Friday, May 31, 2019

The time has finally arrived for St. Louis, the Blues

City to host Stanley Cup Final games for first time since 1970, players 
anticipating raucous crowds with series against Boston Bruins tied 1-1

ST. LOUIS -- So ... first Stanley Cup Final game in St. Louis since 1970, Cardinals hosting the Cubs this weekend. Just your average, sporting weekend in St. Louis right?

"I really haven't had much interaction with the fans," Blues forward and Oakville native Pat Maroon said. "I mean just watching people watching the news, just the buzz around the city is amazing. It's going to be a huge day tomorrow. You got the Cards-Cubs and the Blues playoff game. So there's going to be over 100,000 people in downtown St. Louis. It's a city that needs this, a city that's been, I feel like, down. This is what we needed just to amp the city back up again."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
It will be an electric atmosphere inside and outside Enterprise Center and
around downtown St. Louis with the Blues hosting Stanley Cup Final
games for the first time since 1970.

Consider the Blues playing hockey at Enterprise Center in June something that will amp this city back up. Not that playing in a Cup Final game for the first time in 49 years won't do it.

Or the fact that they're doing it for all the past greats that have donned the Blues jersey that never made it to this point won't do it either. 

Yeah, right.

"We're expecting a lot of the same and I anticipate a loud building, the city's buzzing," Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. "It's supposed to be a beautiful weekend out, so I'm sure people will have fun outside before the game. There's an energy to the city and I'm sure it will carry right through to the building."

The Blues will host Games 3-4 on Saturday and Monday (7 p.m. for both puck drops; NBCSN on Saturday, NBC on Monday and KMOX 1120-AM on the dial for both), and in a series tied 1-1 after Carl Gunnarsson gave the Blues their first-ever win in the Stanley Cup Final in a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2, it'll be more of a thunderous, earthquake-like atmosphere.

"Yeah, it’s been fun," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. 'It’s a cool opportunity for obviously all of us in this room. We have a really good group of guys and it’s been a lot of fun all season long. We’ve obviously been through a difficult time this season, and kind of turning it around and being here has been unbelievable and it’s so much fun for us. Just touch on different things, like the coaching staff, the fans have been incredible, just the whole city has been kind of cool too. To be a part of it, for everybody, I think that’s the best part. We’re all in it together."

What will be important for probably the Blues' coaching staff more than anything is to keep players' emotional levels to a minimum, especially at the start of the game, to not try and come out too emotional and be taxed too soon.

Temper the emotions and play the right way will be the key.

"Yeah, I agree with that," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "That's a good question. We talk about it for sure. We talked about that a lot. Both rinks, keeping your emotions in check. That's going to be important, and that's going to be great for the city and the fans. We're excited for them, obviously us too, but waiting a long time for that game and it's going to be exciting. I'm really happy for the fans and the city for sure."

It'll be extremely tough on a guy like Maroon, who was born and raised here and attended games with his family as a kid.

"Yeah, I've been trying to hold in my excitement," Maroon said. "Just trying to hold my emotions in, just because we're so close to something special here. So I think you kind of hold it in. Kind of focus on your game. Focus on what you can do and control. I'm just trying to hold it in right now.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues coach Craig Berube addresses the Blues after eliminating San Jose
in the Western Conference Final. 

"Obviously family's excited. Everyone around you is excited. Friends. But for me, I'm just trying to hold it in, focus on my game right now."

Here's all your need-to-know things to do if heading down to Games 3-4:

* NOTES -- The Blues will add one more obstacle (Oskar Sundqvist's one-game suspension) to the list of things to overcome. Sundqvist will sit out Game 3 and likely be replaced by Zach Sanford, who skated on the fourth line today. 

Also, Vladimir Tarasenko took a maintenance day Friday, according to Berube, and Sundqvist skated on his line as the place holder with Jaden Schwartz and Brayden Schenn. 

Berube didn't rule out Robert Thomas, who missed Game 2 and hasn't skated regularly since Game 3 of the conference final, and didn't skate on Friday. It's doubtful he plays.

Thursday, May 30, 2019


Sundqvist suspended one game for hit that knocked Grzelcyk from 
Game 2; Sweden's new star an OT hero; Dunn close, Thomas news unsettling

ST. LOUIS -- Blues center Oskar Sundqvist has been suspended one game as a result of a boarding penalty in the first period on Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday.

Sundqvist was assessed the penalty on Grzelcyk, who went back into his corner zone to retrieve a puck, quickly play it along the back wall to his defensive partner while losing an edge. Sundqvist was already committed to checking Grzelcyk and appeared to make contact with Grzelcyk's shoulder and following through. Grzelcyk fell to the ice and appeared groggy before being helped off the ice by teammates and did not return.

The NHL's Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning requested a hearing, which was held at 3 p.m. and a decision was made after 8 p.m. Thursday. Here is the league video supporting its decision:

Sundqvist will miss Game 3, which is set for Saturday at 7 p.m. at Enterprise Center.

"Doug's taking care of that stuff," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said of general manager Doug Armstrong after the team arrived back from Boston Thursday.

Grzelcyk is day-to-day, according to Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy; he did not accompany the Bruins on the trip for Games 3-4.

"He's in protocol," Cassidy said. "When we have a further update, we'll give it to you.
Obviously we're going to list him day-to-day. It's Thursday, we don't play until Saturday. Typically I’ll give out the lineup either Friday or Saturday. Right now that's the best I got for you. See how it goes from there."

