ST. LOUIS – In their surprising run to their first Stanley Cup Final in 49 years, the St. Louis Blues often have leaned on the fourth line of Oskar Sundqvist, Alexander Steen and Ivan Barbashev.
But as they return home for Game 3 with the Boston Bruins on Saturday night, the Blues will have to play without Sundqvist. Tied for the team lead in plus-minus during the playoffs, Sundqvist has been suspended for a game after the NHL sanctioned his hit on Matt Grzelcyk.
Sundqvist was assessed a minor for boarding on the play, in which Grzelcyk appeared to lose an edge along the boards when Sundqvist belted him with a shoulder. Grzelcyk’s head struck the glass and he crumpled to the ice.
During the postseason, Sundqvist has four goals and five assists while playing a key role on the penalty-killing unit. It was already a breakthrough season for the Swede, who had career highs of 14 goals and 17 helpers in 74 games.
“Sunny has always been a good defensive player, penalty killer for us, hard-working guy,” said Blues interim coach Craig Berube Thursday prior to the suspension. “His offensive side has really come through this year, scoring quite a few goals during the regular season.
“Been a real good player for us in the playoffs. He’s playing a real good 200-foot game. We kind of use him in all different situations.”
With Sundqvist on the shelf until Monday, St. Louis could turn to Zach Sanford as his replacement. Sanford hasn’t played since Game 3 of the team’s first-round series with Winnipeg on April 14. Another possibility could be the return of Robert Thomas, who missed Wednesday night’s game after absorbing a ferocious open-ice hit by Torey Krug in Game 1.
Berube did confirm on Friday that two-time NHL All-Star Vladimir Tarasenko will be in the lineup. The 27-year-old, who led the Blues with 33 goals this season, missed part of the second period in the team’s overtime win in Game 2 at Boston. Berube told media members that an equipment issue was the cause of Tarasenko’s missed shifts in the victory.
Regardless, the Blues did their job in Boston. By countering a 4-2 loss Monday night with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 2, they are in position to win the series as long as they carry their home games.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to describe what it’s going to be like,” St. Louis center Ryan O’Reilly said of the anticipated atmosphere in Enterprise Center. “We’re excited to get back home and show what this town’s about.”
The Bruins haven’t exactly been cowed by a roaring crowd pulling against them, though. They are 6-2 on the road in the playoffs, including a Game 6 win in the first round at Toronto when a loss would have sent them to the first tee the next day.
Boston has also won its last four playoff games on the road since a 2-1 defeat in Game 3 of its Eastern Conference semifinal at Columbus.
“I don’t anticipate they’ll be overwhelmed,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “I suspect St. Louis will be up, should be. We got a veteran crew. They’ve been there before.”
One guy who won’t be there is Grzelcyk, who didn’t travel with the team to flyover country. Cassidy said Grzelcyk is “day-to-day,” but it seems unlikely that Grzelcyk would be ready to play until the series returns to Boston on Thursday night.
–By Bucky Dent, Field Level Media