Former UMD star Justin Faulk anchors Blues’ black-and-blue blue line
While Nick Leddy, Robert Bertuzzo and Marco Scandella all missed games, Faulk averaged 27:43 of ice time in four playoff games
The St. Louis Blues have been mostly unlucky with their blue line during their first-round playoff series against the Wild. On the plus side, Justin Faulk has been able to play every game.
One of the best defensemen in the NHL this season, Faulk has anchored the back end while St. Louis waited for veterans Nick Leddy and Robert Bortuzzo to recover from injuries to help the Blues tie the series 2-2 heading into Game 5 on Tuesday at Xcel Energy Center.
Faulk played 31 minutes, 10 seconds in the Blues’ series-tying, 5-2 victory Sunday at Enterprise Center in St. Louis. Asked how he felt after logging more than a half-hour of ice time, the South St. Paul native said, “It’s fine. I mean, realistically, it’s not that much different.”
Certainly not this postseason.
In four games, Faulk has averaged 27:43 of ice time. That’s because Leddy, Bortuzzo, Marco Scandella and Scott Perunovich all had missed at least two playoff games and, on Tuesday, Torey Krug was set to miss his first full game after leaving Sunday’s victory after just playing just 3:10.
Bortuzzo, hit hard while blocking a shot, was set to return Tuesday. So was smooth-skating Leddy of Eden Prairie, who helped keep Kirill Kaprizov scoreless for the only time this season in Game 1 before being checked hard into the boards.
They also will have rookie Scott Perunovich, the 2020 Hobey Baker Award winner at Minnesota Duluth, who returned from an injury to his left wrist for Game 4. In his first game since Jan. 15, Peruvonich recorded his first postseason point with the first assist on David Perron’s second-period, even-strength goal.
“We missed them when they were out,” Blues coach Craig Berube said.
Faulk, no doubt, helped mitigate the pain. After Sunday’s game, goaltender Jordan Binnington called Faulk and Colton Parayko “machines.” Parayko played 30:37 in Game 4 and has averaged 26:42 of ice time this postseason. Asked if he had ever been called a machine before, Faulk said, “I don’t think so. I don’t think it’s thrown around too much. Parayko is a machine, though.”
Faulk, who won an NCAA championship with Minnesota Duluth in 2011, was an all-star with Carolina in 2014-15 but is having arguably his best season. He finished the regular season with 16 goals (one off his career high) and 47 points (two off his best) and had by far the best plus/minus, 41, of his career. He tied with the Wild’s Alex Goligoski for sixth in the NHL.
In four playoff games this season, Faulk, 30, has two assists.
While he acknowledged playing 30 minutes in a game “is tough,” Faulk also said he would never complain about getting a lot of ice time. If he did, “I probably won’t be in this league much longer.”
“I don’t think any player should ever say there’s too much, right?” he added. “I’m pretty sure if you ask every guy on that team if they like extra minutes, they’ll all say yes. Realistically, it’s a way to stay in the game — and not saying that you aren’t with less minutes — but I think every player, as you play more minutes, you feel more engaged into the game, whether that’s someone jumping from 10 to 12, 20 to 22, whatever it is, you can notice it.
“If you can’t be engaged, you’re probably not going to be out there.”