In no way, shape or form did Sundqvist, who was clobbered in the preseason by a crushing blow to the head by Washington's Tom Wilson, intentionally target Grzelcyk's head on the play, but the DOPS may feel it has no choice but to issue some sort of suspension, even a game, if Grzelcyk is out for any games.

Sundqvist is an important player on the Blues' fourth line, important penalty killer and Berube does not hesitate to have Sundqvist on the ice late in games trying to protect the lead.

"He's a big part of our team," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "He plays big minutes night in and night out and in every situation. So I don't know. We'll see what happens today."

Cassidy and Bruins veteran center Patrice Bergeron had interesting, more tempered takes Thursday on it. Neither really came out and attacked Sundqvist for it.

"I do believe there's a different generation that was taught, because those hits ... I don't want to say were acceptable 20 years ago, they happened a lot more," Cassidy said. "Now you're a little less inclined to protect yourself in general. My feeling on those hits, we've been talking about these for four, five, six whatever amount of years. On the person delivering the hit, has to be aware of a player in a prone position. I've always believed a player has to protect themselves. They have to put themselves in spots. But some are unavoidable. That was a hit, in a prone position, he followed through on the hit. Got penalized for it. I believe he's having a hearing. That's it. They'll make the decision from there. I've always felt it's on both players to be aware of what's going on. Things happen. Not the first hit from behind, won't be the last. He'll be held accountable or not. We'll move on."

Bergeron added: "I mean, obviously it's one of those things where it happens fast on the ice. On that particular hit, I thought he was facing that way the whole time. He was trying to handle the puck, to get it over to his partner. It seemed like he was in that position for a little bit of time, to give enough time for the guy coming in to try to change his route. Like I said, it happens fast. It's not always easy to do so."

Former Blue David Backes, on the other hand, had other thoughts after the game.

"I don’t think that’s a hit we want in our game," Backes said. "It’s from behind, elevated, into his head, into the glass. If that’s a two-minute penalty, I think there’s going to be a shortage of defensemen in this series by the end of it. That’s in somebody else’s hands. That’s something I think if I’m making that hit, I’m probably watching from the bleachers for a few, but we’ll see what happens with their player."

If Sundqvist does miss a game/games, it's the Blues' mantra: next man up.

"Yeah, absolutely," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "I think we have great personnel here. We have so many guys who can step in and do the job and obviously, it's tough losing key players like that, but we're confident. We've (got) a great group here and so many guys who are able to step in and make an impact."

Expect a decision at some point Thursday evening, or Friday morning.

The 25-year-old Sundqvist, acquired from the Pittsburgh Penguins along with a first-round pick in 2017 (Klim Kostin) for Ryan Reaves, had a stellar season, a coming out party of sorts with 31 points (14 goals, 17 assists) in 74 games. He had only two goals and seven assists in 70 previous NHL games with the Blues and Penguins.

* Sweden's new star -- Not only was Carl Gunnarsson's OT goal in Game 2 his first in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his 57th game but it made an instant sensation out of Gunnarsson.

Gunnarsson's wife Josefin and father Bjorn were in the stands watching last night, and apparently, Gunnarsson has heard from a few folks back in his native Sweden.

"I had a bunch of texts from friends and family and a couple of phone calls," Gunnarsson said. "It seems that everyone likes it.

"I know a few people who were up. Closest family and some buddies were up and watching."

Gunnarsson scored on a one-timer from near the blue line through traffic (Pietrangelo screening Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask) with a sixth attacker on the ice during a delayed penalty call at the 3:51 mark.

"Now I know what the forwards feel like," Pietrangelo said. "I was kind of in front, waiting for the puck to come. I was a little bit confused where I was. But it was 6-on-5 so you're just trying to find a spot to stand, right? And I was tired so I just figured I'd park it in front."

Gunnarsson, who's dealt with multiple injuries throughout the season, nearly won the game late in regulation, but his slapper hit the far post on a shot from the left circle.

"Yeah, it's been a long year, up and down, but all worth it in the end, coming to play here and obviously a bonus scoring that goal last night, too," Gunnarsson said. "... I think we all felt going into overtime, we came out flying. It just felt it was sitting there for us to take and, yeah, I'm just happy it was me."

O'Reilly is the skater that came on as the extra man, and it was his pass that dropped into Gunnarsson's path.

"It's just a quick reading of the play, trying to get into an area and, with the way it was developing, I was just trying to get over to the middle there and be a support and hopefully have a one-timer from either side, or from up top," O'Reilly said. "Obviously Carl opened up and did his thing.

"As it came to me, just trying to be as present as possible and see what I had available. The way the kind of thing shifted, he opened himself to a great spot and I just put it on his tape. I didn't really do anything too special there. It was a heck of a shot."

* Dunn/Thomas updates -- Vince Dunn is knocking on the door, and mum is the word for Robert Thomas, both out of the Blues' lineup with injuries.

Dunn has not played since Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against San Jose after being struck in the mouth with a puck, and Thomas missed his first game Wednesday with an undisclosed injury non-related to the hit he received from Bruins defenseman Torey Krug in Game 1.

"Yeah, he's close," Berube said of Dunn, who has a chance to play in Game 3. "... There's a chance, yeah. We'll see how he does tomorrow."

Thomas has been a regular absentee from practices and/or morning skates since Game 3 of the conference final but had not missed a game until Wednesday.

"We'll have to see on Robby Thomas," Berube said. "I'm not going to comment on Robby Thomas right now just with the situation, but Dunn's close."

