Chance to clinch first-ever Cup championship in front of home 
fans falls by wayside to force Game 7 Wednesday in Boston 

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The buildup before the game was unlike anything ever seen here before a hockey game. Downtown was amass with Blues fans, packed like sardines on Market Street and the surrounding areas, and inside Enterprise Center for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins, fans were ready to blow the roof off the building in anticipation of St. Louis' first-ever Cup championship.

The Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe Trophy were in the building, waiting to be handed out to only one potential champion on this night. The Blues had 11-year-old Laila Anderson in their corner, Charles Glenn was performing the national anthem for the final time, countless Blues fans that have been with them through thick and thin for nearly 52 years. They had so many things in their corner to spell a night St. Louis would never forget. 

Television stars -- and Blues fans -- Jon Hamm and Jenna Fischer were in the house, and that didn't matter either. 
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Thousands of Blues fans packed the streets of St. Louis in anticipation of the
Blues winning their first-ever Stanley Cup on Sunday. The Blues were not
able to come through after losing 5-1 to Boston in Game 6, forcing Game 7.

The Bruins had other ideas and spoiled the party with a 5-1 win to force a Game 7 winner-take-all game for the Stanley Cup on Wednesday at TD Garden.

And even those that remained until the end that were chanting "Let's Go Blues" and "We Want The Cup" in appreciation of everything that the Blues had given the sellout crowd one final time this season, it still was a somber locker room knowing they let a golden opportunity slip through their hands and a chance to make history here.

"They were loud all game," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said of the fans. "They were great from the beginning. So the support has been there. We know it’s there.

"... It’s good support. We’ll be ready to rock in a couple of days."

Ryan O'Reilly scored the lone Blues goal, his fourth in the past three games in the series, and Jordan Binnington, who came in 3-0 with a 1.17 goals-against average and .947 save percentage in series-clinching games, made 27 saves but allowed a stinker of a goal to Brandon Carlo early in the third period that was crucial in what was a 1-0 game at the time.

The Blues once again had early momentum but gave it away with penalties and Boston made them pay.

Brayden Schenn's boarding penalty at 7:17 put the Blues down a man, then they were forced to kill off a 58-second 5-on-3 when O'Reilly flipped a bouncing puck into the stands for delay of game all as a result of a failed Pietrangelo clearing attempt. The Blues couldn't get the necessary kill and Marchand's one-timer from the low right circle made it 1-0 at 8:40.

"I'll take a little blame for that. That penalty set them up on the 5-on-3 and gave them a lot of confidence with a big goal there," O'Reilly said. "We could have killed that penalty and gotten back to work, and hopefully we get that first one."

The Blues played a pretty good first period despite getting outshot 12-9, but the penalties and power play, which went without a goal in two tries in the first and early in the second and 1-for-16 in the series.

The Blues had two more power plays in the second period, and true to form, wasted those with nothing to show for them, looking once again too passive and hesitant to make plays with the puck, making them 1-for-18 in the series.

They generated 12 shots off the power play but no momentum as a result of not scoring.

"Well, we had 12 shots," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "We did have momentum, we had some good looks. We didn't score. [Tuukka] Rask made some good saves. 

"Can it be better? Yeah, it has to be better. It could have won us the game tonight, but I don't think it was ... we had good looks. We had 12 shots on the power play tonight, but we've definitely got to bury a couple."

The game was still there to be had in the third period, and the crowd was waiting to erupt, but Carlo's seemingly one-hopper handcuffed Binnington, went off the cuff of his blocker off the post and in for a deflating goal to make it 2-0 at 2:31.

"Well, a lucky bounce, second goal," Berube said. "A bounce off the ice got under Binner's arm I believe. That's tough there and set us back. They get the third one, we got spread out a little bit and you get away from your game a little bit."

The puck management in the situation was poor by the Blues. Vince Dunn's drop pass to Pietrangelo was not good, forcing the Blues captain to retrieve it below his own goal line. Then Pietrangelo tried backhanding it off the boards but the puck hit referee Chris Rooney, who was directly in the way, and the puck got to the point, and the rest is history.

