Analyzing Boston's historic collapse

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It’s rare when you get to do a piece like this. It’s never happened in the NBA. It’s happened once in Major League Baseball and before tonight it’s only happened twice in the NHL. Tonight, however, the Boston Bruins did what only the 1975 Pittsburgh Penguins and the 1942 Detroit Red Wings did before them: Lose a seven-game series that they at one time led three games to none.

For the Bruins, the questions will linger about what they could’ve changed, who is at fault, what needs to change to fix things for the future. After all, the Bruins lost in a soul-crippling playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes last year. Coming back from that season with a historical failure like this after fighting so many issues with the team during the season (eg: scoring goals consistently) you have to wonder if general manager Peter Chiarelli will look to make some bench adjustments as well as ones in the locker room. 

The problems this year for the Bruins come playoff time are pretty easy to pick out. Killer instinct managed to completely disappear. After winning in overtime in such a stifling and impressive way in Game 1, the same  could not be said for Game 4’s overtime period. One would think that with the opposing team on the ropes in a game where they could be eliminated you’d want to put things away. Instead, Mike Richards scored and gave the Flyers some life. The Bruins would return home for Game 5 and see the Flyers come out and shut them down for their best game of the playoffs and then hear their home fans in Boston turn on the team. Not exactly inspiring stuff. The rest, as they will now say, is history and history was summed up almost perfectly within the confines of Game 7 by itself.

Often forgotten in all this is the loss of David Krejci to the Bruins lineup while the Flyers re-gained Simon Gagne to theirs. While the sample size is small, the Bruins didn’t win a game in the playoffs without Krejci and the Flyers offense was certainly better and a lot deeper with Gagne in the lineup. But why was Game 7 just a microcosm of the series? Take a look after the jump for that and more about the historical significance of what went down in Game 7.

The Bruins’ game plan in Game 7 was to come out fast, get their crowd involved, and try to put the Flyers away early and roll from there. They sort of did that, jumping out to a 3-0 lead not even 15 minutes into the first period. The crowd was going bonkers, the Bruins were rolling and the game plan was working perfectly. But just like the Flyers did in the series, all it takes is one, and James Van Riemsdyk’s goal, a horrid squeaker past Tuukka Rask, was the one that jump-started the Flyers and began the demise of the Bruins.

Van Riemsdyk’s goal took the crowd out of the game and gave the Flyers the momentum lift they needed as they turned the pressure up in the final minutes of the first period, a momentum shift that would take over the rest of the game. After the Bruins outshot the Flyers 14-8 in the first period, the Flyers would turn the tables and outshoot and outwork the Bruins the rest of the way to a tune of 19-11.

To wrap your head around the historical significance of this, it didn’t just end with collapsing in a series they lead 3-0, it also made itself apparent in the way the game ended up being decided. At 11:10 of the third, the Bruins picked up a penalty for too many men on the ice. While that penalty has been a news story throughout and the Bruins were certainly guilty of the enfraction, its ties to the fate of the 1979 Bruins run deep. In Game 7 of the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinals, the Bruins lead the Montreal Canadiens 4-3 in the third period before picking up a too many men penalty. Guy LeFleur would score with the man advantage and force the game to overtime where the Canadiens would knock off the Bruins. 

Playing the role of Guy LeFleur this time was Simon Gagne, scoring the eventual power play game winner, firing it past Tuukka Rask. The Flyers would then lock it down defensively and go to great efforts to kill time. Michael Leighton made it all stand up stopping 22 shots and completing the biggest comeback the NHL has seen in 35 years.

As far as trying to compare this to their work during the regular season, the Bruins twice had losing streaks of four or more games. In December they had a stretch of four games, and through January and February they had a run of 10 straight losses. If you’re thinking they were “due” for a run of bad play, well, maybe you’re backed up by those numbers. For the Bruins, history and discussions of truly epic failures will now follow them as long as teams get down 3-0 in a series. For a season that ended on a high note in making the playoffs and looking strong against the Sabres to have it end in such a gut-punching way is one that true Bruins fans would like to forget.

Kulikov returns to increasingly healthy Sabres lineup

CALGARY, AB - OCTOBER 18: Dmitry Kulikov #77 of the Buffalo Sabres in action against the Calgary Flames during an NHL game at Scotiabank Saddledome on October 18, 2016 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Derek Leung/Getty Images)
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No one’s going to confuse Dmitry Kulikov with Jack Eichel, but the Buffalo Sabres are likely happy to have him back after a long absence, too.

The Sabres have been on an upward trend lately (5-2-2 in their last nine games), and now they get a key defenseman back against the Washington Capitals on Friday night.

Kulikov last played on Nov. 9 and hasn’t recorded a point in 12 games, making for a tough start to his stint with the Sabres. Maybe he’ll begin to get a little more traction with his new team tonight?