Robby Fabbri replaced Thomas and played with Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon in Game 2; he finished with 10:14 of ice time, three hits and one blocked shot.

Gunnarsson the unlikely hero, scores in OT for Blues in 3-2 win over Bruins

Defenseman, coach have conversation in restroom to get one 
more opportunity to help St. Louis to first-ever Stanley Cup Final win

BOSTON -- Fifty-two years of agony and waiting, and all it took was a simple conversation between coach and player "at the pisser" to help the Blues rip that Stanley Cup Final monkey off their back.

The unlikeliest of heroes, Carl Gunnarsson, went into the bathroom stall next to Craig Berube, both needing to use the little boys room, and Gunnarsson had one simple request of his coach.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues players congregate to congratulate Carl Gunnarsson after his goal in
overtime helped St. Louis to a 3-2 win at Boston in Game 2.

"I was close in the third with the post and I had a little talk in the locker room between periods there, before the OT, and I just told him I needed one more," Gunnarsson said.

He got one more chance, and made the most of it scoring 3 minutes 51 seconds into overtime, and the Blues earned their first-ever win in the Cup Final with a 3-2 win against the Boston Bruins in Game 2 on Wednesday at TD Garden.

The Blues, who corrected many of the things they didn't accomplish in losing Game 1, 4-2, on Monday, went into the locker room at the end of regulation and Gunnarsson, playing in his 57th Stanley Cup Playoff game, went to his coach looking for one more opportunity after he just missed out on winning it with 1:57 remaining in regulation, a shot from the left circle that dented the cross bar behind Tuukka Rask.

Gunnarsson made no mistake on the winner-take-all shot. 

The Blues were about to go on a pwer play when Alexander Steen was tripped up by Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo after Steen picked off Carlo's clearing attempt. The Blues were able to get a sixth attacker on the ice, worked the zone, and the puck eventually worked its way to Gunnarsson from Ryan O'Reilly, and his one-timer from inside the blue line beat Rask blocker side to win it.

"He hit the post there in the third period, Gunny," Berube said. "He just said he needed one more shot. We were joking around a little bit. But he played a helluva game, Gunny. Great shot."

Blues center Oskar Sundqvist, who got the secondary assist on the Gunnarsson goal, confirmed the conversation.

"Berube came in and said that he used the pisser after the third period, and Gunnarsson came and stood next to him," Sundqvist said. "And all Gunnarsson said to him was ‘I just need one more chance.’ It’s true, apparently. It worked out."

It was a much better result and game for the Blues, who eliminated a lot of the errors that gave them issues in Game 1, such as better puck possession cleaner exits, a more imposing forecheck and extended zone time as a result.

And Gunnarsson put the icing on the cake as a result.

"Big spark. It’s a massive goal," O'Reilly said. "Obviously he’s a big piece of this team and I thought he played an unbelievable game. To see that puck go in and see the celebration from him, it’s inspiring for us all. Incredible play by an incredible player.

"I thought as the game went on, we progressed. I thought we got better and obviously with them having five ‘D’ we kind of worked them, kind of broke them down. I thought it gave us an advantage and we came out and had a bit more gas. As you see, I thought we outplayed them in that overtime and got the big goal."

The Blues talked about better puck movement and being more responsible with the puck. 

Oh, and staying out of the box. 

The Blues had to kill five more penalties, not the most ideal situation, including one with 6:38 remaining on a highly questionable slashing penalty on Brayden Schenn, but they got the job done. But the Blues' forecheck eventually wore down the Boston defense, which was playing with five blue liners most of the game after Matt Grzelcyk didn't return after getting checked by Sundqvist, who got two minutes for boarding.

Sundqvist didn't want to comment on the play, but word is that the Department of Player Safety will look at the incident and decide whether there will be suplemental discipline or not.

The game was tightly-contested after the first period, but boy, was it a wild first period.

Sammy Blais was called for a highly questionable goaltender interference penalty coming in off the right edge, getting some help along the way from Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, and Boston capitalized on Charlie Coyle's goal at 4:44 for a 1-0 lead. 

Sundqvist's failure to get the puck in deep after getting it out of the zone cost the Blues, as Boston was able to come back in with speed, and Coyle came in from the slot and beat Binnington five-hole.

The Blues tied it with one of their patended forecheck shifts from the Tyler Bozak line and Bortuzzo cashed in on a shot from a very sharp angle along the right boards beats Rask high on the short side at 9:37 to make it 1-1, but Joakim Nordstrom put Boston back on top 2-1 after two David Perron giveaways in the defensive zone on clearing attempts, Nordstrom found himself alone in the slot and he dekes and slides another shot through Binnington's five-hole at 10:17 on Boston's fifth shot.

Tarasenko's 10th of the playoffs, extending his point streak to eight games (five goals, five assists) at 14:55 to tie Gary Sabourin (1969) and Brett Hull (1990) for the second-longest point streak in Blues playoff history, tied the game 2-2.

Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz broke out quick and after Rask made saves on Schwartz and Tarasenko, Tarasenko stayed with his effort and from his knees, chipped in a backhand.

"Nice to see the boys responded quickly," Binnington said. "That's huge and I just try to be there when the boys needed me and give the team a chance to win. It was a hard-fought game and the boys played a great game, disciplined game. We played a team game for 60 minutes, well, more than 60 minutes I guess. I think we deserved that win tonight. Happy to go home 1-1."

The Blues were impressive in their attack Wednesday. The forecheck was imposing and the hits kept coming, all 50 of them. They stuck with the plan and executed it.

