By LOU KORAC
ST. LOUIS -- If the Blues needed a replacement for Ivan Barbashev, who is suspended for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins on Sunday (7 p.m.; NBC, KMOX 1120-AM), who better than Robert Thomas?
Well, after getting the feel that Thomas could be out the rest of the playoffs with a lingering wrist injury, the 19-year-old rookie will get the chance to help the Blues clinch the first Stanley Cup in franchise history when he returns to the lineup tonight.
Thomas, who has one goal and five assists in 20 playoff games, declared himself ready to go after Sunday's heavily-populated optional skate.
""I'm good to go. I'm ready," Thomas said. "It feels great to be back out there with the guys and I'm good to go for tonight.
"It's the hardest thing to watch your teammates go out there and they put us in a great position. I'm happy to be able to get out there and hopefully help them out."
Blues coach Craig Berube had a lengthy conversation with Thomas at the end of practice Saturday and it was a simple conversation regarding how Thomas, who has six points (one goal, five assists) in 20 Stanley Cup Playoff games, was feeling.
"He was just asking how I was feeling and how my legs felt since I haven't been on the ice the last couple days," Thomas said. "That was pretty much the gist of it. I obviously said how I felt, which is great."
Thomas will replace Barbashev, who was suspended one game for an illegal check to the head of Boston forward Marcus Johansson in Game 4.
"Well, he said he could play," Berube said of Thomas. "He was ready to play, so he feels good enough to play and we need a player.
"He started feeling better and just a little bit of time off has helped too. So when we lost Barbashev, we talked to him and he’s ready to go.
"It was always in the back of my mind and obviously his mind, too. He wants to play, he’s a gamer, tough kid, so he was always willing to play. But I think the time off has helped him, and he’s more prepared now."
Thomas will jump back in and play right wing on a line with center Tyler Bozak and left wing Pat Maroon, who was smiling from ear-to-ear when the topic of Thomas came up.
"I'm excited," Maroon said. "I like to call him 'Therm.' Therm's a guy that, he's got fresh legs and he's young, he's 19. He's the guy that drove our line, me and Bozie. He's done a really good job of moving his feet, making high-end plays, protecting the puck in the O-zone, making smart plays out of the D-zone.
"I'm happy for him. He's healthy, he's ready to go. You never want to see any of your teammates go down, but I'm happy he gets the opportunity to play tonight."
With Barbashev shelved for tonight, Sammy Blais will draw the assignment of playing with Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen.
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The biggest game in the history of this franchise is going to go down tonight, and the Blues are primed and ready.
All the talk is to stay composed, have a good first period, remain disciplined and most importantly, play a straight-line game, because it can be ready easy to have thoughts of hoisting that Cup.
"Well, I don’t think anyone cannot think about it, first of all," Berube said. "But I think it’s important that you don’t get ahead of yourself. That’s one thing we’ve talked about the last couple of days and today is just focusing on the first period and going out and playing. That’s the most important thing. You don’t want to get too far ahead, but it’s hard not to. That’s normal. But our guys have done a good job over the playoffs of focusing on just small things, first periods, things like that, and that’s going to be important tonight that we have a real good first period."
The Blues absorbed a big Boston push in the first period of Game 5, used the 17-save effort of Jordan Binnington before settling in and getting a lead, ultimately getting their first lead in the series.
They'll rely on their past experiences of strong play in Games 5-7, where the Blues are 7-1 in these playoffs and outscored their opponents 25-10.
They can become the first team since the 2007 Anaheim Ducks and third in NHL history (Edmonton, 1988) to clinch all four round of playoff series on home ice.
"Just kind of business as usual," Blues center Ryan O'Reilly said. "We know we need a big start. And yeah, our focus is on that. We’re not worried about the outcome. Just focused on the process, coming out with a lot of jump and energy and trying to find our game right away.
"I think since the start of the playoffs we’ve continually progressed as series have gone on and done better and I expect the same thing tonight. I think we’re going to come out (strong) and I think we’ve done a great job of handling that."
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* With a win tonight, Binnington (15 wins) can set an NHL playoff record for most wins by rookie goalie in a playoff year (tied with Patrick Roy, MTL, 1986; Ron Hextall, PHI, 1987, Cam Ward, CAR, 2006, Matt Murray, PIT, 2016).
* The Blues can become the second team in as many seasons to win their first Cup (Washington), the first time that's happened since 2004-07, when Tampa Bay, Carolina and Anaheim each won its first Cup.
* O’Reilly has 20 points (six goals, 14 assists) in 24 games in the 2019 playoffs, which is one point shy of tying a Blues record for most in a playoff year, held by Brett Hull (13-8-21 in 12 games in 1990).
* The Bruins will make a change in their lineup and insert forward Karson Kuhlman in and remove defenseman Steven Kampfer. Kampfer was used as a seventh defenseman in Game 5, which means former Blue David Backes will remain a healthy scratch.
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The Blues' projected lineup:
Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko
Zach Sanford-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron
Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas
Sammy Blais-Oskar Sundqvist-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, Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn, Chris Butler and Ville Husso. Ivan Barbashev will miss Game 6 due to suspension.
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The Bruins' projected lineup:
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Karson Kuhlman
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.
The healthy scratches include David Backes and Steven Kampfer. Matt Grzelcyk (concussion), Chris Wagner (arm) and Kevan Miller (lower body) are out.