He’s far from the only returning Buffalo player, either, as Josh Gorges and Nicolas Deslauriers are also back in the mix. Kulikov is slated to be on the Sabres’ second pairing with Cody Franson.

Buffalo sent Brendan Guhle to the AHL to make room for these tweaks.

With Foligno out sick, Columbus gives Bjorkstrand another shot

COLUMBUS, OH - OCTOBER 13:  Oliver Bjorkstrand #28 of the Columbus Blue Jackets lines up for a face-off during the game against the Boston Bruins on October 13, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without captain Nick Foligno because of an illness on Friday, opening up an opportunity for interesting prospect Oliver Bjorkstrand.

The team tweeted out his linemates as Matt Calvert and Lukas Sedlak as a solid fourth line facing the Detroit Red Wings.

He failed to generate much (zero points, two shots on goal) in three games so far with Columbus this season, receiving about 25 minutes of ice time over that span.

With eight goals and 12 points in 19 AHL games so far in 2016-17, there’s the thought that he could eventually make the next step to becoming a decent contributor for the Blue Jackets.

Perhaps this will constitute his first real step in that direction?

Apparently this is a pretty abrupt situation for the 21-year-old:

Gretzky defends McDavid’s outburst after Manning incident

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23: Wayne Gretzky (L) and Dale Hawerchuk drop the puck in a ceremonial face-off between Blake Wheeler #26 and Connor McDavid #97 during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Fred Greenslade /Getty Images)
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PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) As the primary target of opponents over his Hall of Fame career, Wayne Gretzky can certainly empathize with the frustration of Oilers star Connor McDavid.

McDavid and Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Brandon Manning jostled all evening long in a 6-5 Edmonton loss. McDavid denounced the tactics of his opponent after the game, claiming Manning intentionally injured him last season; McDavid missed 37 games with a broken collarbone.

“I guess we can put the whole ‘if he did it’ thing to rest because what he said out there kind of confirmed that,” said McDavid, who taunted Manning after scoring the second goal in the Oilers’ loss.

“I think anybody who knows me or who has played with or against me along the road here, knows that I am not that kind of player,” Manning said, according to a statement released by the Flyers. “I am not out there intentionally trying to hurt people. I’m a guy who plays the game hard and I take pride in that.”

Gretzky didn’t mind seeing that fire in McDavid, saying competitiveness is part of what makes the great ones great. And he said the targeting comes with the territory of being a superstar. It was something he and Mario Lemieux dealt with, too.

“And Connor, he’s going to get tested every night, but this is not new for him,” Gretzky said Friday at the NHL board of governors meetings. “He’s been tested since he was a kid and then playing junior hockey and now in the NHL and he’s always responded and done his part.”

Related: McDavid accuses ‘classless’ Manning of injuring him on purpose

Bishop trying not to let contract situation affect his play

TAMPA, FL - JUNE 06: Ben Bishop #30 of the Tampa Bay Lightning looks on against the Chicago Blackhawks during Game Two of the 2015 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Amalie Arena on June 6, 2015 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Iskowitz/Getty Images)
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Ben Bishop was a Vezina Trophy finalist last season, and that makes it particularly striking to see his numbers a quarter of the way through 2016-17.

After 18 starts, Bishop is 8-10-1 with a .906 save percentage. He got the hook after two periods last night at Amalie Arena, where he surrendered four goals to the Vancouver Canucks in a 5-1 loss.

Last night marked the third time in his last five starts that he’d surrendered at least four goals, and one of the goals he allowed looked like this:

So, do things feel different this season?

“I feel fine,” Bishop said today, per Lightning Insider. “We go back and watch the games and technically it’s all there. There is really no difference from the way I’ve played the last couple of years to now. I don’t like saying this, but it’s been a strange season with goofy goals on tips and bounces, goals off your own players. So I think if you took some of those away, the numbers would be pretty similar to years past. I would like to get the wins a little higher.”

Bishop, of course, is a pending unrestricted free agent who is unlikely to re-sign with the Lightning. Andrei Vasilevskiy appears to be the goalie of the future in Tampa Bay. On July 1, the 22-year-old re-signed through 2019-20.

Vasilevskiy is also 6-2-1 with a .929 save percentage.

So in that regard, it’s a bit like the situation we’re seeing in New York, where Henrik Lundqvist is struggling and Antti Raanta is thriving.

The difference is Lundqvist isn’t going to be looking for a new team anytime soon. Remember that Bishop “was close” to being traded to Calgary in the offseason. He could still end up there in free agency, depending if Brian Elliott bounces back.

Bishop says he’s trying not to let his contract situation affect his state of mind; however, he admits he’d “be lying if I said I never thought about it.”

“It’s definitely there in the back of your head,” he said.

The Lightning host the Penguins on Saturday.

Expect Vasilevskiy to start that one.