Barbie is, if anything, a Ken.
He’s got coiffed blonde hair, an athletic physique and, as his NHL ilk are wont to do, he’s dressed impeccably.
But the Blues’ Ivan Barbashev is more maul than doll, a non-chubby checker who brutalizes Bruins. Barbie led all Blues with nine hits in their Game 4 win. This, I determined Tuesday, would be my in for a little small-talk with Barbie, as the Blues boarded their plane to Boston.
“So, do you have some bruises after all those hits last night?”
But Barbashev, wary this interrogation would lead to an accidental injury admission, blurted back: “I’m not going to tell you anything!”
I felt bad, but then he smiled. Maybe the Blue is bruised, maybe the pain-provider is pain-free — doesn’t matter. It’s the Stanley Cup Final, and as the series prolongs, Barbie and the Blues’ fourth line has almost an allure — as it becomes something of lore. The fourth line is cool. Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist and Alexander Steen. Game-changers.
“I’ll tell you what,” coach Craig Berube said after the 4-2 win, “Sundqvist’s line was unreal tonight. They did a great job against (Patrice) Bergeron’s line all night, we had them out almost every shift against Berergon’s line, thought they did a great job. . . . It was a real team game.”
For much of this postseason run, much has been made about the Blues’ fourth line. But Monday, if you didn’t notice, these guys didn’t come in doses. A little fourth line here and there. The Blues’ fourth line played first-line minutes. A lot of that was the matchups, but still — Steen played 17:38, Sundqvist played 19:32 and Barbashev played 17:27 (he didn’t play that much in any game this year . . . or last year). This was an incredible turn-of-events and a gamble that paid off for Berube, the fourth-line whisperer.
Can the Blues replicate it? They won’t have the final line change as the road team in Thursday’s Game 5. But this line — shoot, this team — is unabashedly unafraid. These guys thrive off challenges. They’re wired weird. And it’s so much fun to watch play out.
“When the going gets tough,” said Ryan O’Reilly, the goal-scorer and idiom-destroyer, “guys get extremely disciplined and everyone kind of comes together.”
Barbashev’s play pops. He’s listed at exactly 6 feet tall, 187 pounds, but he utilizes every ounce. He’s almost like a body-checking missile that doesn’t miss.
“He’s got really good timing — which is usually the biggest key,” said Steen, the veteran who was put on the fourth line and soon had a rejuvenation. “Both him and ‘Sunny’ are underrated as far as hockey intelligence goes. I think people are starting to see how smart they are on the ice. A lot of the time, when you have the speed that those two guys have — and then you add the timing aspect — they get there and are able to throw the body around.
“The three of us, we do a good job of communicating with how we want to play — and what type of an aggressive game we want to have. When those opportunities arrive through being connected, we’ve got to take them. All three guys are really enjoying the moment right now, and playing that way.”
Sundqvist, of course, made headlines by being too aggressive. His vicious hit on Matt Grzelcyk in Game 2 led to a suspension for Game 3. Because all Berube does is push the right buttons, the coach tapped Zach Sanford to be a fourth-liner in Game 3 — and Sanford did so well, Berube moved Sanford to the second line for Game 4.
Sundqvist, as expected, approached the first period of Game 4 as if he also had an untapped Game 3 in him, ready to be unleashed. He rattled a trio of Bruins with first-periods hits. And the fourth line just kept bringing it, even creating offensive opportunities, such as a Colton Parayko slap shot in the first period.
“I thought we structurally played well,” Steen said. “We played tight and connected, like we do when we play at our best. And I thought we kept the foot on the gas, for the most part, throughout of the game.
“We’re enjoying playing with each other. . . . And we’re extremely good friends off the ice as well.”
There are numerous reasons why this Stanley Cup matchup is particularly intriguing, from former St. Louis captain David Backes to former Boston fan Sanford. Two others that stand out — the heaviness of these teams and the depth. A quintessential team, almost even a throwback team, is going to win the Cup.
And the Blues’ fourth line, in the recent sample size, is exemplifying the depth.
So, Barbie, why does this click?
“I can’t really describe it,” he said — but then, mercifully, gave it a shot. “It’s been awesome to play with those two, we just work hard out there. We want to make a difference, especially being a fourth line. We’ve got to play physical, bring some energy — and we have a chance to bring some confidence, as well. Just to get momentum going to the whole team. I think we’ve been doing a really good job with this. It’s been really effective.
“Boston is a really good team, but I have a lot of confidence. We’ve done really well on the road. I’m really looking forward to it, because it’s going to be the hardest game to win. But it’s going to be a fun one.”