Lineup shuf­fling ben­e­fits Blues against Bru­ins

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Sports - BY STEPHEN WHYNO As­so­ci­ated Press

Had Oskar Sundqvist not got­ten sus­pended and Robert Thomas ruled out with a nag­ging injury, Zach San­ford might never have got­ten a chance to show his stuff on hockey’s big­gest stage.

If Vince Dunn not taken a puck to the mouth dur­ing the last round, Robert Bor­tuzzo might not have had the chance to score a key goal in the Stan­ley Cup Fi­nal.

This is the magic of the St. Louis Blues in the play­offs — and even more specif­i­cally their se­ries against the Bos­ton Bru­ins. They’ve dressed a lot­tery ball ma­chine amount of lineup com­bi­na­tions this post­sea­son, and be­cause of sus­pen­sions and in­juries in the fi­nal will have their sixth dif­fer­ent lineup in six games on Sun­day.

In­stead of in­ter­rupt­ing con­ti­nu­ity that’s usu­ally paramount in the play­offs, the Blues’ game of mu­si­cal jerseys with play­ers in and out of the lineup has given them a va­ri­ety of looks for the Bru­ins to con­tend with and con­trib­uted to St. Louis be­ing on the verge of winning the Stan­ley Cup.

“You never want to see guys get sus­pended or go down with an injury,” for­ward Pa­trick Ma­roon said Satur­day. “But Zach San­ford, Sammy Blais and Robby Fab­bri have done a re­ally good job fill­ing in. Thomas was play­ing un­til he went out. They’ve been here all year, and they know what it takes to win.”

Ma­roon is one of only 12 skaters plus goal­tender Jor­dan Bin­ning­ton to play in all 24 of St. Louis’ play­off games so far. That num­ber will dip to 11 with Ivan Bar­ba­shev sus­pended and the very real possibilit­y Thomas is ready to re­turn af­ter miss­ing the past four games with what’s be­lieved to be a hand/wrist injury.

Injury at­tri­tion can take its toll this time of year, some­thing the San Jose Sharks found out when the Blues elim­i­nated them with­out Erik Karls­son, Joe Pavel­ski and To­mas Hertl. The Blues have kept on chug­ging through the in­juries and got­ten im­pres­sive per­for­mances from play­ers shuf­fling in and out of the lineup like Bor­tuzzo or re­turn­ing off a long lay­off like San­ford and Fab­bri.

Bar­ba­shev isn’t avail­able for Game 6, and coach Craig Berube said other de­ci­sions will be made closer to puck drop. Top-line for­ward Vladimir Tarasenko and bottom-six grinder Alex Steen are ex­pected to play af­ter miss­ing prac­tice for main­te­nance, but there are other ques­tions about who’s in and out and St. Louis won’t have much of a drop-off ei­ther way.

“We have good depth, which is very im­por­tant on the back end and up front,” Berube said. “A guy like San­ford com­ing in and do­ing a good job for us af­ter be­ing out for some time, and Sammy Blais, just dif­fer­ent guys. It’s re­ally im­por­tant.”

San­ford has had some sig­nif­i­cant jump in his legs the past three games af­ter sit­ting out six weeks as a healthy scratch. Dunn showed lit­tle rust from miss­ing al­most three weeks be­fore get­ting back in for Game 4.

And there has been no pout­ing from guys like Bor­tuzzo and fel­low de­fense­man Joel Ed­mund­son trad­ing places on the ice and in the press box.

“There’s been dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances for dif­fer­ent things,” Bor­tuzzo said. “You’re go­ing to get in there and you’re go­ing to be ex­cited to play. You’re go­ing to be re­freshed re­gard­less of what’s go­ing on.”

The Blues had al­ready done a strong job in the first three rounds of wear­ing down op­po­nents as se­ries dragged on, and they’re in the process of do­ing the same to Bos­ton. They play the same style, but the Bru­ins never see­ing the same St. Louis team twice in a play­off se­ries that usu­ally breeds fa­mil­iar­ity and con­tempt makes it even more dif­fi­cult to pre­pare.

Bos­ton could dress its same lineup from Game 5 be­cause for­ward Noel Ac­ciari is ex­pected to play af­ter leav­ing in the third pe­riod Thurs­day and Mar­cus Jo­hans­son had no lin­ger­ing ef­fects from the hit on him that Bar­ba­shev was sus­pended for.

While the Bru­ins pro­moted Jo­hans­son to their top power-play unit to get that unit go­ing, the Blues have to ad­just with­out Bar­ba­shev, who’s a key penalty killer.

“He’s phys­i­cal for us,” for­ward Bray­den Schenn said. “He does a good job on the PK, scor­ing some goals. We can’t worry about him be­ing out. You’ve got to worry about some­one else step­ping up, step­ping in and fill­ing his role.”

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