By LOU KORAC
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Blues won't call it a must-win game, but a pair of lineup changes shouldn't only get the team's attention but also help out, according to coach Mike Yeo, with some much-needed speed and size.
Forwards Magnus Paajarvi and Zach Sanford are expected to be in for Game 4 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Nashville Predators (8:30 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM), and although Yeo wouldn't specify who would be coming out, it appears Paajarvi and Sanford would replace Ivan Barbashev and Kyle Brodziak.
The Blues, who trail the best-of-7 series 2-1, feel that inserting Paajarvi and Sanford gives them a chance to add some speed to go with Sanford's 6-foot-4, 203-pound frame.
"If (Sanford) gets back in there, he’s a guy obviously he has some size, skating ability," Yeo said. "The games are fast. It’s a skating team. It’s a team that skates to check, so there’s not a lot of time and space out and. And he’s got poise and execution. Whether it’s on the wall and help us execute to get out of our zone a little quicker, allow us to get on the attack and to the offensive zone a little bit more. And obviously he’s got the ability to make a play in the offensive zone and create something offensively. Just a guy that I think can help us get to our game a little better.
"If (Paajarvi) gets in there, he’s another guy that helps us get to our game. His speed is, again, it’s a fast pace out there. His speed to get up the ice, has a chance to make something happen off the rush but it’s a little bit more his pressure. His pressure on the forecheck. His pressure to win races to loose pucks. Against there were some things that we did well last game. Not enough. There were some things we didn’t do well enough. The difference was they got to their game better than we got to ours. Both of those guys are guys that could help us rectify that."
Paajarvi, who has a goal and two assists in six games, has been a healthy scratch the past two games after scoring the series-clinching overtime goal against the Minnesota Wild in the first round and getting the primary assist on Vladimir Sobotka's goal in Game 1 that enabled the Blues to overcome a 3-1 deficit and tie it 3-3 in the third period.
"I mean, it's never fun to be outside of the lineup," Paajarvi said. "It's the first time I've been out of the lineup since I got up. So yeah, of course I was disappointed but we're (in the) playoffs, we're doing everything we can to win next game and that was the coach's decision. We're all looking forward now (to) Game 4."
Sanford played Games 2-4 against the Wild and has not seen the ice since; he hasn't registered a point.
"It would be a good opportunity," Sanford said. "Hopefully we can get things going again. Last game obviously not how we wanted to play, but I think we've got a good plan in here going forward and we're ready for tonight.
"In that last series I was skating well, bringing a lot of speed to the team. I think that's one of my best attributes, my skating, it's gotten a lot better this year. Hopefully I can bring some more of that."
Paajarvi will slot back in on left wing with Patrik Berglund and David Perron, and Sanford is expected to play right wing on a line with Sobotka and Alexander Steen.
Going from being an overtime hero to making a crucial play to give the Blues a chance to win Game 1 of this series to a healthy scratch had to be tough for Paajarvi.
"I've been lower than that," Paajarvi said. "It wasn't an all-time low. Sure it was disappointing, but I need to step up my game, I need to be better and I'm going to do everything in my power to get an impact on the game here.
"That (battle level) was one of the things for sure. I need to get my battles better, I need to win my 1-on-1's."
Sanford has that knack of using his size and strength to perhaps give the Blues more sustained o-zone time.
"This is a good series," Sanford said. "They play a lot of the same style as Minnesota, they come hard and fast and we need to be able to counter with our speed and size. I think a big part of this series is learning how much more intense it gets every game throughout the playoffs."
Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said the changes are a sign of getting the group's attention but also to provide a spark.
"I think a combo of both," he said. "I really like the advantage that we have with our depth. Obviously 'Mags' and 'Sand' are coming in fresh, and they've played well when in the lineup. When you have the depth that we have, the transition may not be as difficult as it is for some other teams."
No matter what the changes, Yeo said don't expect the team blueprint to change too much.
"For us, our game is not going to change," he said. "We might make some tactical changes, some adjustments. We might make some personnel changes but the essence of what we’re trying to accomplish as a team and the game that we want to play is not going to change. What we’re looking for is people that are going to help us get to that game. That’s what i feel like that last game they did a better job of getting to their game. We didn’t do enough things to make it harder on them to get to the offensive zone, to spend time there and we didn’t get to our game well enough and often enough so that’s what we’re looking at."
- - -
The Blues won't call Game 4 a must-win, and it's part of the reason why they have overcome plenty of adverse situations throughout the season.
The Blues responded well in Game 2 after losing the series-opener and will need to do so again trailing the series and in danger of heading home for Game 5 down 3-1.
"We know it's a long series," Pietrangelo said. "We know we've got to take it game-by-game. Tonight is obviously an important game. We know the situation. Can't look further than that.
"... I think as a group, we feel like we can play better. That's part of the reason why we're down 2-1, so it's time to take this thing from the start and continue to play better. ... A few mistakes here and there and it's costing us. I keep going back to special teams and didn't take a penalty in Game 2 and won the game, so gotta continue to keep the game 5-on-5."
The Blues have gotten off to good starts in each game in the series but haven't come up with the first goal in the series.
"The first six or seven minutes have been good and then they've been finding a way to score and we get back on our heels, so the big thing is continue to push when that happens," Pietrangelo said. "We were good like that against Minnesota when we were down, but it didn't bother us. They're obviously feeding off the energy, especially at home, so we've got to continue to keep the pressure on."
- - -
The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Paul Stastny-Vladimir Tarasenko
Vladimir Sobotka-Alexander Steen-Zach Sanford
Magnus Paajarvi-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Scottie Upshall-Jori Lehtera-Ryan Reaves
Jay Bouwmeester-Alex Pietrangelo
Joel Edmundson-Colton Parayko
Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo
Jake Allen will start in goal; Carter Hutton will be the backup.
Healthy scratches would include Kyle Brodziak, Ivan Barbashev, Dmitrij Jaskin, Jordan Schmaltz and Luke Opilka. Robby Fabbri (knee) and Nail Yakupov (lower body) are out.
- - -
The Predators' projected lineup:
Filip Forsberg-Ryan Johansen-Viktor Arvidsson
Harry Zolnierczyk-Mike Fisher-Austin Watson
Colin Wilson-Calle Jarnkrok-James Neal
Cody McLeod-Colton Sissons-Miikka Salomaki
Roman Josi-Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm-P.K. Subban
Matt Irwin-Yannick Weber
Pekka Rinne will start in goal; Juuse Saros will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Anthony Bitetto, Brad Hunt, Vernon Fiddler, Frederick Gaudreau, PA Parenteau, Marek Mazanec, Vladislav Kamenev, Alexandre Carrier, Petter Granberg, Jack Dougherty and Trevor Murphy. Pontus Aberg (undisclosed), Kevin Fiala (leg) and Craig Smith (undisclosed) are out.