"It obviously was tough," O'Reilly said. "Gave them a little jump. And then they start playing a little looser. It was tough. It was a tough deficit to overcome."

The Blues opened things up, and that's a bad recipe. Karson Kuhlman, making his debut in the series, wired a wrist shot top shelf at 10:15 to make it 3-0 and pretty much stamp a Game 7.

O'Reilly got the Blues on the board finally at 12:01, a goal that needed to be looked at before being confirmed, but David Pastrnak, who along with Marchand had a goal and an assist, scored at 14:06 to make it 4-1 when Sammy Blais got knocked off a puck behind his net and Zdeno Chara added an empty-netter at 17:41 to round out the scoring sending the crowd to the exits.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (middle) and the Blues were no match for Tuukka Rask (40)
and the Boston Bruins in Game 6 on Sunday night.

"Most of us have let it go," O'Reilly said. "Of course we wanted to win. It didn’t happen. We have to move on, get ready for the next one. We’re confident. We’re a great road team. Maybe that’s our story. Maybe we have to get it done on the road."

"I’m already excited for the next game," Blues forward David Perron said. "It’s going to be the best game of our life. We’re going to put everything on the line, empty the tank. It’s going to be exciting.

"(The crowd outside) was crazy. We stayed at the hotel there in the afternoon, and you could hear people honking and yelling, ‘Let’s! Go! Blues!’ You could see people walking up and down the street. It was a cool sighting, and cool when we get our police escort around the rink to go around the whole thing. Our fans have been great, and we’re going to do everything we can to get another thing similar, maybe bigger."

Sunday, June 9, 2019

(6-9-19) Bruins-Blues Game 6 Gameday Lineup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues needed a replacement for Ivan Barbashev, who is suspended for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins on Sunday (7 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM), who better than Robert Thomas?

Well, after getting the feel that Thomas could be out the rest of the playoffs with a lingering wrist injury, the 19-year-old rookie will get the chance to help the Blues clinch the first Stanley Cup in franchise history when he returns to the lineup tonight.

Thomas, who has one goal and five assists in 20 playoff games, declared himself ready to go after Sunday's heavily-populated optional skate.

""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.

"It's the hardest thing to watch your teammates go out there and they put us in a great position. I'm happy to be able to get out there and hopefully help them out."

Blues coach Craig Berube had a lengthy conversation with Thomas at the end of practice Saturday and it was a simple conversation regarding how Thomas, who has six points (one goal, five assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games, was feeling.

"He was just asking how I was feeling and how my legs felt since I haven't been on the ice the last couple days," Thomas said. "That was pretty much the gist of it. I obviously said how I felt, which is great."

Thomas will replace Barbashev, who was suspended one game for an illegal check to the head of Boston forward Marcus Johansson in Game 4.

"Well, he said he could play," Berube said of Thomas. "He was ready to play, so he feels good enough to play and we need a player. 

"He started feeling better and just a little bit of time off has helped too. So when we lost Barbashev, we talked to him and he’s ready to go.

"It was always in the back of my mind and obviously his mind, too. 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." 

Thomas will jump back in and play right wing on a line with center Tyler Bozak and left wing Pat Maroon, who was smiling from ear-to-ear when the topic of Thomas came up.

"I'm excited," Maroon said. "I like to call him 'Therm.' Therm's a guy that, he's got fresh legs and he's young, he's 19. He's the guy that drove our line, me and Bozie. He's done a really good job of moving his feet, making high-end plays, protecting the puck in the O-zone, making smart plays out of the D-zone. 

"I'm happy for him. He's healthy, he's ready to go. You never want to see any of your teammates go down, but I'm happy he gets the opportunity to play tonight."

With Barbashev shelved for tonight, Sammy Blais will draw the assignment of playing with Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen.

- - -

The biggest game in the history of this franchise is going to go down tonight, and the Blues are primed and ready.

All the talk is to stay composed, have a good first period, remain disciplined and most importantly, play a straight-line game, because it can be ready easy to have thoughts of hoisting that Cup.