"Both teams are physical," Blues center Brayden Schenn said. "It's a hard series. A lot of hits out there. ... That's kind of the identity of both teams and you're going to see that moving forward."
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Joel Edmundson (6) congratulates Carl Gunnarsson
after the Blues defenseman's goal in OT secured a 3-2
win over Boston in Game 2.

Now it's on to Enterprise Center, where it will be boisterous and booming. If Games 3 and 4 are any indication of what what it was like for the watch parties for Games 1 and 2, the Blues will have a loud crowd behind them.

"It’s a great sports fanbase and a great sports city," Binnington said. "They deserve it. We’re happy to play for them and we’re having fun doing it, playing together. We’re happy to go home and perform in front of them with them on our side."

* NOTES -- The Blues were missing injured players Robert Thomas and Vince Dunn.

Thomas, who was the recipient of a big hit from Krug in Game 1, missed his first game of the playoffs, but Berube said it wasn't a result of the hit. Thomas has been dealing with a lingering undisclosed injury.

Dunn missed his fifth game as a result of a puck to the mouth in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final.

He's been a regular skater the past few days but wasn't ready to play.

Robby Fabbri, who played 10:14 in Game 2, replaced Thomas in the lineup. It was his first game since Game 5 of the second round against Dallas.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

(5-29-19) Blues-Bruins Game 2 Gameday Lineup

BOSTON -- Vince Dunn and Robert Thomas will not play for the Blues against the Boston Bruins in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final today (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1 FM).

Dunn has skated regularly in recent days and was a full participant again on Wednesday but apparently isn't ready to come back in.

Thomas was rocked by a third-period hit from Bruins defenseman Torey Krug in Game 1, a 4-2 Boston victory. But interim coach Craig Berube said that the hit has nothing to do with Thomas being out.

"No, nothing to do with that," he said.

Berube said on Tuesday that Thomas was "fine" but, made the choice Tuesday he would come out, likely because of a recurring undisclosed ailment that's been bothering him.

"When did I get the sense he wouldn't be in? Yesterday I made that decision that I was going to take him out," Berube said.

What it likely means is that Robby Fabbri will step in and replace Thomas, but Berube wouldn't confirm it. Fabbri hasn;t played since Game 5 of the second round against Dallas.

"We'll see at gametime," he said. "He's a tenacious player, he's quick, gets on the puck. He's a competitive kid. He's got the ability to score goals. We've seen that in the past from him. Those are the types of things we'll look for if he's in."

With Thomas out, it breaks up arguably one of the more consistent lines the Blues have utilized with Tyler Bozak and Pat Maroon.

"Obviously it's a change for sure, but these guys are veteran players and have been around for a long time," Berube said. "They'll be fine. It'll just be a different look for them."

One thing to keep in mind is that as players were coming on the ice for the morning skate, assistant coach Steve Ott had a lengthy conversation with Zach Sanford, who hasn't played since Game 3 of the first round against Winnipeg. Could the Blues insert Sanford in for a bigger body? Perhaps, but the best bet is that Fabbri will be the one coming in.

And Jaden Schwartz indicated as much.

"He's worked and he's been ready to go," Schwartz said of Fabbri. "He's very excited so we're happy to have him in the lineup."

- - -

The Blues have done well turning the page after a loss, and after looking at video of Game 1, they understand what needs to be done tonight.

When there was a big panic among fans after getting waxed, 6-3, in Game 1 of the conference final against San Jose, the Blues responded with a 4-2 win in Game 2.

"I think we've done that yesterday. That's what the days in between are for," Blues forward David Perron said. "It was a good day. I think we're ready to go. It's certainly nice to get into the game in tonight.

"I saw the famous Tarasenko quote. I liked it a lot yesterday. We won the first game last year and then we end up losing four straight. The first game doesn't necessarily mean a lot, but I'm pretty sure (Game 2) means a lot, so we've got to get it."

What do the Blues need to limit?

"Both teams are pretty relentless on the forecheck," Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo said. "It's just a matter of limiting their speed through the neutral zone so they're not coming in with as much speed as they had last game.

"We didn't win the first game last series either and we just took a hard look at what we can do to get better and we've gotten better as every series has gone on."

Berube wants one aspect cleaned up.

"Manage the puck a lot better," he said. "We had a good first period. We were tight, connected. Second period, we got loose, not supporting the puck enough, just turning it over in the wrong areas. It fueled their momentum and the penalties for sure too. We've got to clear up the penalties. We can't take five penalties in a game."

If the Blues can fix some of their Game 1 issues, they'll have a shot at ending Boston's eight-game winning streak.

- - -

* Vladimir Tarasenko's seven-game point streak (four goals, five assists) is tied for third-longest playoff point streak in Blues history (8-game streak would tie for second longest in team history with Gary Sabourin (1969) and Brett Hull (1990); (record held by Tony Currie, 9 games, 1981).

* Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is one win from becoming the third rookie goalie in NHL history to win each of his team’s first 13 wins in a playoff year (record is 15, co-held by Patrick Roy, Montreal, 1986 and Ron Hextall, Philadelphia, 1987). Binnington is also 11-2-0 after a loss in his NHL career with a 1.81 goals-against average and .936 save percentage.

* Since the Final went to the best-of-7 format in 1939, teams have taken a 2-0 series lead 51 times – winning the Cup 46 times. A team has overcome being down 2-0 in a series to win the Final twice in the past 47 years: the Bruins in 2011 vs. Vancouver and Pittsburgh in 2009 vs. Detroit. The Blues are 0-13 in Cup Final games, looking for their first-ever win.

