Thursday, May 12, 2022

(5-12-22) Wild-Blues game 6 Gameday Lineup

ST LOUIS -- It it ain't broke, why fix it, right?

That's the Blues' mindset going into Game 6 of their Western Conference First Round series against the Minnesota Wild at Enterprise Center (8:30 p.m.; BSMW, TNT, ESPN 101.1-FM) with the chance to clinch the series.

The Blues lead the best-of-7 series 3-2 after winning Games 4 and 5 playing with 11 forwards and seven defensemen, meaning Scott Perunovich will likely remain in the lineup quarterbacking the top power play unit with Torey Krug (lower body) out again for a third straight game, and Tyler Bozak and Alexei Toropchenko alternating with partners on the fourth line.

"It's nice to play different roles in different times," Bozak said. "I feel like I'm a player that can help in a lot of different ways in different scenarios. It's fun to be a part of that.

"I've pretty much played with everyone over the course of the year and last year and stuff like that. We have a lot of smart players on this team. It's easy to adjust with whoever you're with. We try and play as structured as we can and stick to our system. If everyone's on the same page is when we're the most successful."

It's been quite the success for the Blues, not only in this series but in the regular season, going 10-4-2 going 11/7 and 10-4-3 playing with less than 12 forwards overall.

"I don't know. We've got quite a few guys in the top nine that can definitely take some extra minutes and create a lot of opportunities when they get that extra time," Bozak said. "We've got a lot of skill up there, a lot of guys that can score as we've seen throughout the year. I think just giving our best guys a few extra minutes and a few extra opportunities definitely helps."

Perunovich has two assists in two games in the series, both on the power play and both on top at the blue line in place of Krug. 

"Some poise. You can tell obviously he’s run power play units before," Blues forward David Perron said of Perunovich, who returned after missing nearly four months with a left wrist injury. "It was only his second game in a long time. He did a good job back-to-back there. Limited minutes and all that stuff. He goes out, he’s pretty sharp, really crisp with the puck. 

"Obviously with Kruger going down, it’s important that we have a guy up top. I think the key for our unit is puck movement. The quicker we move the puck, we find lanes, we find shot opportunities, and if we’re too slow then we don’t find those."

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The old saying is that the fourth win, and series-clincher is always the toughest one to achieve, and the Blues will have that extra motivation to get the job done here tonight and not go back to Minnesota for a Game 7.

"Before the last two wins, we realized that at times we were just kind of beating ourselves a little bit," Perron said. "Just not making that crucial mistake that will end up in the back of our net. Just coming out there tonight being composed, knowing that the last win of the series is really the hardest. They’re gonna come at us, give everything they got. So it’s an exciting challenge for us. But we know they’re not gonna go away easy."

Bozak added, "I think you just definitely don't want to look past it in any way. I think we've done a good job with taking it one game at a time this series, not getting too high or too low. Obviously we know good of a team we are playing against and how tough of a game it's going to be tonight. We're going to have to have our best."

Which is why coach Craig Berube wants the Blues to stay within themselves and not get overly hyped up.

"Well, I think it’s always the toughest game," Berube said. "Minny is going to be ready. They’re going to give us everything they’ve got in the game. It’ll be our toughest game in the series. That’s the toughest challenge. I think the other thing is just … controlling your emotions here early on in the game is going to be important with the crowd and at home. Don’t look too far ahead, just one shift and do what you’re supposed to do out there and keep your emotions in-check the best you can. Stay disciplined. We don’t need penalties."

In their 2019 Stanley Cup run, the Blues won two of their three Game 6 series clinchers, falling 5-1 to the Boston Bruins in the Final before winning there in Game 7 and closing out the San Jose Sharks, 5-1, in the conference final and the Winnipeg Jets, 3-2, in the first round.

"We’ve been in a number of them so a lot of the guys have been through it and they know what’s involved in it," Berube said. "You learn from past mistakes, too. But again, you’ve got to control what you can control. Go out there, play hard and do your job, and that’s it."

"To play in front of our home ice. Obviously, we know if we go back for Game 7 it’s going to be a really tough task playing in their home barn," Perron said. "We did a good job staying with the game the whole time for Game 5. But again, we were in a different position many times in our career and it can turn around really quickly. So we've got to make sure we take care of it tonight."

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If the Blues get anything close tonight like the contribution they got from Vladimir Tarasenko, who took over the third period in Game 5 with a natural hat trick, they will be in good shape.
Tarasenko flipped that game on a dime with two early third-period goals to turn a 2-2 game into 4-2 before potting an empty-netter to seal the deal.

For Berube, it's all about Tarasenko being engaged, playing physical, being responsible at both ends of the ice that brings out his best.

