Now in their fourth Stanley Cup Final appearance in franchise history, the St. Louis Blues managed to win a game, needing overtime to defeat the Boston Bruins 3-2 on Wednesday to knot up the best-of-seven-series at one game per team.
Including this year’s series opener, the win snapped an incredible 0-13 start after getting swept by the Canadiens in 1968 and 1969 and then the Bruins in 1970.
They’ll need three more wins, however, to win the series. And on Saturday, they’ll have to try to start that process without skilled winger Oskar Sundqvist, who was suspended for one game by the National Hockey League for a hit on Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk that was only given a two-minute boarding minor at the time, but knocked Grzelcyk out for the rest of the game and perhaps future games this series.
“It doesn’t matter if I agree or disagree, that’s just a league thing and they handled it, so it’s over with,” Blues head coach Craig Berube told reporters in St. Louis on Friday.
“We miss a lot [with him out], he’s a good player,” Berube continued. “He does a lot of good things for us on both sides of the puck; good penalty killer, plays center, wing, great defensively, and has produced for us, in the playoffs too. Good player.”
Sundqvist, 25, was originally dealt to the Blues from the Pittsburgh Penguins at the 2017 NHL Draft, and finally established himself as a full-time NHL’er this season by setting career-highs in games played (74), goals (14), assists (17), and points (31). Although he’d previously won a Stanley Cup with the Penguins in 2016, it was primarily as a spare part—he only played in two postseason games following a late-season recall—and he didn’t see any playoff action at all in 2017.
Based on practice reports from Friday afternoon, Zach Sanford will slide into the lineup for Sundqvist. Notably, Sanford is a Massachusetts native, but will now likely be relied upon to provide a spark against the Bruins in Sundqvist’s absence.
The Boston College alum spent the majority of this season in the NHL, save for a seven-game stint with the American Hockey League’s San Antonio Rampage, and posted an 8-12—20 line in 60 regular season games. He’s also appeared in three playoff contests—but not since Game 3 of the first round against the Winnipeg Jets—but was kept off the scoresheet in relatively limited ice time.
“I haven’t made that decision yet, but he was out there on a line today,” Berube said.
“He’s played in the playoffs for us this year, too, but we’ll see what happens [Saturday]. We’ll make a decision [Saturday] on that.”
On the flip side of the controversial hit, Grzelcyk wasn’t expected to travel with the Bruins to St. Louis and will be replaced by either John Moore or Steven Kampfer, with the former being a more likely choice than the latter, due to being a left-handed shot like Grzelcyk.
“That's the easiest thing, keep everyone on their strong sides,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters on Thursday, reiterating what he said after Game 2.
“We'll look at that a little bit more … [and] ultimately decide Saturday. Friday’s practice will be a bigger indicator.”
Grzelcyk was listed as “doubtful” by Cassidy on Friday, and said Moore, who was skating in Grzelcyk’s place alongside Connor Clifton during practice, will “probably” replace him.
Moore, 28, has bounced around the league a bit after being selected 21st overall by the Columbus Blue Jackets—the Bruins mark his fifth organization—but he’s managed to establish himself as a veteran depth option at the game’s highest level. Moore played in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final as a member of the Rangers, and posted a respectable 4-9—13 line in 61 regular season games with the Bruins this season.
He’s appeared in five postseason games this year, but only one—Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes—since the Bruins opening-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“This is why you train, why you prepare, why you take care of yourself,” Moore told reporters on Friday.
“When you’re called upon, it’s time to do your job. That’s kind of the mentality we’ve had all year, next man up. So, now it’s my turn. I’m ready to go.”