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robby Fabbri

Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Chris Butler and Ville Husso. Vince Dunn (upper body) remains day-to-day, Robert Thomas (wrist) is out.

- - -

The Bruins' projected lineup:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Backes

Marcus Johansson-Charlie Coyle-Danton Heinen

Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk-Connor Clifton

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

Healthy scratches include Steven Kampfer, Karson Kuhlman and John Moore. Chris Wagner (right arm) and Kevan Miller (lower body) are out.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

These Blues have proven nothing flusters them

Even after losing Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final, players believe 
they will be better moving forward, just like they have been in the past

BOSTON -- The Blues have been in the precarious position of being down in a series before and haven't wavered.

Why should the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins be any different?

This 1-0 series deficit might sting a little more all things considered, since the Blues led Game 1 on Monday night, 2-0, before succumbing in a 4-2 loss.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Ryan O'Reilly (90) and the Blues have been down this road before and won't
feel pressure, will only play better as Stanley Cup Final against Bruins
moves forward. 

The Blues fell behind against the San Jose Sharks twice, 1-0 after losing 6-3 in Game 1, then fell behind 2-1 in the series after a 5-4 overtime loss following that controversial missed hand pass call. They also trailed the Dallas Stars 3-2 in that series before winning in seven games, and also conquering adversity when the Winnipeg Jets won Games 3 and 4 in St. Louis to turn that series into a best-of-3. The Blues would go on to win Games 5 and 6 and win the series.

So what do the Blues need to do to get Boston, winners of eight straight games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to buckle, get them off their game?

"Making them play in their end and making them stop," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "We need a lot more o-zone time in the game. We turned too many pucks over, couldn't get on the forecheck enough. Never made them play in their end enough.

"By getting pucks in deep and going to work, getting on the forecheck."

In order for the Blues to do that, they have to get cleaner defensive zone exits, and that may come in the form of Vince Dunn, who could be available to play in Game 2 after taking part in an optional skate on Tuesday; they have to make better puck decisions and not allow the Bruins into transition rush attacks. Simply put, putting pucks in the proper areas and doing better things with it will help alleviate a number of the issues from Game 1 and help in what they want to accomplish.

"I think it starts in the o-zone for us d-men, just kind of reading the play, how it’s coming out, what they have offensively coming out of the zone … if they have three guys pushing or things like that," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "But just getting a better read on the play and just starting tighter out of their (offensive) zone and just playing through the neutral zone obviously. The forwards have done a tremendous job of backchecking for us and when we have that, it allows us to be tighter. For us d-men, we’ve got to make sure that we continue to be tight because these forwards have been great and it allows us to do that. Just making sure we’re tight on them in their o-zone. It all starts from there and then obviously when we can match the speed coming out of there, it makes it a lot easier for us. So hopefully we can be tighter and get some turnovers in the neutral zone."

Not taking penalties (the Blues were called for, whether you liked them or not, five minors) would help also. The Blues came into the Cup final with the fewest penalty minutes per game in the playoffs and did a pretty decent job on Boston's power play, which came into Game 1 as the No. 1 power play in the postseason (a ridiculous 34 percent), holding Boston to 1-for-5. And the only goal was scored by Charlie McAvoy at the end of the Bruins' fourth power play, a shot that deflected off the stick of Alex Pietrangelo, in the second period.

"Yeah, they have a great power play so you don’t want to be giving them opportunities," Blues center Tyler Bozak said. "Just have the puck more, holding onto it. I think we were chasing it around a little too much in the second and obviously you're prone to taking more penalties in that scenario. Got to support each other a little better, get more on the inside and yeah, just try and stay out of the box. You can’t give their power play that many opportunities."

But the bottom line here is the Blues just don't get rattled easy. Ask goalie Jordan Binnington, who delivered the quote of the day when asked about Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, who just prior to staring him down delivered a big hit on rookie Robert Thomas after Krug and David Perron scuffled and wrestled in front of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

"It was more of a stare," Binnington said. "His pupils were pretty big. I don't know if he's on something, but he was pretty fired up. It was a big hit, big play and the rink was excited. It was loud. It’s a fun atmosphere to play in."

Does he sound nervous? No, and the Blues aren't nervous.

"I think we did a little too much feeling out and deviated from our game plan," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "It's a wakeup call for us, whether it's coming off a high and not realizing the work you've got to put in, but we're not worried. We know we have to get back. It's not going to be easy, but we're confident in each other."

And when asked about the notion of when the Final format went to a best-of-7 format in 1939, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup 77.2 percent of the time (61 of 79 series), Blues right wing Vladimir Tarasenko, who has a seven-game point streak in these playoffs (four goals, five assists) after scoring in Game 1, defined just what the Blues' mood is.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Colton Parayko (right) said he and his fellow defensemen
have to move pucks better and help pressure Boston forwards in Game 2.

"I think that's why you guys do the stats and we just play on the ice," Tarasenko said. "It don't really matter this part of the year. You never know what's going to happen. You have stats like this and it's happened before, like you said, Washington last year. They prove it can be different way. That's what we believe in.

"Again, this is on your side to have some cool stats and everything else, but it's not in our heads."

Blues unravel, blow two-goal lead, fall to Bruins 4-2 in opener

Despite goals from Schenn, Tarasenko, Blues outplayed by Boston 
to fall behind in best-of-7 series, 0-13 in Stanley Cup Final games

BOSTON -- It was the start they wanted that carried over early in the second period, one in which had the Blues in a good spot to win their first-ever Stanley Cup Final game.