"I think he's done a pretty good job of it all year to be honest with you," Berube said. "Right from training camp on, he came in very focused and determined, put all the stuff in the summer behind him and went and played hockey. And played really good hockey for us, very consistent hockey, most of the year.

"I think Vladi and I have formed a really good relationship. It's not always patting each other (on the back) and talking nice, either. Which is fine. You've got to go at it sometimes, and I'm OK with that. And so is he. ... He hears it or I hear it, and we go on. Let's go. Go play. That's what it's all about.

"(But) leadership. That's the big thing. Lead by example. He's done that. He has the ability to be a power forward. Right now, that's what I'm seeing."

When Tarasenko gets in one of his locked-in modes, players notice.

"It’s interesting. He finds a way at the right time to score those big goals," Perron said. "The first goal kind of came out of nowhere, the next thing you know the second shot’s kind of the vintage Vladi shot – top corner – and then he seals the game for us. We obviously need him to keep doing that.

"We have many guys in our locker room that can step up at the right time. And I think that’s why we’re a strong team."

"He's a guy that whenever he has the puck on his stick in the offensive zone, there's a chance he can score," Bozak said of Tarasenko. "I've been lucky enough to play with him for four years now and you kind of take it for granted how good of a shot he has and how good of a player he is after you see it every day. Just little things throughout the game, he's so strong and powerful and can take over a game at any moment. We're extremely lucky to have him."

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Maybe in Minnesota he's a villain, and that's OK with Brayden Schenn, but inside the Blues locker room and in this city, everyone knows what he means.

Schenn has two assists in the series but has been a wrecking ball throughout with his physicality and penchant to create space for his linemates, and in this case, it's Perron and Ryan O'Reilly.

"He’s very physical. Makes a lot of plays, too, when he gets the puck," Perron said. "He can hang onto it. That’s something we talked about as a line, just being able to hang onto the puck more than maybe even we’ve done before. Just the way their structure is defensively, I think we can find some space for us there playing more kind of little one-on-one’s in there. When we don’t know what to do kind of hammer it back of the net and make sure that we don’t lose possession for free and make their big boys play more D-zone than they like.

"He gets up and down the ice really, and he’s super physical. He creates a lot of space for us that way. And I think at times the games at home we play a lot against their big boys over there. So kind of knowing what we have to do, play deeper in the zone, making sure they can’t get momentum playing on our O-zone too much. And we end up obviously taking a lot of D-zone draws – all that stuff. So also, there’s two centers out there. Like you said, I think 'Saader' was playing phenomenal with us as well. He’s playing good hockey. But at times that’s what happens with changes."

Berube has used Schenn in a variety of roles, and it's a plus having a guy that can play center and jump on the wing when needed.

"He's been very valuable for me," Berube said. "I know you look at the scoresheet again, there's no goals, but his physicality and his hard play, that wears teams down. He does a good job of it, he's a very physical player, he plays extremely hard. He does all the little things and the goals will come.

"We've got to continue to bang bodies, stay disciplined though, that's important. We've got to stay disciplined, we've got to be physical on the puck. It's not physicality running out of position, it's physicality on the puck."

"He does it all," Bozak said of Schenn. "He plays hard minutes against their best players. He puts his body on the line, finishes his checks, goes to the hard areas. It seems like he's always in the scrums and that's no easy task, especially against a big, strong, tough team like Minnesota is. He's obviously a guy you can rely on and sparks us pretty much every night and gets us going."

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The Blues' projected lineup:

Brayden Schenn-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pavel Buchnevich-Robert Thomas-Vladimir Tarasenko

Brandon Saad-Ivan Barbashev-Jordan Kyrou

Alexei Toropchenko-Tyler Bozak

Nick Leddy-Colton Parayko

Calle Rosen-Justin Faulk

Niko Mikkola-Robert Bortuzzo

Scott Perunovich

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Ville Husso will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Logan Brown and Nathan Walker. Torey Krug (lower body) and Marco Scandella (lower body) are out.

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The Wild's projected lineup:

Kirill Kaprizov-Ryan Hartman-Mats Zuccarello

Kevin Fiala-Frederick Gaudreau-Matt Boldy

Jordan Greenway-Joel Eriksson Ek-Marcus Foligno

Nicolas Deslauriers-Tyson Jost-Brandon Duhaime

Jacob Middleton-Jared Spurgeon

Jonas Brodin-Matt Dumba

Jon Merrill-Dmitry Kulikov

Cam Talbot will start in goal; Marc-Andre Fleury will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Nick Bjugstad, Connor Dewar, Alex Goligoski and Jordie Benn. The Wild report no injuries, but Deslauriers could be dinged up and come out of the lineup tonight, although Wild coach Dean Evason wouldn't confirm any changes.

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