Tuesday, May 17, 2022

(5-17-22) Blues-Avalanche Game 1 Gameday Lineup

DENVER -- It appears the Blues are going with the 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' mode tonight, which means 11 forwards and seven defensemen in Game 1 of the Western Conference Second Round against the Colorado Avalanche.

The Blues utilized it in winning the final three games against the Minnesota Wild, using Scott Perunovich as the seventh defenseman primarily used as a power play specialist and offensive zone draws.

Perunovich has an assist in each of the past three games he's played when he jumped into that first-round series, all on the power play, and was quarterbacking it again Tuesday morning at Ball Arena ahead of Game 1 today (8:30 p.m.; TNT, ESPN 101.1-FM).

Game 4 of the series against the Wild was Perunovich's first game since Jan. 15 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He would require surgery on his left wrist and eventually, was slowly but surely working his way back.

"Pretty surprising. Didn't know if I was getting in or not and then a couple injuries and that's just the bounces," Perunovich said.

"This was a little trickier one with this injury," he said. "I had a great doctor who took care of me and all the great trainers here who helped me get back as quick as I can. I definitely don't think I would have been back as soon as I was without the staff around me here.

"You always just want to stay focused, even when you're up top watching. You kind of have a bird's eye view so you can even see the game a little more and see what they're doing so that kind of helps a lot. Just try and pay attention and keep your mind in it as much as you can."

Perunovich has stepped into the spot vacated by the injured Torey Krug, who sustained a lower-body injury halfway through the first period of Game 3 in the Wild series. Perunovich has been flanked by Vladimir Tarasenko and David Perron on the half walls, Ryan O'Reilly in the bumper and Brayden Schenn down low that provide all the confidence the 2020 Hobey Baker Award winner needs.

"The guys around me, especially on the power play," Perunovich said. "It's kind of easy to have confidence when you're passing to those four guys and they're doing a lot of the work. The confidence comes from the staff and the trainers and them giving me confidence and my teammates helping me out.

"Our older guys are unbelievable and I think that's why St. Louis has success a lot. Even Kruger goes down with an injury and he's the first one texting me and giving me tips and letting me know I can reach out to him whenever I need, and I do it. He's a great player and a great role model. Everyone around me, all the older guys, they're always helping if I have a question. I can go up to anyone and they're going to give me an answer the best they can."

It was a situation coach Craig Berube felt Perunovich was ready to handle and without hesitation, inserted him into the lineup in the postseason against his home state team who Perunovich also faced in the 2022 NHL Discover Winter Classic.

"He's done a real nice job," Berube said of Perunovich. "It's tough. That's a tough situation, but I thought he handled it really well. Like I said before, he's got great ability with the puck and sees the ice real well. I didn't see any issues really in the first round. He's done a nice job for us. Our power play was a big reason we won."

What Berube was most pleased with as far as Perunovich was concerned was the timing.
"For sure, because he didn't get a lot of practice time either," Berube said. "He was always working on his own or with somebody else, but it wasn't a lot of team activity for him."

Perunovich has handled the 11/7 configuration well, and he feels it's gone well for the team. The Blues are 11-4-2 in the regular season and playoffs when going with a 11/7 formation.

"It's good," Peruonvich said. "We've had a lot of moving parts on the back end. We've had a lot of D, but I think we all just jell really good back there together. A lot of talk on the bench, everyone's always picking each other up and telling each other good play. It definitely makes you feel more confident, even if you're making a mistake. No one's really getting on you or mad at you. They're just trying to help you work forward through it."

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Tonight's matchup will pit the 2019 Hobey Baker Award winner (Colorado defenseman Cale Makar) and the 2020 winner, Perunovich.

"He's a heck of a player, he's fun to watch," Perunovich said of Makar. "He's kind of changing the game. He can change the game at any moment. It's definitely fun to watch. I've played against him before. He's a great player and should be a good battle."

When Perunovich won the award, he received a text message from Makar, and the winners normally get together every year.