Nothing good materialized after Vladimir Tarasenko scored.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
It was that kind of night for Jaden Schwartz, who reacts after a Bruins goal, 
and the Blues in a 4-2 loss in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The Boston Bruins dominated the final 39 minutes of the game, scored four unanswered goals and went on to a 4-2 win over the Blues on Monday before 17,565 at TD Garden as the Blues fell to 0-13 all-time in Stanley Cup Final games.

When Tarasenko scored exactly one minute into the second period off a turnover, it gave the Blues a 2-0 lead against a Bruins team that was playing its first game in 11 days. But that was it. It was all Boston after that, and it started with a goal 1:16 after Tarasenko scored, and the Blues generated little in the way of offense against Tuukka Rask, they turned pucks over, they were disconnected on the ice and Boston pounced, led by its fourth line.

"A 2-0 lead, there was a lot of hockey and we just didn't play our game after that," said Blues center Brayden Schenn, who opened the scoring for the Blues in the first period and assisted on Tarasenko's goal. "I thought we had a good start to the first period, got to our game a little bit. Then we just started getting too spread out, weren't getting pucks in, turning pucks over, whether it was by accident or on purpose, we've just got to take care of the puck. They're good off the rush, they've got mobile defensemen and they made the most of it."

The Blues played the kind of period in the first they wanted, getting to pucks, sticks in lanes, and scoring first.

Schenn gave the Blues a 1-0 lead at 7:23 when he was able to collect a loose puck in the slot and snap one high blocker over Rask. Rask made an initial save on Schenn, then tried to poke the puck away from the danger area but a pinching Jay Bouwmeester forced the puck to pinball around before Schenn was able to corral it.

The Blues were able to kill off two penalties, doing a good job of keeping pucks out of the danger zone areas, but it's something they want to try and avoid in this series. Boston came into the game connecting at an incredible 34 percent in the postseason, including 7-for-15 against Carolina in the Eastern Conference Final.

Shots were 8-8 and as the road team, it's exactly the way the Blues needed to start.

"I thought the first period was good," Blues interim coach Craig Berube said. "I thought we were … did a lot of good things. Second period, stopped   skating,   stopped moving the puck, turned it over and gave them momentum. You know, and then plus the penalties didn’t help."

Berube's worst fears came to fruition. The second period started off well for the Blues, as Tarasenko scored his ninth of the playoffs and extended his point streak to seven games (four goals, five assists) after Schenn picked off a David Pastrnak reverse pass behind the Boston net, fed Tarasenko in the slot and he beat Rask with a quick snap shot stick side to make it 2-0.

It was the momentum the Blues needed to begin the second, but unfortunately for them, it was all downhill from there. 

Boston would get 18 of the final 20 shots in the period, the Blues took two more penalties (they didn't like either one of them) and Boston cashed in one one of them.

But the goal that didn't need to go in was the one by Connor Clifton 1:16 after Tarasenko scored. It made it 2-1 and brought some life back to the Bruins on a pass towards the crease to Clifton, who was crashing the net and got a step on Robert Bortuzzo. He somehow was able to chip the shot by Binnington.

After an Oskar Sundqvist cross-check, Charlie McAvoy tied it late on Boston's fourth power play at 12:41, a shot that deflected off Alex Pietrangelo's stick and past Binnington on the short side to make it 2-2, a period the Blues desperately needed for it to end even.  

"It was more us," Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo said. "I think we kind of got away from the game, got spread out and they played the way they wanted to in the neutral zone."

The Blues were not connected on the ice. Defensemen were trying to make longer, stretch passes from their zone, passes Boston skaters were either picking off or disrupting. 

"Yeah, a little disconnected," Pietrangelo said. "We didn't skate probably the way we needed to. Just got a little disconnected and they're able to take some of those passes away and create turnovers on odd-man rushes.

"They were aggressive more in the second half and I don't think we were aggressive enough skating with the puck. It wasn't a great combo for us, but mostly us there."

It was a good spot nevertheless for the Blues, who were tied after two periods but were outshot 18-3 in the second period.

But once again, poor execution led to Boston's go-ahead and game-winning goal from Sean Kuraly, who scored on a backdoor play at 5:21 to make it 3-2.

It started when Joel Edmundson's stretch pass was picked off at center ice, and Boston entered the zone. When Jordan Binnington, who was solid with 34 saves, couldn't gobble up Zdeno Chara's weak wrister from the left point, the puck stayed alive to Binnington's right, and Noel Acciari spun and whirled a puck to Kuraly at the back post, where he was able to gain position on Edmundson and score.

"They went down on that partial 3-on-2 and off the skate and in the net obviously gave them momentum," Berube said of Clifton's goal. "And I thought they were the better team after that."

Berube pulled Binnington late, and everybody's favorite pest, Brad Marchand, scored into an empty net with 1:49 remaining.

After the first period, Boston outshot the Blues 30-12 and finished 1-for-5 on the power play.

"Whatever we had, 15, 16 shots, that's not enough," Schenn said. "He's a world-class goaltender [Rask]. We've got to be able to not only shoot more pucks, we didn't get enough traffic around him, not enough screens. We didn't obviously make it very hard on him tonight.

"... We just didn't get to our game. We didn't get it deep, we didn't have no grind time, forecheck hard enough, we weren't tight enough out there in five-man groups. They were able to break the puck out easy and come back in transition."

