St. Louis Blues forward Robby Fabbri went from game-time decision earlier Monday to scoring an important goal in Game 5 of the Western Conference Final to give the Blues a 3-2 lead late in the second period.
David Backes and Fabbri were both in the lineup Monday for Game 5 against the San Jose Sharks at Scottrade Center, but the Sharks pulled out a 6-3 victory that gave them a 3-2 lead in the series.
Fabbri scored his fourth goal of the playoffs during a Blues’ power-play late in the second period, taking a pass from Colton Parayko and lasering a lower shot past Sharks goaltender Martin Jones.
After the morning skate, Blues coach Ken Hitchcock had indicated the status for both forwards would not be determined until pregame warmups Monday night.
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Backes (upper-body injury) played only 5 minutes, 34 seconds but remained on the bench the rest of the night. Fabbri (lower-body injury) played 9 minutes, 21 seconds after being rocked on a big hit away from the puck by San Jose’s Tommy Wingels.
Fabbri entered Monday as the Blues’ leading scorer in the playoffs with three goals and 14 points in 18 games, while Backes was tied for second with seven goals and 13 points in 18 games.
Blues veterans Steve Ott, Scottie Upshall (upper body injury and Ryan Reaves were among the lineup scratches for Gane 5.
That kept the recently high-impact fourth line of center Kyle Brodziak and winger Magnus Paajarvi and Dmitrij Jaskin together
“That line’s been good,” Hitchcock said. “We’d like to call it a third line if we can get cooperation from the media, so we’re going to keep it together.”
Blues veteran forward Troy Brouwer wasn’t shedding any major light on whether Backes or Fabbri might play earlier, but he didn’t seem concerned if a lineup change had to be made.
“We know where we stand in the dressing room already,” Brouwer said. “You guys can speculate until game time, but we’ve had injuries ... guys coming in and out of the lineup all through the season. It’s shown a lot about a lot of different players in here.
“You get to see some extra out of the guys that you thought they might not have had, so we’ve had a lot of guys step in and fill key roles in important times. If something is out of place tonight, then we have all the confidence in the world in the guys that can step in.”
Tarasenko searching for a spark
Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko still has 17 goals and 24 points in 32 career playoff games, but has just one goal in his last seven playoff contests. That includes no goals or assists in five games against the Sharks, Tarasenko has seven goals and 13 points in 19 games and on Monday managed only one shot.
“The main part is to stay on your game and just work hard,” Tarasenko said Monday. “Goals and points will come but if our team wins, it means we’re all on the same page and we’re all doing good right now.”
Tarasenko was asked about his recent scoring drought and how much he is being targeted by the Sharks. After collecting six shots in Game 2, he has been limited to two shots in Game 3 and only one each in Game 4 and Game 5.
Tarasenko has a team-leading 58 shots during the playoffs, which ranks third in the NHL.
“Sometimes you score, sometimes you don’t,” said Tarasenko, the Blues’ top scorer during the regular season with 40 goals and 74 points. “You can’t score every game. So at the same time, you need to help your team. You can be a factor. That’s what I try to do. I believe it’s coming if you just don’t think about it.”
Brodziak making an impact
Even though he didn’t score a point in his first 17 playoff games this spring, veteran Blues center Kyle Brodziak still made an impact with his checking, especially on the penalty kill, and bringing energy and skill to the fourth line.
With the Blues struggling to find offense, Brodziak erupted for two goals Saturday in Game 3, including a short-handed tally. Not bad for a guy with only three goals in his first 44 career playoff games as he nearly doubled his previous total.
“Those two goals (in Game 4) were just kind of a by-product of the hockey gods kind of giving you something back for playing the right way,” Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said when asked about Brodziak’s contributions. “He’s got some skill. I said I don’t think he’s scored a goal on the ice in the last 10 years.
“Every goal he seems to score is within six inches of the bar. I started calling him ‘Cheese,’ because he just puts it top cheese every time.”
Brodziak had three short-handed goals during the regular season and now has another in the playoffs.
Brodziak was happy to score, but seems to enjoy the challenge of seeing a lot of penalty-kill time against the Sharks’ lethal power-play unit. The Blues held San Jose scoreless in five power-play opportunities in Game 4 and the Sharks were 2-for-15 during the first four games.
“He’s someone who I think has been probably, in this series, one of our best players,” Shattenkirk said. “Even before that game, you were kind of just waiting for him to break out and have that type of game because he earned it. He doesn’t get a lot of shine, he doesn’t get a lot of minutes, but he does a great job on the penalty kill.
“He’s a big faceoff guy for us and every time he’s been going on the ice he’s playing the right way.”
Having fun with the media
With both coaches sending a few verbal jabs in the other’s direction during the Western Conference Final, Hitchcock admits he likes it a lot.
“Quite frankly, what you guys report, it’s really boring,” Hitchcock said when asked about the jabs between himself and Sharks coach Peter DeBoer. “We’ve got to have some fun, too. I find it fun. Pete and I know each other very well. We were together in Slovakia ... we survived Bratislava together. We know each other.”
It’s not like coaches aren’t secretive or misleading enough during the NHL playoffs already. Injuries? Lineup changes?
You might as well be asking access to national security files.
“Sending you folks on a wild goose chase is fun sometimes,” Hitchcock said. “We’ve got to enjoy it, too. It just can’t be stress and pressure 24 hours a day. There’s got to be some fun in it for us. I like it. I like the atmosphere. I like the focal point of it. Quite frankly, I like anything that takes away from the focus on the players so that they can just play hockey.”
Hitchcock makes a good point with so much media scrutiny involving every possible detail of a series.
“I think sometimes when there’s so much discussion back and forth and there’s so many outlets that need stories, it can become overwhelming to the players,” he said. “Any time I can get people chasing down a different path, I try to do it. It’s fun.”