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Berube's lineup changes to give the Blues momentum in Game 3

'One power play at a time, stick with it, stay positive and we'll start to click here.'
Credit: AP
St. Louis Blues' Ivan Barbashev, left, and San Jose Sharks' Justin Braun

ST. LOUIS — Robert Thomas will play in Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday (7 p.m.; NBCSN, KYKY 98.1-FM).

Thomas, who missed a highly-populated optional practice on May 9 along with five other regulars, skipped today's morning skate and interim coach Craig Berube confirmed it was for maintenance purposes and Thomas will be good to go tonight.

It seems like beating a dead horse, but the Blues used some different personnel to try and jump start an ailing power play, which is 1-for-26 in its last eight games and has been outscored 2-1, believe it or not.

So what Berube did was change up some of the personnel, giving it a different look, one that had a similar feel to it from the start of the season when the Blues were on fire.

One unit featured Vladimir Tarasenko with Ryan O'Reilly, Pat Maroon, Tyler Bozak and Colton Parayko on the point. The other featured Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, David Perron and Vince Dunn and Alex Pietrangelomanning the point.

"When we have a chance to shoot the puck, we have to shoot it. They're pressuring so hard, we're getting caught on our heels a bit. Instead I think we've got to be a little more aggressive and just be shooting it. From there, that's when the plays will come out," O'Reilly said.

Thomas could be put into the mix somewhere here, but if the Blues are giving the look that they presented early in the season, perhaps Thomas is on the outside looking in for now.

Maroon said the Blues don't have to focus solely on just scoring but trying to build momentum, which will ultimately lead to goals.

"At the beginning of the year, we had a lot of success with these units, so I think that being said, you have to find ways to just be positive and generate momentum off the power play," Maroon said. "They're out-competing us right now. We can't really worry about scoring, focus on the little things, what we can do, shoot the puck, winning our puck battles, getting it back up, making plays because all that creativity will kind of open up, get the box moving a little bit. The puck will start doing its work. We've got to find some ways to flood some pucks to the net and hopefully we get lucky here."

That consistency has not been nearly enough.

"No there hasn't. It's not enough," Maroon said. "We're not shooting the puck enough. They're getting the momentum when we should be getting the momentum. When they kill off a PK, then 5-on-5, they're getting opportunities, getting chances and they feed off that. So we've got to just find ways to create momentum off of that. One power play at a time, stick with it, stay positive and we'll start to click here."

Berube understands it's about momentum, and the Blues, who are 0-for-6 in the series and 0-for-18, need it.

"Just momentum. Just some sustained pressure on our power play," Berube said. "Gain some opportunities and some momentum out of it. We obviously want to score on the power play, but we're not getting enough sustained pressure and momentum from it right now."

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The Sharks, who are expected to insert Michael Haley into the lineup and replace Marcus Sorensen, have been opportunistic with their sticks, and that's created turnovers, which in turn has created goals in this series.

Of San Jose's eight goals scored, six of them have come as a direct result of the Blues turning the puck over, and it comes from the Sharks having good sticks in lanes all over the ice.

"They're really good with their sticks," Parayko said. "Their neutral zone forecheck is similar to a 1-4. It's kind of like they're waiting for you to make a mistake.  It's just one of those things when you have guys like that, their transition game is effective. You have to make sure you're mindful of it. Their transition game is really strong, which is a big part of their neutral zone."

The Blues flipped their defensive pairings around mid-game in Game 2 and it seemed to calm things down, and they certainly cut down on those turnovers. But Berube will go back with the pairs that got them to this point, and they are comfortable in whichever way they play.

"That's what's so good about our d-corps," Parayko said. "We're all interchangeable and we're all available to play with each other, bring a different dynamic that sometimes in a game you need things to kind of be switched up, changed up and I thought that was good. With our defensive corps, we have that ability to do that, which is impressive and not everybody has that ability." 

"... It's got us here. We're here for a reason. It's one game and sometimes games are played differently and different things are done throughout the game. You've got to play it by ear almost each game. It was impressive that mid-game, all of the sudden you go out with a different partner and it seems like it's a smooth transition and just seems like you can continue to play."

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The Blues defensemen have produced scoring all season long, and after a dry spell of 11 straight games without a goal (four to end the regular season and the first seven of the playoffs), they've been rolling since Game 2 of the second round.

The Blues have scored seven goals the past eight games, including one each from Robert Bortuzzo and Dunn that helped in a Game 2 win in this series.

"They've been doing it all year," Berube said. "We encourage our defense to be part of the offensive side of things, getting up in the rush, being in the offensive zone activating. They've obviously been a big part of our success, not only in the regular season but in the playoffs."

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* Blues goalie Jordan Binnington is one win shy from becoming the 10th rookie goalie in NHL history with at least 10 wins in a postseason (record is 15, co-held by Patrick Roy, MTL, 1986; Ron Hextall, PHI, 1987; Cam Ward, CAR, 2006 and Matt Murray, PIT, 2016). Binnington is also one win from setting the Blues record for most wins in one postseason (tied with Brian Elliott, 2016 and Roman Turek, 2001).

* Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo (2-10-12) needs one point to set the Blues record for points by a defenseman in a postseason. He's tied with Joe Micheletti (1-11-12 in 1981), Jeff Brown (2-10-12 in 1990 and 3-9-12 in 1991) and Al MacInnis (4-8-12 in 1999).

- - -

The Blues' projected lineup:

Jaden Schwartz-Brayden Schenn-Vladimir Tarasenko

Sammy Blais-Ryan O'Reilly-David Perron

Pat Maroon-Tyler Bozak-Robert Thomas

Ivan Barbashev-Oskar Sundqvist-Alexander Steen

Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn-Robert Bortuzzo

Jordan Binnington will start in goal; Jake Allen will be the backup.

Healthy scratches will be Robby Fabbri, Michael Del Zotto, Zach Sanford, Mackenzie MacEachern, Chris Thorburn and Ville Husso. Carl Gunnarsson(lower body) is still day-to-day but skated again Wednesday.

- - -

The Sharks' projected lineup:

Timo Meier-Logan Couture-Gustav Nyquist

Evander Kane-Tomas Hertl-Joe Pavelski

Melker Karlsson-Joe Thornton-Kevin Labanc

Joonas Donskoi-Barclay Goodrow-Micheal Haley

Marc-Edouard Vlasic-Brent Burns

Brenden Dillon-Erik Karlsson

Joakim Ryan-Justin Braun

Martin Jones will start in goal; Aaron Dell will be the backup.

Healthy scratches include Marcus Sorensen, Dylan Gambrell, Tim Heed, Lukas Radil, Radim Simek and Antti Suomela. The Sharks report no injuries.

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