The Blues were in a similar situation against San Jose in the Western Conference Final after losing 6-3, a game in which they never led. This one, they led by two and lost, but they feel they can regroup and come back with a better result.

"You feel like you did a lot of things, especially in the first, start of the second, but tomorrow's a new day," Pietrangelo said. "We'll get ready for Game 2."

The game already established some nastiness to it, and none was more evident than when Bruins defenseman Torey Krug, after being in a scuffling match with David Perron in front of the Boston goal for several seconds and helmetless, went barreling three zones into the Blues' end and laid out Blues rookie Robert Thomas with a hit. Thomas didn't return for the final 10:19.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
David Perron (57) knocks down Bruins defenseman Torey Krug during play
in the third period of the Stanley Cup Final Monday at TD Garden.

"I see the puck going to the point and I'm trying to get body position," Perron said. "You see some chopping on each side. I'm just trying to make as much room as I can for myself if there's a shot so I can tip it and also trying to generate momentum for my club. When it's not going your way, you try and so some things to change momentum. Maybe he hits you one time too many and you get in the box."

As far as the chippiness, it's only the beginning.

"It's a big goal at the end for both teams," Pietrangelo said. "We expected a good fight."

Monday, May 27, 2019

(5-27-19) Blues-Bruins Game 1 Gameday Lineup

BOSTON -- Drop the puck.

That's been the mindset for both the Blues and Boston Bruins, who begin their quest of winning the Stanley Cup when the final starts with Game 1 today at 7 p.m. (NBC, KMOX 1120-AM) at TD Garden.

The Western Conference champion Blues, in the Cup final for the first time since 1970, paved their road with series wins over Winnipeg (six games), Dallas (seven games) and most recently, San Jose (six games), while the Eastern Conference champion Bruins, in the Stanley Cup final for the third time in nine seasons, eliminated Toronto (seven games), Columbus (six games) and most recently, Carolina (four games).

The Blues have not played since Tuesday, a break of five days, and while they're eager to get started, there's a bit of self-awareness of where they are soaking up the atmosphere in a business-like manner.

"It means a lot, obviously," Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. "It's probably biggest stage we all ever play. I told you yesterday the break was a little too long. Now it's a gameday and kind of same routine. I'm really excited about series starting tonight."

"We're excited," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "Obviously it's been a long wait for both teams. It's exciting to get it going. There's going to be a lot of emotions tonight. At the end of the day, it's another game and we have to be prepared."

Boston's idle time has been even longer. They last played in May 16, 11 days ago, and had 10 days between games themselves.

"Yeah, I guess until we play, it's going to be hard," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "I think they've handled it well. We've mixed in rest vs. work. Yesterday, our practice was scruffy, not going to lie to you. I thought the day before was excellent, so which one are we going to? 

"We've put in a plan this week we feel will allow us to have success in the first game. Until we get out there, who knows? ... I feel we're ready, but until the puck drops, don't know."

Blues interim coach Craig Berube said he and his coaching staff have had ample time to prepare and feel the team is ready to go.

"We had plenty of time to go over everything," Berube said. "It's just about getting out there and playing. I think the team is in a good spot. We're obviously anxious to get going, get out there the first few shifts and make contact and get involved and get the nerves out."

- - -

Shutting down the opposition's top players has been a staple of Blues defensemen Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester, who is making his debut in the Cup final after 1,184 regular-season games.

Next up and final hurdle on the docket is the trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, who have combined for 46 points (22 goals, 24 assists) in 17 postseason games.

Parayko is averaging 24:26 per game, while Bouwmeester is at 23:02.

"We're confident obviously," Parayko said. "We work better as a series goes along, too, as we continue to see guys and it gets us going. We obviously have a lot of confidence right now and it's been fun to learn from a guy like that has been in the league for so long and has been a shutdown guy. He's done it all his whole career. It's cool to learn from a guy like that. It makes life on me so much easier. Obviously can't say enough good things about 'Bouw' that's got us to this point and he's obviously been the anchor. He's done a lot of the arm lifting."

- - -

Defenseman Vince Dunn is still day to day with that upper-body injury stemming from being struck in the mouth by a shot from Sharks defenseman Brenden Dillon. Dunn skated again on Monday and Berube said he's close to returning but will not play tonight.

Forward Robert Thomas did not skate this morning, but that's not out of the ordinary. Berube said he will be a player tonight. Thomas has not missed a game in the playoffs.

In Dunn's absence, the Blues' third d-pairing of Carl Gunnarsson and Robert Bortuzzo have given the Blues good size and across their entire blue line. 

The Blues are 3-0 since Gunnarsson entered the lineup with Bortuzzo and outscored San Jose 12-2.

"They've done a good job of obviously eating ice time up and defending well and doing the little things right," Berube said. "They're difficult to play against, Gunny's obviously different than Borts, but they both have good sticks and they block shots and do all the little things, defend our net really well. They make simple plays out of our zone. They've done a good job."

"We just try to do our thing," Gunnarsson said. "We don't eat up a ton of minutes. Obviously the top four gets way more, but we just accept our role and we do whatever we can in that. We try to push forward and take it step by step."

- - -

David Backes, 10 years with the Blues, groomed in the Blues organization, captain from 2011-16, was always hopeful of parading the first-ever Stanley Cup down Market Street, in front of thousands upon thousands of Blues fans waiting their entire lives for it.

Now, he'll try and prevent them from doing it, all the while chasing his first one with the Bruins tonight.

And while Backes, 35, still has many close ties and friends to the Blues and the St. Louis area, for at least four games and up to seven, all ties are cut.

