2 Storylines: Blues
Tarasenko Hat Trick Helps Reclaim Series Lead
Tarasenko scored his first goal just 1:03 seconds into the third period off a backhand pass from his fellow Russian teammate, Pavel Buchnevich, from behind the Minnesota net. While the 27-year-old Buchnevich has yet to score a goal in this series, his four assists are tied for the most on the team this series. After the game, Tarasenko was asked about the pass and stated: “[Buchnevich] did this many times before. We talk a lot about staying connected in the O-zone. He’s a great skill player and very unselfish all the time. Not surprised he made this play, and that was a great play and big goal for us.”
He scored his second goal of the game 1:23 later, and his third on an empty-net goal to secure the hat trick at the 18:27 minute mark of the period. The forward has had trouble finding offensive success in this series, scoring only four goals in five games. He will be relied on in Game 6 in hopes he has found his offensive spark to help push the Blues to the second round.
Blues Finding Defensive Balance
With injuries to defensemen Torey Krug and Marco Scandella, the Blues have leaned heavily on their veterans Colton Parayko and Justin Faulk in this series. Averaging 26:20 and 27:17, respectively, the two are ranked in the top 10 in ice time in the playoffs. Their load was relieved with the return of veteran defensemen Nick Leddy and Robert Bortuzzo. Leddy, who missed three games due to an upper-body injury, only saw 18:01 minutes on ice during Game 5, and no special teams assignments were tasked with shutting down Wild forward Kirill Kaprizov.
After the game, Blues coach Craig Berube said of Leddy, “He does a great job of being tight on (Kaprizov) and not giving too much room. He has the feet to stay with him, and that’s important. Because (Kaprizov’s) fast and he can spin off you easily” (from ‘Blues notebook: Leddy, Bortuzzo make presence felt,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 11, 2022).
Also rejoining the lineup was the 33-year-old Bortuzzo. Like Leddy, he saw reduced ice time in Game 5 and only played 10:50. The hard-hitting defenseman has averaged 13:44 this season and eased back into play after taking a puck to the face after blocking a shot during Game 2.
Sporting a black eye throughout the game, Bortuzzo managed to record two hits and one blocked shot. Of his performance, Berube said in admiration: “He gives you everything he’s got with his body and his stick, and lays it on the line for you, blocking shots and all those types of things for us.”
These two players provided the team with a veteran presence on the blue line that paired well with the return of rookie defenseman Scott Perunovich. A player who is known for his offensive abilities, the 23-year-old Minnesota native has recorded two goals in his two games this series after returning from wrist surgery that kept him sidelined since March 9.
2 Storylines: Wild
Kaprizov continued his scoring ways during Game 5 with two power-play goals. Unfortunately, his two goals would be the only offense that his team could produce in the game. The 25-year-old Russian’s seven goals are tied for the league lead in the playoffs. With his team’s back against the wall, the elite sniper is not ready to give up just yet.
“The goal isn’t for a player to play well,” Kaprizov said. “The goal is for the team to play well, and we didn’t win. Ultimately, that’s what we play for. We have a chance to make some changes to get the series back home for Game 7, and that’s what we have to do.”
The forward scored 47 goals and 108 points in 81 games during the regular season. His offensive surge throughout the postseason has been the lone shining light among the Wild’s forward group and one that may be wasted as they face elimination on Thursday.
Evason Plans Changes
The Wild are headed to St. Louis for a do-or-die Game 6. After one of their best seasons in franchise history, the team that finished second in the Central Division with 113 points needs a win to send the series back to Xcel Center in Minnesota for Game 7.
Ahead of Game 6, captain Jared Spurgeon said, “We have all the confidence in ourselves. We have to focus on one game here, and going into St. Louis, we can go in and rally as a team. It’s something we’ve done all year, and we’re looking to continue that tomorrow,” (from “Dean Evason: Wild ‘will make some changes’ for Game 6 at St. Louis,” Fox 9 KMSP, May 11, 2022).
The Wild have yet to make changes to their lineup this postseason, but they might be forced to if they want stay alive in the series. While the head coach did not allude to which changes he would make, a goaltending switch in Game 6 would not be surprising. In his last 16 games of the regular season, Cam Talbot went 13-0-3 and is worth considering in a must-win game.
“We trust both our goaltenders. We’ve seen enough of Marc-Andre Fleury to know that he’s a guy that responds correctly. We also know that Cam Talbot is the ultimate professional. He works his butt off if he’s playing or not playing, would be ready to go tomorrow night as well,” Evason said.
Players to Watch
St. Louis: Ryan O’Reilly
Minnesota: Joel Eriksson Ek
Projected Line Combinations
St. Louis Blues
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Brayden Schenn||Ryan O’Reilly||David Perron|
|Pavel Buchnevich||Robert Thomas||Vladimir Tarasenko|
|Brandon Saad||Ivan Barbashev||Jordan Kyrou|
|Alexi Toropchenko||Tyler Bozak||Scott Perunovich|
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Nick Leddy||Colton Parayko|
|Calle Rosen||Justin Faulk|
|Niko Mikkola||Robert Bortuzzo|
|Left Wing||Center||Right Wing|
|Kirill Kaprizov||Ryan Hartman||Mats Zuccarello|
|Matthew Boldy||Frederick Gaudreau||Kevin Fiala|
|Jordan Greenway||Joel Eriksson Ek||Marcus Foligno|
|Nicolas Deslauriers||Tyson Jost||Brandon Duhaime|
|Left Defense||Right Defense|
|Jonas Brodin||Mathew Dumba|
|Jacob Middleton||Jared Spurgeon|
|Jon Merrill||Alex Goligoski|
Blues’ Next Game: TBD
Mike is a writer for The Hockey Writers and covers the St. Louis Blues since November of 2021. He has a keen love for statistical analysis, prospects, signings, and trades. Follow Mike on Twitter for further Blues or Central division hockey discussions, interview requests, or to provide content info.