"Well, I don’t think anyone cannot think about it, first of all," Berube said. "But I think it’s important that you don’t get ahead of yourself. That’s one thing we’ve talked about the last couple of days and today is just focusing on the first period and going out and playing. That’s the most important thing. You don’t want to get too far ahead, but it’s hard not to. That’s normal. But our guys have done a good job over the playoffs of focusing on just small things, first periods, things like that, and that’s going to be important tonight that we have a real good first period."

The Blues absorbed a big Boston push in the first period of Game 5, used the 17-save effort of Jordan Binnington before settling in and getting a lead, ultimately getting their first lead in the series.

They'll rely on their past experiences of strong play in Games 5-7, where the Blues are 7-1 in these playoffs and outscored their opponents 25-10.

They can become the first team since the 2007 Anaheim Ducks and third in NHL history (Edmonton, 1988) to clinch all four round of playoff series on home ice.

"Just kind of business as usual," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We know we need a big start. And yeah, our focus is on that. We’re not worried about the outcome. Just focused on the process, coming out with a lot of jump and energy and trying to find our game right away.

"I think since the start of the playoffs we’ve continually progressed as series have gone on and done better and I expect the same thing tonight. I think we’re going to come out (strong) and I think we’ve done a great job of handling that."

- - -

- - -

* With a win tonight, Binnington (15 wins) can set an NHL playoff record for most wins by rookie goalie in a playoff year (tied with Patrick Roy, MTL, 1986; Ron Hextall, PHI, 1987, Cam Ward, CAR, 2006, Matt Murray, PIT, 2016).

* The Blues can become the second team in as many seasons to win their first Cup (Washington), the first time that's happened since 2004-07, when Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim each won its first Cup.

* O’Reilly has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 24 games in the 2019 playoffs, which is one point shy of tying a Blues record for most in a playoff year, held by Brett Hull (13-8-21 in 12 games in 1990).

* The Bruins will make a change in their lineup and insert forward Karson Kuhlman in and remove defenseman Steven Kampfer. Kampfer was used as a seventh defenseman in Game 5, which means former Blue David Backes will remain a healthy scratch.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Sammy Blais-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen

Carl Gunnarsson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Joel Edmundson, Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Chris Butler and Ville Husso. Ivan Barbashev will miss Game 6 due to suspension.

- - -

The Bruins' projected lineup:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Karson Kuhlman

Marcus Johansson-Charlie Coyle-Danton Heinen

Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo

John Moore-Connor Clifton

Tuukka Rask will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.

The healthy scratches include David Backes and Steven Kampfer. Matt Grzelcyk (concussion), Chris Wagner (arm) and Kevan Miller (lower body) are out.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

(6-9-19) BLUES NOTEBOOK

Thomas practices, will be game-time decision; Tarasenko becomes 
dad again; "just another game" theme for Blues with chance to clinch Cup

By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- The sight of Robert Thomas at Blues practice, working in full, can certainly be an eye-opener. Seeing Thomas on the ice for a potential Stanley Cup-clinching series win for the Blues would most definitely be an emotional lift.

Blues interim coach Craig Berube declared Thomas a game-time decision for Sunday's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final (7 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM).

Thomas has not played since Game 1 when he was checked by Boston defenseman Torey Krug, but his wrist injury goes back to Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks.

Thomas has not been a regular participant in practice since between Games 3 and 4 of the series against the Sharks, only skating late in practices as guys go off the ice, on occasion during optional skates and on his own beforehand. This was his first full practice, and the chance to factor in on a championship-clinching scenario would be incredulous.

"Yeah, he was out there today and we’ll see tomorrow, for sure," Berube said of Thomas. "It’s a game-time decision. Obviously, he’s been a very good player for us for a long time, and we’ll see."

The fact that Thomas was on line rushes is a pretty good indication he is definitely in consideration for the lineup, a really good sign, especially for the Tyler Bozak-Pat Maroon combination.

"He's been working hard to get back in the lineup, so we'll see tomorrow if he plays," Maroon said. "Obviously it's always good to see the kid out there skating around. He's been just itching to get back out there with the guys, so it's good to see him out there.