"Friends on the St. Louis Blues are now cut off officially," Backes said. "If they text me, it's going to fall on deaf ears and if they get a text back, it might be from my daughter and it it'll be very incoherent.

"I don't have enough schooling to put that into words (either Backes or Blues to win their first Cup). It's one of those opportunities that you dream of as a kid. I've said it before I wish it was alternating years that I can cheer for the Blues one year and they can win a Cup and we can have our opportunity the following year and they can cheer me and I can win a Cup and we can all have one to our names, but it's come to this. It's a binary choice. It's them or us. There were some feelings the night when the Blues eliminated the Sharks, I knew it was going to happen in this Final. There were a lot of thoughts going through my head of my friends, I'm glad they got the opportunity. I hope and I'm prepared to not make it beneficial at my expense. We're focused in on what we're doing in the Boston Bruins locker room and we're going to put our friendships aside and any good feelings until after this thing's done."

Backes is closest with Blues captain Alex Pietrangelo, who he handed the 'C' off to when he departed as a free agent following the 2015-16 season and has helped along the way while Pietrangelo entrenches himself in the leadership throne.

All bets are off for the next two weeks. One will walk away on top of the hockey world, one will have his dreams shattered.

"I'd say it's unfortunately special that one of us is going to have to lose and one of us is going win because you wish nothing but the best for your friends in all times," Backes said. "This time, though, I think that's going to have to take a little bit of a back seat and an exception because we do have a great friendship. We've shared a lot of great memories, to be able to pass off the 'C' to him. I'm proud of what he's done with the St. Louis Blues this year from a last-place team around the turn of the year to now the Stanley Cup Final. It's not by accident. There's a lot of hard work that goes into that and they deserve a ton of credit for that, but this is all about us right now and what we're doing in Boston. I hate to ruin a good ending, but that's our goal.

"It's a different team, yes, but when he'd call, obviously someone that I care about. When I was the captain in St. Louis, he was kind of my right hand man and the first guy in line and with me on what the goals were, what the next objective was going to be. He never wavered from that. To try and pay that forward give him advice on the other side was a no-brainer for me. The other part is St. Louis, being there for 10 years, when I got there, we were dead-last in the league with a first overall pick and not doing too well to a team that could contend the last five years of my time there. We were a potential Stanley Cup finalists, I thought, each of the years. We ran into a few hot Chicago teams or L.A. teams that were winning Cups on a regular (basis) that didn't allow us to reach that goal, but we had some really good teams. I don't feel like I wanted to abandon that, so the advice I could give to him or the time I could spend with him that would be able to continue that work that I believe that I had some fingerprints on, I wanted to continue that no question."

Now Backes, who had 208 goals and 254 assists with the Blues in 727 regular-season games and 49 more in the playoffs, has to try and channel his emotions in a different way.

"I'm very grateful that it's not my first year out of there because I'm not going to lie, my first time back in St. Louis, I think I was numb with emotions of going around seeing security guards I hadn't seen all year or people in town, everyone saying good luck or the gentleman of the hotel that we're staying at or the bus driver, all those guys were so great that it was like, 'Man, this was a place that's really touched me in my life,'" Backes said. "My wife and I grew up there. We had our first daughter there. From 22-32, you have a lot of growth as a human. I feel I made a little bit of an impression on the city. The city is something that made huge impressions on us. Thankfully it's not that first year going back there, so I've been able to be back there a couple more times, kind of get those warm and fuzzy feelings out of my system. Not that they're gone, but they're just not as experienced the first time as they would have been as the first year back. They're the opponent now, I need to think if them as such and this layoff after they eliminated the Sharks having six days to kind of wrap my head around that and say, 'OK, it's on. It's us or them.' That's really helped me see them as an opponent rather than as maybe a warm, fuzzy story."

- - -

* Bruins forwards David Krejci (illness) and Marchand (wrist) are expected to play. Both skated during this morning's optional.

* Neither the Blues or Bruins have trailed in their last three playoff games. Boston has trailed for only 9.9 percent of playing time since the start of the second round compared to 28.1 percent for St. Louis.

* Since the final went to the best-of-7 format in 1939, the team that has won Game 1 has gone on to win the Stanley Cup 77.2 percent of the time (61 of 79 series). However, last season, Washington rallied for a series victory over Vegas and the franchise’s first-ever Stanley Cup after losing Game 1 of the final, winning in five games.

* Not only have the Blues not been to the Stanley Cup final since 1970, but they are 0-3 all-time. They are also 0-12 in actual Stanley Cup final games after being swept by Montreal in 1968 and 1969 and the Bruins in 1970.

* The Blues are 0-2 in their playoff history against Boston (Bruins won 4-0 in 1970 final, won 4-0 in 1972 semifinals) The Bruins have outscored the Blues 48-15 in eight playoff games.

* Tarasenko has a six-game point streak (three goals, five assists) and can tie the third-longest playoff point streak in blues history (record held by Tony Currie, nine games, 1981).

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Carl Gunnarsson-Robert Bortuzzo

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

Healthy scratches include Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Chris Butler and Ville Husso. Vince Dunn (upper body) remains day-to-day.

- - -

The Bruins' projected lineup:

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak

Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-David Backes

Marcus Johansson-Charlie Coyle-Danton Heinen

Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy

Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo

Matt Grzelcyk-Connor Clifton

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

Healthy scratches include Steven Kampfer, Karson Kuhlman and John Moore. Chris Wagner (right arm) and Kevan Miller (lower body) are out.