The St. Louis Blues won Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night, but they lost a player in the process. Oskar Sundqvist, who laid a questionable hit on Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk behind the net, was suspended for one game for his actions.
While Blues fans have complained about the suspension, the one game hardly matches the damage done to Grzelcyk. He is expected to miss the remainder of the series.
The Blues, meanwhile, will be forced to find a temporary replacement for Sundqvist, a dynamic, two-way forward that has had big moments in the postseason. Here are a few of the top candidates to take his spot.
We discussed Thomas’ importance to the Blues in detail earlier this week. He was the recipient of a hard but clean hit from another Boston defenseman, Torey Krug, in Game 1 of the series. As a result, he missed Game 2, and his status for Game 3 is uncertain.
We mention Thomas here because, if he is able to return to the lineup for Game 3, the decision is simple. He will return to his place on the third line with Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon, and Robby Fabbri, who played well enough in his absence, will take Sundqvist’s spot.
With that said, the Krug hit, while clean, was devastating, and Thomas was already nursing an injury. It’s unlikely he’ll be ready to go for Game 3, though the teams do have an extra day of rest. Sundqvist’s replacement will probably come from one of these other options.
The next logical choice would be to turn to the only other forward who has logged games in these playoffs who wasn’t in the lineup on Wednesday. That honor would go to Zach Sanford, who was chosen for the playoff roster out of the gate, but was permanently benched after a poor performance in Game 3 of the first round.
At his best, Sanford is a dynamic player who fits many of the roles Sundqvist occupies. He is big, physical, an above average skater, and has decent hands and scoring touch, too. The problem with him has been inconsistency. Sometimes, he’ll look like a player who could legitimately lock down a top-six role in the NHL, other times, he seems barely fit for an AHL roster.
Still, it was Sanford who interim head coach Craig Berube trusted out of the gate, and it may be Sanford who he turns to now, without any better options. Perhaps, given the chance, he could make a significant impact in the game and earn himself a permanent spot in the lineup, à la Sammy Blais, who debuted in Game 6 of the second round with a goal and nine hits. Sanford has the talent if he can put it all together.
A third-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft, MacEachern seemed likely to be a career AHL player until he made his debut earlier this season. He was a fire starter who looked hungry to make an impact. In 29 games, he had three goals and two assists, to go along with 49 hits, six takeaways, and, impressively, no giveaways.
Like Sanford, MacEachern could admirably fill many of the roles Sundqvist does, and might provide a fresh and hungry feel to the lineup. But he last played in the NHL on Mar. 17. Would the Blues trust him now to take a roster spot in the Stanley Cup Final? It seems like a long shot, but some fans are hoping for it.
Now we move to the other most likely replacement option: Vince Dunn. He has been sidelined since Game 3 of the Western Conference Final after taking a puck off the jaw. While details of his recovery have been vague, he was thought to be a possibility in advance of Game 2, which means he’s getting closer to returning.
Like with Thomas, it sounds likely that Dunn will miss another game. But if he were healthy and Thomas were not, the Blues would not hesitate to use 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Dunn is as multi-talented as defensemen come, and makes an impact at both ends of the ice, and with his replacement, Carl Gunnarsson, scoring the game winning goal in Game 2, they’d rather not lose either from the lineup.
The Next Man Up
As cliche as it sounds, the Blues have lived by the “next man up” mentality all season. That has to be a guiding principle for any team to make it this far in the playoffs. They have brought in new players periodically all postseason, and often those players have made a big difference.
Thomas and Dunn are locks to return to the lineup if they are healthy in time for Saturday’s game. Among the remaining options, Sanford is the heavy favorite, and in Friday’s practice, he earned the minutes in the lineup. Whether it is Sanford or someone else, whoever takes Sundqvist’s spot will be expected to perform. And, if the history of these playoffs tells us anything, he probably will.
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.