Injuries have taken a toll on the St. Louis blue line during the Blues' first-round NHL playoff series against the Wild, with Nick Leddy, Marco Scandella, Robert Bortuzzo and Torey Krug all missing time. From injury, however, comes opportunity for others to step up, and one of those for the Blues is Scott Perunovich.
The Hobey Baker Award-winning former Minnesota Duluth Bulldog from Hibbing drew into the lineup for Sunday's Game 3 and worked the point on the Blues' top power-play unit. Perunovich logged 12:02 of ice time, collected an assist and drew praise from coach Craig Berube.
"Composure for sure,'' Berube said of Perunovich's strength before Tuesday's Game 5 at Xcel Energy Center. "He has the ability to look things off and see people that are open. … He's got a decent shot, too. He can use his shot, but I think it's just the ability to see the ice and move that puck.''
Perunovich made a quick impact Tuesday, taking a shot from the point and getting the second assist on Ryan O'Reilly's first-period rebound goal for a 1-0 lead. Later, it was another Blues defenseman and former Bulldog who stood out. Justin Faulk of South St. Paul assisted on the first two of Vladimir Tarasenko's three third-period goals that sent the Blues to a 5-2 victory and 3-2 series lead.
"Our third period was our best period,'' Berube said after the game. "We pushed hard, but we did a really good job of shutting them down.''
Perunovich's success shouldn't surprise UMD fans, who saw the calm and dynamic puck-mover help the Bulldogs win NCAA championships in 2018 and '19 and secure him the Hobey Baker Award in 2020. In three seasons in the Twin Ports, Perunovich amassed 20 goals and 85 assists.
His road to the NHL, though, hasn't been as smooth. A left shoulder injury that required surgery cost him the 2021 season. This season, he played 17 games for Springfield in the AHL and 19 for the Blues before undergoing surgery on his left wrist in early March. Sunday's game was Perunovich's first since Jan. 15, and teammates liked what they saw.
"We've all known that he has that skill and that ability to run the power play, playing quarterback,'' Faulk said earlier Tuesday. "He did it earlier this year for us when he was asked to and did a good job on it, for sure. And I think it's put him in a spot that he's comfortable in and used to.''
Like Perunovich, Faulk won an NCAA title at Xcel Energy Center, his in 2011. Tuesday, he was solid throughout the game, playing a team-high 25 minutes, 33 seconds and helping hold the Wild scoreless after the first period and limiting Minnesota to three shots in the third.
"He stepped up,'' Blues forward Brandon Saad said of Faulk. "He's played a lot of big minutes, and he's a great player. He can move the puck; he can skate as well as anyone I've ever seen. He's been big every game for us."
The Blues also got help on the blue line with the return of Nick Leddy, who missed Games 2-4 because of an upper-body injury, and Robert Bortuzzo, who missed the past two games after taking a slapshot off his ear in Game 2. Leddy, the former Gopher from Eden Prairie, logged 18:01, had two hits and blocked one shot. Bortuzzo played 10:50, delivered two hits and blocked one shot.