"... It would be awesome. He's got a lot of skill, he's got speed. He brings a different element to the game and I think with him on our line, it makes our line a lot better. He drives the engine. With his fresh legs and his young talent, it helps us go."

Thomas wasn't on either power play units in practice Saturday, but doing everything else necessary to get ready to play the most important game of his young hockey life.

"I don’t know if he’s playing tomorrow or not, but he’s been skating off and on, he’s working hard off the ice to get back," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "We’ll see if he’s ready. Obviously he has incredible skill, he’s an unbelievable player. We’ll see if he’s ready.

"He’s worked hard to get back in, staying in shape, he’s a highly skilled player. He’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time. He fits well with Maroon and Bozak. We’ll see if he’s ready to play tomorrow. Obviously him practicing today is a step in the right direction."

If Thomas plays, he'd slide back in with Bozak and Maroon and would drop Sammy Blais to fourth-line duties with Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen after Ivan Barbashev was suspended one game on Friday by the league's department of player safety for an illegal check to the head of Boston's Marcus Johansson in Game 4.

Both Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen were absent from practice, both getting maintenance days, but Berube said both were in the building. Tarasenko's absence was certainly excused. His wife, Yana, delivered the couple's second child, a boy, on Friday night.

Robby Fabbri took Tarasenko's spot in line rushes at practice, and Jordan Nolan skated in Steen's spot.

"Some of the decisions will be made tomorrow, either in the morning or game time," Berube said. "But yeah, I’ve said it a lot: we have good depth, which is very important on the back end and up front. A guy like [Zach] 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."

* Yana timed it right -- With the Blues making their deepest run in Stanley Cup Playoff history, the Tarasenkos felt they had planned accordingly to have a child.

June has never been a month the Blues participated in hockey games before, at least not on a club level, so the thought of interfering in a season probably didn't cross the Tarasenkos' minds.

"That's great. I've seen Vladi," Maroon said. "Obviously she held on until he got back. Yana did a good job of holding on and making sure Vladimir was there. We're happy for him. It's awesome. Another boy for him, so we're obviously excited for the Tarasenkos and their family and everyone's healthy and doing well. It's good to see that."

Tarasenko came through the media area on his way out the building smiling from ear to ear. Baby brother, whose name has not been disclosed yet, joins big brother Aleksandr and oldest brother Mark, Yana's oldest son and Vladimir's stepson.

"I’m sure extra motivation. I’m sure any time you welcome a new born into your family ... he’s going to play hard," Schenn said of Tarasenko. "He’s a pro. He’s been around the game a long time. He knows how to get himself prepared. I don’t think we’re worried about Vladi being ready tomorrow."

* Just another game -- What else would the Blues be saying at this point? It's just another game, right?

Well, maybe for them on the exterior it is, but Sunday will be the most important, and possibly most historic, game in franchise history should the Blues pull this off.

But the Blues have to take this as "just another game."

"It feels pretty good," Blues center Oskar Sundqvist said. "I haven't noticed anything different in this locker room today. I think we all know we're not done yet, we have one more game to win and we need to play our best game tomorrow and I'm sure we're going to do that."

"Well obviously we’re going to get their best game so we have to bring ours," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "They’re going to give us a good (game). I’ve said it before, every team at this time of year is going to play their best game. We have to expect it from them."

For a guy like Ryan O'Reilly, who has three goals the past two games, this has to be surreal considering where he was a year ago after another losing season with the Buffalo Sabres.

"I try not to think about it and prepare the same way. It's tough," O'Reilly said. "We know there's a lot going on. It's been a big process to find a way to climb back into the race and give ourselves a chance but we have to look at it as another game and take it one shift at a time.

"I don't think it will be that tough. It creeps in some and we know what's at stake but we have a good group that's been composed all year. We've been in some situations and obviously this one is the ultimate test for us but again, it's controlling what we can preparing the right way and being ready."

O'Reilly's dream is "to win the Stanley Cup. It's crazy. It's tough to sleep right now. Your mind gets racing. But at the end of the day, it's one shift at a time, that's all you can do and all you can focus on."