"Cale reached out, I'll reach out to these guys," Perunovich said. "We kind of have a little cult following and a lot of them will get together every year, so it's something I look forward to every year.

"(Makar) just texted me after I won it, just a nice message. I heard he's a classy guy and it sure seems like it."

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After four days off for the Blues and eight for the Avalanche, which swept the Nashville Predators in the opening round, it's time to drop the puck.

The two teams have alternated days off for rest and practice days filtered in between in anticipation of puck drop.

"A lot of minutes played in the last series by a lot of guys, so rest was good," Berube said. "Everybody's banged up, so you get a little time there, which was good. We had good practice. The mindset's in a good place. They're ready to play."

The Blues won their season-opener here in this building to begin the season, 5-3 on Oct. 16, but dropped the only home matchup, 4-3 on Oct. 28 before falling 5-3 here in the final road game of the regular season April 25.

"We know their tendencies and we know the players very well, but then again, you still got to go out and perform at a high level," Berube said. "That's the bottom line. We've got to perform at a high level as a team and individuals got to perform at a high level, especially against their top players. When you're out there, you've got to do a good job.

"It's different. They're a different team, but matchups are matchups. You don't always get the matchups you want here on the road. We've got to just figure it out and other guys are going to have to do a job. You're not always going to get the match you want on the road. MacKinnon plays a lot, he's out there a lot. Kadri's going to play a lot, so we're on the road here with the altitude, we're going to need a number of different people to go out and do the job because if you don't, you're going to gas out a line because that altitude will kill you and it's a lot of minutes. They play high minutes."

Having played against the skill the Wild possess, particularly with Kirill Kaprizov, it should serve as a springboard for what the Blues will see in this series.

Only more of it.

"There's probably a couple more of them, I would say," defenseman Justin Faulk said. "I think if you look at their top two lines, there's plenty of them that can play at that pace and play with that skill, which makes it tough, right? That's why they've been successful. Makar on the back end, (Samuel) Girard, (Bowen) Byram, those guys all move well, (Devon) Toews. Their amount of guys that can play that way I think is what's a little bit different. That'll be the challenge for us." 

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Last year is last year, and as far as the Blues are concerned, they've addressed Nazem Kadri's dirty hit on Faulk that knocked the Blues defenseman out of Games 3-4.

Kadri's open ice hit on Faulk gave him a concussion and the defenseman couldn't finish last year's first-round series, a sweep by the Avalanche against the battered Blues.

Schenn addressed it in the season-opener, and Faulk made his presence felt on the matter 12 days later in the home game.

"He's a good player," Faulk said. "There you go.

"We're here to play hockey and to play a series. That's our focus."

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The Blues made a minor transaction Tuesday when they announced they've signed goalie Vadim Zherenko to a three-year entry-level contract.

The 21-year-old Moscow, Russia native was drafted by the Blues in the seventh round of the 2019 NHL Draft; he spent this past season playing in Finland's SM-liiga with Ilves Tampere. The 6-foot-3, 196-pounder was 11-8-11 with a 2.67 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.

- - -

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, Nathan Walker and Steven Santini, who was recalled from Springfield of the American Hockey League on Monday. Torey Krug (lower body) and Marco Scandella (lower body) are out.

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The Avalanche's projected lineup:

Valeri Nichushkin-Nathan MacKinnon-Mikko Rantanen

Gabriel Landeskog-Nazem Kadri-Artturi Lehkonen

Andre Burakovsky-J.T. Compher-Nicolas Aube-Kubel

Darren Helm-Nico Sturm-Andrew Cogliano 

Devon Toews-Cale Makar

Samuel Girard-Josh Manson

Bowen Byram-Erik Johnson

Darcy Kuemper will start in goal; Pavel Francouz will be the backup. 

Healthy scratches include Jack Johnson, Alex Newhook, Ryan Murray, Logan O'Connor and Kurtis MacDermid. The Avalanche reports no injuries.

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