Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Bortuzzo latest in role players stepping up for Blues

Defenseman scored key goal, makes crucial block in Game 2 win against 
Sharks; has taken limited role in stride and embraced role when called upon

ST. LOUIS -- Robert Bortuzzo probably went through several different scenarios on how to celebrate.

But when living in that moment, naturally, raw emotion takes over at some point. 

That didn't stop the Blues defenseman from thinking about how to celebrate after scoring the game-winner, his first Stanley Cup playoff goal in Game 2 of a 4-2 win against the San Jose Sharks on Monday.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo (41) celebrates his goal with teammate
Robert Thomas Monday in a 4-2 win in Game 2 at San Jose.

"It's not really my game, but it's definitely something that goes into the back of your mind," Bortuzzo said. "I think Jaden [Schwartz] will remember, if I do score a playoff goal, 'you're going to like the celebration.' You never can plan what you're going to do. It's just a rush of emotion. It's an intense game out there, as everyone knows. That's all it is, it's emotion coming to the surface."

And what did Schwartz think of said celebration?

"I loved his celebration," Schwartz said, getting a laugh out of the media throng postgame at SAP Center in San Jose. "He's got a lot of emotion. ... Right now, it's obviously a big time of year. The intensity's high. Everyone's doing a good job of embracing that and having fun with it."

Bortuzzo has indeed done that, someone who's been in and out of the lineup in the postseason thus far. His first playoff goal in the NHL couldn't have come at a better time. It helped squash San Jose's momentum-building second period in which the Sharks overcame a 2-0 deficit and tie it on two Logan Couture goals.

Known more for his brawn than his hands, Bortuzzo's goal, impressive in that he was able to pinch into the offensive zone, beat future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton to the slot before taking Joel Edmundson's in-stride pass and roofing a backhand over the blocker of Martin Jones with 3:26 remaining in the period. It zapped the energy of the California crowd, and the Blues, in shark-like fashion, smelled blood in the water and pounced.

"We all were real excited for him," said Blues center Oskar Sundqvist, whose goal iced the win in the third period. "Awesome goal. Awesome celly. So it was nice.

"It's nice to see him score. ... He usually has great breakout passes but never seen him that high up the ice actually."

It's a trait among Blues defenseman that's encouraged by Blues interim coach Craig Berube.

"I think our 'D' are always involved, whether they're jumping in on the play on the rush," Berube said. "Or in the offensive zone we get cycling the puck to get moving around and get in certain situations, we want our 'D' to be active and they produced for us all year and they're producing now in the playoffs, too."

What Bortuzzo is best known for is his ability to make plays in the defensive zone, and although it may not jump out in bold print on the stat sheet, but his block of a Kevin Labanc one-timer from the slot in a 3-2 game with 10:04 remaining is what will stick with his teammates equally as much.

Bortuzzo finished with five hits and two blocks in the game. This is what he's paid for.

"[Brent] Burns had it down low, found a high guy and it was a great play by him," Blues goalie Jordan Binnington said of Bortuzzo. "A huge block by Bortuzzo to come up there. That was a key moment in the game and I think the guys rallied off of that."

Bortuzzo was inserted into the lineup when Carl Gunnarsson sustained a lower-body injury in Game 7 against the Dallas Stars. He's a plus-3 with a game-winning goal playing on the third defensive pairing. 

He struggled in certain situations in the series against the Stars, who played a quicker game, but perhaps Bortuzzo's suited to play in the series against the Sharks, who have bigger, more physical players, and those are the kinds of players he thrives against.
(St. Louis Blues photo)
Blues defenseman Robert Bortuzzo lays a big hit on Sharks forward Marcus
Sorensen during Game 2 of the Western Conference Final on Monday. 

Bortuzzo has played in just eight games in the playoffs, and nobody wants to sit, but he's taken it like a pro and when called upon, put his head down and went to work. He played 10:37 after playing in 11:18 in Game 1 with nine combined hits, that one huge blocked shot Monday and is tied for second on the team in plus-minus in the playoffs at plus-4. 

"It's never fun coming out," Bortuzzo said. "To me, it's how you approach it and how you handle it, it's keeping a positive mentality, it's using time off to get better, watching games, taking in information, playing 3-on-3, working on your skills and hands. It's all a mentality. It's something I've done my whole career, it's something that's kept me in the league to be able to do that. You ask any player, they'll want to be in there every night contributing, but at the end of the day, this is a team thing. Winning is above anything in this sport, if you ask any guy. That's what makes it easy."

No comments:

Post a Comment