ST. LOUIS -- Lineup changes for the Blues in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final today (7 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM) were inevitable.
The Blues, who trail the best-of-7 series 2-1, will insert Vince Dunn back into the lineup for the first time in seven games; he's missed the past six games with an upper-body injury stemming from being hit in the mouth by a shot in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks.
Dunn will be paired with Carl Gunnarsson tonight.
"I just wanted to feel myself getting used to the speed of things," Dunn said. "The more I practiced, the faster I was catching up to things. So I gotta feel like myself out there, I want to be able to be effective and I want to be the player that I was (before)."
Dunn has been practicing on a regular basis throughout the series and for the first time, at least publicly, was seen laughing and smiling with teammates. It was quite the turn of events after not being able to do much before. It's believed his jaw has been wired shut, but even in light of likely more surgery in the off-season, he knew Sunday he'd be ready to go tonight.
"Yeah, I was feeling good," said Dunn, who has two goals and five assists in 16 playoff games. "It's nice to be out there practicing with everyone. You start to get a little uncomfortable when you're away from the rink for so long, and not in your routine. So it's nice to be back with the guys, back in the dressing room, practicing with them as a full team."
Dunn will be making his Cup Final debut and is excited.
"It's crazy," he said. "You see 'Bouw' [Jay Bouwmeester], he's played so many years. You know, a lot of those years he didn't even make it to the playoffs. For me, at such a young age, it's very special. You kind of take things for granted when you're younger, but now you really take it in. You don't really believe it until you're here. It's very special to be in this position that I'm in at such a young age. I just want to make the best of it. I want to be the player that I was all season. I think everyone in here, the confidence that we built, and the excitement from the city and all that coming together. I think we're gonna be a really good group of guys into the game tonight."
Dunn will bring puck transition for the Blues, a much-needed element, and helps add something to a power play that's 1-for-10 in the series.
"He moves the puck as good as anybody on our team from our own end out transition-wise," Blues coach Craig Berube said of Dunn. "Dunn has the capability of doing high-end things in the offensive zone sometimes. Not all the time, but there's just times where he can do things that wow you a little bit and make a great play or score a goal from nothing. He can make something from nothing a lot of the times in those areas.
"... I think he’ll be fine. He’s ready to play and he’s 100 percent and he wants to go and he wants to play, so we’re going to get a good player back. Yeah, it’s going to be intense for him right away, but he’ll get into it and he’ll make good plays with the puck like he always does. I expect the same Vince Dunn you’ve seen."
The Blues are happy to have Dunn back.
"He brings a lot of different things," Blues defenseman Colton Parayko said. "He’s a guy who moves the puck well, he’s fast, he’s got a lot of skill. He can do it all. So when you have a guy like that added to the lineup, it’s obviously key, and it’s obviously a big addition. He’s a guy who plays quick and moves the puck really well. Sees the first pass. Makes the first play, and that’s a big thing. We’re excited to get him back. Obviously we can’t wait to see him do his thing tonight. It’s got to be exciting for him. He’s been watching, and we’re really looking forward to seeing him do his thing."
The Blues will shuffle their forward groups up a bit after losing 7-2 in Game 3.
Oskar Sundqvist returns after missing one game due to suspension and will replace Robby Fabbri, who played in Games 2 and 3, and he will center the fourth line again with Ivan Barbashev and Alexander Steen.
"It’s huge," Blues forward Pat Maroon said of Sundqvist's return. "Sunny obviously was missed last game on the penalty kill. He brings a different element. He plays a two-way game. He can check the best line, he can score, he can just be a good forward off the rush. Obviously we missed him on the PK."
Zach Sanford, who made his debut in the series in Game 3, moves up after playing on the fourth line and will play with Ryan O'Reilly and David Perron on the second line, while Sammy Blais, who had been playing with O'Reilly and Perron since Game 6 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Dallas Stars, will move to a line with Tyler Bozak and Maroon. Robert Thomas had been playing there but will miss his third straight game with a wrist injury.
"Obviously I'm excited to be back in tonight," said Sanford, who had an assist in Game 3. "We've had some good chemistry in the past (on that line). I've been watching them play a lot this year and the same with them for me when I'm in. I've just got to bring the same mentality as the last game, be hard and physical and help recover some pucks and we'll be making some plays."
When the Sanford-O'Reilly-Perron line played from Oct. 20-Nov. 3 (six games), it had 23 points (seven goals, 16 assists), and Sanford had three goals and four assists.
Berube liked Sanford's game and wants to keep him in the lineup with his size and strength.
"I thought he had a real good game," Berube said. "I think that was a real good line last game for us. I thought he was strong on the puck. He's good hands, he's got real good puck skills. I thought he had composure with the puck and he moves his feet and he was strong on it."
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After being pulled for the first time in his NHL career in Game 3, Blues goalie Jordan Binnington has turned the page and is moving forward.
In fact, he hasn't even given Game 3 a thought after allowing five goals on 19 shots before being replaced in the second period by Jake Allen.
"I didn’t even really watch film to be honest. Just move on," Binnington said. "... It’s another game. You prepare the same way. Stanley Cup Final, we’re down 2-1, so hopefully we can tie the series up tonight."
As for turning the page, Binnington said: "Same old story, right? Just prepare the same way. As a goalie things are going to happen, it’s not always going to be perfect and you’ve got to regroup, pick yourself back up and move on to the next game.
"I don’t think it was overly emotional. Obviously you don’t like losing, but no matter the score I hate losing so it’s the same feeling. I want to get back in that win column."
Binnington is 6-2 with a 1.84 goals-against average and .935 save percentage in the playoffs following a loss.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Sammy Blais-Tyler Bozak-Pat Maroon
Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
Vince Dunn-Carl Gunnarsson
Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Robert Bortuzzo, Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Chris Butler and Ville Husso. Robert Thomas (wrist) remains out.
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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
John Moore-Connor Clifton
Tuukka Rask will start in goal; Jaroslav Halak will be the backup.
Healthy scratches include Steven Kampfer and Karson Kuhlman. Matt Grzelcyk (upper body), Chris Wagner (arm) and Kevan Miller (lower body) are out.
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