By LOU KORAC
DALLAS -- Craig Berube has a propensity for sticking with what works, and even when things don't go out of whack, he doesn't tinker with lines much.
But with a pivotal Game 3 of the Western Conference second round series against the Dallas Stars at 7 p.m. today (NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM), Berube is tinkering with his top two lines and bottom defensive pairing.
Berube is moving his hottest goal scorer, Jaden Schwartz, up to the top line with Ryan O'Reilly and Vladimir Tarasenko and shifting David Perron off that line's left wing and putting him back at a more comfortable right wing on the second line with Oskar Sundqvist at center and Brayden Schenn back on the left wing.
Also, Robert Bortuzzo is going back in on defense, and Joel Edmundson is coming out of the lineup tonight.
For Schwartz, he leads the Blues with five goals in the postseason, and he's played with both O'Reilly and Tarasenko in the past. They played together Nov. 6-16 and Feb. 21-March 1; the Blues were 5-4-1 in those games but Schwartz is scoring at a more consistent clip. They combined for 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists) in those 10 games.
"He's been playing really well," Berube said of Schwartz. "He's going to get on the forecheck for those guys. I think him and O'Reilly together in there forechecking ... Vladi's going good right now, he's driving the puck wide with speed a lot and taking it to the net. And Schwartz got a nice goal going to the net there the other night, so ... they’ve played together before, too."
O'Reilly agreed that it can make for a solid line.
"He’s playing really well right now and it will be a nice look for us," O'Reilly said of Schwartz. "You see his intensity on every play, the way that he hunts the puck and the turnovers that he causes, with the way that he forechecks and the way that he pressures. Obviously, it’s really effective and it generates a lot of offence off that. He’s been one of our best players in this last bit here, so it will be a nice look and hopefully it will get us going.
"We have to take a page out of his book and forecheck hard. If we’re doing that, that’s where we’ll generate offence and find a way to possess the puck and go from there."
As for Perron, who was moved to the left wing when Berube wanted to get Schenn playing down the middle in the first round against Winnipeg that helped spark that come-from-behind win in Game 5, it just hasn't seemed to be a proper fit even though he played all last season in Vegas on the left.
"Yeah, I hope I can just get back and play the normal game I did. I did feel a little bit different on the other side. I pride myself on board work, make a lot of little plays that makes the play go forward, makes the play maybe turn into an odd-man situation that starts from the d-zone or even the neutral zone. I don't think I did that the last two games, I don't think I did it in Game 6 either against Winnipeg. We won the game and maybe no one notices or talked about it, but for me, between rounds, I wanted to get better from, and going back to the right side, I think it's going to be a little bit more natural because that's where I played this year.
"I think the way I can pull some pucks and shoot it off guys' legs or sticks, whatever, I got a couple good looks throughout the year that way. I kind of got in a groove of knowing my pattern of coming in the zone, you look for a middle lane drive through the legs, if it's not there, maybe you pull around, a stop-up, whatever it is. I think. I played right shifts some last game. I had 'Fabs' one time going down the left side, and I just wasn't comfortable to make that play, which I should have than normal."
Perron was adamant about talking about continuity instead of making it a focus on changing lines looking for a spark.
"Hopefully we don't turn into Hitch daily with a line update where we talk about a new line and it's going to be the whole solution of our problems," Perron said. "I think we've just got to play hard, we've got to be on the inside more and I think yes, it's nice to be on the right side because it's where I played for the most part this year, but again, I think 'Schenner' played a lot on the left side this year. They're going to take draws from strong side, him and Sunny, and we'll go from there."
So why do players lime stability?
"Because it puts the onus on the players to be better," Perron said. "If you keep changing the lines, I feel like you just wait for the next opportunity for the line change to get a spark from the team or when it's been pretty stable like it's been all year, it's up to the players to do their job and you want to be the guy that can make a difference and we've had guys step up at different times in the season and we look forward to that again tonight."
Berube spoke with Perron about moving him to left wing before doing so, but it's evident that his best side is the right.
"Well, he feels more comfortable over there for sure," Berube said. "And he's been there all year … pretty much.
"... He’s passing on his forehand and (I) find that he goes north a little bit better on the right side. That’s what we want. I know if it really matters in the offensive zone what side he’s on. But out of his own end, obviously he can make plays on his forehand and through the neutral zone."
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As for Bortuzzo, he's missed the past four games going back to Winnipeg Game 5, and putting him back in on the third pair and moving Vince Dunn back to his natural left side seems to be a natural fit.
"I'm looking forward to it," Bortuzzo said. "You can tell it's been an intense series. I've been waiting for the nod to get in there. Happy it's time, happy to get out there and contribute.
"We've played most of the season together, big chunks of hockey. We have a good relationship. We talk to each other a lot out there. He's a super-talented young guys who makes super smart hockey decisions. We've done a good job of reading off each other all year."
Edmundson comes out after playing just 9:54 in Game 2 on Saturday, and according to Berube, it's not so much wanting to see more.
"No, not really," he said. "We want 'Eddy' to play a physical, hard game. Did at times, but I think he can be more consistent taking the body, playing a heavy game.
"'Borts' plays a heavy game for us. Plus, it's a right-handed shot, and it gets Dunn over on his normal side, on the left side. Good penalty killer."
Bortuzzo wouldn't talk about if there is any sort of underlying nagging injury he's dealt with. There probably is, as with all players this time of year, but hitting the reset button for him may be beneficial.
"Absolutely," he said. "It's two very good hockey teams going at it right now. We just want to reinforce what we do best and I think that's what we've done over the last couple days here. It's a tough barn to play in, but if we play our style and the game we can play, we'll have success."
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* Blues goalie Jordan Binnington has recorded 29 wins in 38 starts since making his first NHL start on Jan. 7 (regular season and playoffs combined). He can match the NHL record for fewest games to record his 30th career NHL win (39 games), a record Toronto goalie Frederik Andersen holds and set on Oct. 31, 2014 with the Anaheim Ducks.
* When a best-of-7 series is tied 1-1, the winner of Game 3 owns an all-time series record of 213-103 (67.4%), but just 1-3 this season's playoffs.
* The Blues are 10-9 all-time when holding a 2-1 series lead in a best-of-7 (.526), including a 7-4 mark when those series began at home (.636). When they win Game 3 after splitting the first two games in a best-of-7, St. Louis owns an all-time series record of 7-7.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Ryan O'Reilly-Vladimir Tarasenko
Brayden Schenn-Oskar Sundqvist-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Robby Fabbri-Ivan Barbashev-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, Michael Del Zotto, Sammy Blais, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn and Jared Coreau. The Blues report no injuries.
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The Stars' projected lineup:
Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov
Jason Dickinson-Roope Hintz-Mats Zuccarello
Andrew Cogliano-Radek Faksa-Blake Comeau
Mattias Janmark-Justin Dowling-Jason Spezza
Esa Lindell-John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen-Roman Polak
Taylor Fedun-Ben Lovejoy
Ben Bishop will start in goal; Anton Khudobin will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Valeri Nichushkin, Tyler Pitlick, Gavin Bayreuther, Joel Hanley, Brett Ritchie and Landon Bow. Jamie Oleksiak (lower body), Marc Methot (lower body), Martin Hanzal (back) and Stephen Johns (upper body) are all out.
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