By LOU KORAC
BOSTON -- With Vladimir Tarasenko out of the lineup for at least the next two games with an upper-body injury believed to be a left shoulder, the looming question for the Blues is who steps in to fill that void on the line with Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz.
From the looks of it, it could be a skater-by-committee, but in the interim, Oskar Sundqvist appears to be the next man up to step in on that line, at least to start, when the Blues (5-2-3) begin a quick two-game trip that starts today against the Boston Bruins (6-1-2) at TD Garden before concluding Sunday in Detroit against the Red Wings.
Sundqvist took shifts with the pair and was on it during the morning skate today and it appears at least to start, he will move up from his customary spot on the fourth line.
"I played with them a little bit last year too, so I'm kind of familiar with how they want to play and what they want to do," Sundqvist said. "I don't think it's going to be any problem.
"Not changing my game too much. Just try to create some space for 'Schenner' and 'Schwartzy'. That's about it, just keep playing my game."
Tarasenko was injured on a partial breakaway in the first period Thursday in a 5-2 win against the Los Angeles Kings; he did not take another shift after 6 minutes 1 second remaining and has been ruled out for the weekend and will be reevaluated again on Monday.
The Blues will at least have to find a replacement for their leading scorer of 10 points (three goals, seven assists) in 10 games.
"No different than when he's playing. Same thing," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "Somebody else will just go in his spot. That's it. There's nothing else that we can do."
Berube rotated players in that spot on Thursday and could do so again.
"[Sundqvist] could start there," Berube said. "We'll see how it goes. Sammy Blais looks like he's going to get going. It's a game time decision. Also we have him too.
"[Sundqvist's] just a good two-way player on that line. He hunts pucks down, gets to pucks, goes to the net hard and has the ability to score. He showed us last year he can put the puck in the net. I rotated guys on that line throughout the game, but he probably got the most looks there."
Sundqvist, who has two goals and one assist on the season, knows Tarasenko's loss is big but that the Blues have to carry on.
"It's a big loss, but our team is not on one guy," Sundqvist said. "It's about four lines. We've shown that in the past and now that Vladi's gone, someone's going to have to step up and score some goals. I'm not worried about us not scoring goals because I think we've got three lines that I think can do that. Just keep playing like we did the last two games here."
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The Blues did get some good news, it seems, with the return of Blais, who missed Thursday with a left thumb injury sustained last Monday in a 3-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche.
Blais, who has three goals and two assists in nine games, skated on the fourth line with Ivan Barbashev and Mackenzie MacEachern this morning but could also jump up and play with the Schenn-Schwartz pairing, or even perhaps back with David Perron and Ryan O'Reilly.
"I feel better today so I think I'm going to go in tonight," Blais said. "I'm looking forward to it against Boston. It's going to be a hard game, so pretty excited about it."
Blais blocked a shot with his hand and finished the win over the Avalanche. He was limited in two skates following but seems good to go tonight.
"Just kind of the strength (with the thumb)," Blais said. "It's gotten better the last couple days. This morning was another test and it went pretty well, so I'm going to go tonight and I'm pretty excited."
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Now that the Blues have returned to the scene of the crime, as Boston natives would say, from that memorable June 12 night when they clinched the Stanley Cup with a 4-1 win in Game 7, now they can really put last season to rest after numerous previous attempts.
"It just seems like we were here," Berube said. "We're looking forward here, not in the past.
"I don't think they're looking in the past at all. I think they're looking at it as just another regular season game against the Boston Bruins."
Blais said: "Last time there was a lot of alcohol on the floor. Looks like they cleaned it a little bit, but I'm really excited about tonight. Looks like it's going to be a really fun game to be a part of."
There will be a lot of familiarity between the two teams, with 30 of 40 players who dressed for Game 7 also suited up in each club’s previous game (14 of 20 for the Bruins, 16 of 20 for the Blues).
The Cup champion holds a 51-31-6 record in the first regular-season meeting between Stanley Cup finalists since 1927-28 (runner-up: 32-48-8), including a 5-1-0 mark since 2013-14 when the schedule matrix was changed to include head-to-head matchups between all teams.
The reigning champion has won each of the past four rematches. Defending champions have won five straight rematches just once in NHL history, going 5-0-0 from 1940-41 to 1944-45.
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Schenn has 11 points (eight goals, three assists) in the past nine games and a three-game point streak against the Bruins (four assists).
Schwartz has a six-game point streak (one goal, six assists) and nine points in his last eight games against Boston (four goals, five assists).
Defenseman Justin Faulk has six points (one goal, five assists) in his past five games against the Bruins as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Oskar Sundqvist
Alexander Steen-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Zach Sanford-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Mackenzie MacEachern-Ivan Barbashev-Sammy Blais
Colton Parayko-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Justin Faulk
Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Carl Gunnarsson and Robby Fabbri. Vladimir Tarasenko (upper body) is out and is day-to-day but not on the two-game trip and will miss Sunday in Detroit.
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The Bruins' projected lineup:
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk-Charlie Coyle-Brett Ritchie
Anders Bjork-Par Lindholm-Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk-Connor Clifton
Tuukka Rask will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.
The healthy scratches are David Backes and Steven Kampfer. David Krejci (upper body), Karson Kuhlman (lower body), Kevan Miller (knee), John Moore (shoulder) and Anton Blidh (shoulder) are all out.