The St. Louis Blues were embarrassed on home ice in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, losing 7-2 to the Boston Bruins. Though there is no excuse for a performance like that, especially in such a momentous game, the team was significantly undermanned. They played without Robert Thomas and Vince Dunn, who were injured, and Oskar Sundqvist, who received a one game suspension for his hit on Matt Grzelcyk.
While Thomas remains sidelined, Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic and other St. Louis reporters are saying that the team will have Dunn back tonight. Along with the return of Sundqvist, whose loss was palpable, he could be a huge swing in favor of the Blues, especially on special teams.
Vince Dunn and the Power Play
Game 3 of the Western Conference Final was painful for the Blues in a number of ways. While the hand pass that led to the game-winning goal stole most of the headlines, it was the loss of Dunn that really hurt the team long term.
Early in the game, Dunn took a puck off the jaw and collapsed in pain. He was helped off the ice, and it was clear that the injury was serious. He did not return to the game, and was not seen again in the series.
Through the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final, he was believed to be close to returning, but Dunn wasn’t able to make it back. That changes Monday night, when he is expected to replace Robert Bortuzzo in the lineup.
The Blues are hoping that his return will be felt in a big way on the power play, where they have struggled throughout the series. They have one power-play goal in 10 opportunities, with that goal coming late in the blowout in Game 3. In fact, the man advantage has been a struggle for St. Louis all postseason. They have just 13 goals in 72 opportunities, an 18.1 percent success rate that ranks them 10th amongst all playoff teams and miles behind their opponents’ whopping 35.9 percent mark.
Dunn is a terrific puck moving defenseman, and is expected to resume his role on the Blues’ second power play unit. That, coupled with the motivation of playing in his first Stanley Cup Final game, could be a recipe for success for the Blues’ lackluster unit. Of course, that won’t mean much if the team’s penalty kill is as bad as it was in Game 3.
Oskar Sundqvist and the Penalty Kill
As potent as the Bruins’ power play is, the Blues had managed to keep it fairly silent through the first two games of the series. When they lost Sundqvist, though, they lost the edge in that category. Boston scored four goals on four opportunities with the man advantage, needing only four shots to do it. It’s hard to deny that Sundqvist plays a vital role on the penalty kill.
Sundqvist is one of the Blues’ most interesting stories this season. He entered the campaign as something of an afterthought, before hitting the shelf after a violent preseason hit from Tom Wilson (for which the latter was suspended 20 games). He wouldn’t make his regular season debut until Oct. 25.
When he returned, he seemed like a different player. Though he’d had just nine points in 70 career games prior to this season, he posted 14 goals and 17 assists in 74 games this season. The regular playing time and the expanded role served him well. Now, he is one of the Blues’ most invaluable secret weapons.
In Games 1 and 2 of the Final, Sundqvist logged over six minutes of time on the penalty kill, representing roughly 20 percent of his total time on ice in those games. He is one of the team’s top penalty killers, and provides an alternative to Ryan O’Reilly in that role, giving the latter more energy for five-on-five and power play situation.
It’s hard to imagine the penalty kill won’t be better with Sundqvist back in the lineup. He’s served his time for the hit on Grzelcyk. Now he’s back in the lineup, ready to make an impact for the Blues.
A Must-Win Game 4
There’s no question: the Blues cannot afford to lose Game 4. As tenacious as they’ve been all season, it’s tough to imagine them winning three in a row and two in Boston against the powerhouse Bruins. They must win one of their first two home games to have a chance. With Dunn and Sundqvist back in the lineup, they are better equipped to do just that.
Stephen Ground is an author with The Hockey Writers and is co-host of the Two Guys No Cup Podcast. He enjoys studying the numbers and providing fresh looks at various stories.