Bruins ‘choking’ talk obscures superior play from the Lightning

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Over the years, I’ve noticed that many sports fans truly delight in calling teams and/or players “chokers” even though that label is rarely accurate or fair. Beyond the armchair psychology one can implement in studying how “normal people” critique millionaire athletes, there are at least two fundamental problems with making these claims.

1. The premise ignores the accomplishments and talents of the opposing team.

2. Calling someone a “choker” hinges on the assumption that they truly have control over their successes and failures.

Both of those issues factored into the analysis of the Tampa Bay Lightning’s come-from-behind victory against the Boston Bruins in Saturday’s Game 4 match. While the Bruins should be deeply disappointed with how they played in the final two periods after building a 3-0 lead, that score was misleading in the first place. All three goals were the result of baffling blunders by the Lightning, but there was also more than a little bit of good fortune involved in each Boston goal. Michael Ryder’s 2-0 goal might symbolize those lucky bounces the best.

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Yes, there were moments in the first period when the Lightning looked rattled – especially after Dwayne Roloson allowed Patrice Bergeron’s 3-0 shorthanded goal to squeak through his five-hole – but they actually came out with a lot of energy in the opening frame. A lot of teams might have given up a little bit in that situation, but the plucky Bolts kept at it and their steady pressure was rewarded in the form of a three-goal outburst in the second period (and eventually the win).

Tampa Bay’s effort has been more consistent through the first four games.

In the big picture view of this series, the Lightning are consistently out-playing the Bruins. Both teams had one clunker of a game (Boston’s Game 1 was worse than Tampa Bay’s Game 3, but they were both contests the teams would like back) while the Bruins won a toss-up in Game 2 and the Lightning outlasted Boston in Game 4. Shot totals can be a bit misleading at times, but it’s still telling that the Lightning have out-shot the Bruins in all four games, with an overall 143-123 advantage.*

Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said “We knew they wouldn’t quit” and there’s good reason to believe that he wasn’t just providing lip service. My feeling was that the Lightning were getting some lucky breaks while being occasionally outplayed through much of the first two playoff rounds, but Tampa Bay is flipping that situation on its head in the Eastern Conference finals. Now the Bruins are the ones who are staying in the series thanks to some timely goals and sporadically brilliant goaltending from Tim Thomas.

The Bruins have been a bit schizophrenic in this series. They laid a total egg in Game 1, won a wide-open Game 2, played “Bruins hockey” in Game 3 and then went from high to low in Game 4. Meanwhile, the Lightning seem like they are getting the most out of their team more often than not, even if Dwayne Roloson is starting to look human again.

A lot of Bruins fans probably feel like their team choked this afternoon, yet the truth might be more unsettling for them. More often than not in the first four games, the Lightning have just been better.

* – If you want the game-by-game shot totals, here they are:

Game 1: 34-33
Game 2: 41-35
Game 3: 31-25
Game 4: 37-30

Kapanen overwhelms Marchand, scores ridiculous goal

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To the chagrin of the coaches and goalies, the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are keeping things hectic during the second period of Game 7.

Kasperi Kapanen seems like he’s perpetually battling for a permanent/more prominent spot with the Maple Leafs, but it’s not for a lack of trying or moxie. He’s been hitting posts on some near-misses lately, but saved some magic for tonight.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

You can see that in a 4-3 goal that currently stands as the Maple Leafs’ lead. Kapanen overpowers Brad Marchand and then outwaits Tuukka Rask for an absolutely tremendous shorthanded goal.

(Check out that goal in the video above this post’s headline.)

Impressive, especially considering who that came against. At one point, the Maple Leafs had converted on both of their shots on goal early in the second period to go from being down 3-2 to up 4-3. As mentioned after that wild first period, you have to wonder about both goalies’ confidence, but that’s especially true of Rask right now.

To be fair, Kapanen’s showed a real knack for scoring big goals so far during his brief NHL career. As you may remember, he scored the game-winner in double overtime of Game 2 against the Washington Capitals during that tight series to start the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. He also helped them punch their ticket to the postseason in 2016-17 with his first NHL goal.

Then again, maybe this sort of goal is in the blood? Kasperi Kapanen’s shorthanded goal feels reminiscent of a great goal by his father Sami Kapanen:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins – Leafs Game 7 off to wild start, Reilly hit by puck

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You can forgive fans of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for hyperventilating right now, unless they’re merely staring blankly at their screens.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

Game 7 accelerated to 100 mph seemingly in mere seconds on Wednesday:

  • After a Sean Kuraly penalty, Patrick Marleau deflected a puck past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a stunning 1-0 lead off of a power-play goal just 2:05 into the contest.
  • A delay of game infraction gave the Bruins a chance to tie things up on the power play, and they did just that as David Krejci and David Pastrnak set up Jake DeBrusk. That happened 4:47 into the game.
  • Less than two minutes later, Patrick Marleau scored again, giving Toronto a 2-1 edge that wouldn’t last.
  • The two teams combined for four goals through less than half of the first period, as Danton Heinen showed why he should be playing with the 2-2 goal with 11:50 remaining in the opening frame.
  • The Bruins took their first lead (3-2) of Game 7 with less than a minute left in the first period thanks to a goal by Patrice Bergeron.

Those were just the goals, too, as there were some close calls, making you wonder about the confidence of Rask and Frederik Andersen:

The two teams are also accruing some bumps and bruises, which must be to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s liking.

In the most dramatic instance, Brad Marchand ducked a high Zdeno Chara shot, leaving an unsuspecting Morgan Rielly to take a puck to the face. It’s a scary moment, although the good news is that Rielly was able to return for the beginning of the second period.

Yikes.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Chara also seemed stung by a blocked shot during the first period, as he took a puck to his ankle/foot area. He didn’t appear to miss any time, and it would be tough to imagine him not fighting through it during a Game 7, yet you wonder if the hulking defenseman’s mobility might be hindered after that.

The Bruins and Leafs already put on a show through 20 minutes. We’ll see who’s left standing to face the Bolts, whether this game ends in regulation or hits sudden death in a Game 7.

*Gulp*

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bednar, Cassidy, Gallant are 2018 Jack Adams Award finalists

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Jared Bednar of the Colorado Avalanche, Bruce Cassidy of the Boston Bruins and Gerard Gallant of the Vegas Golden Knights have been named as the three finalists for the 2017-18 Jack Adams Award. The winner of the award, voted on by the NHL Broadcasters’ Association and given to the the head coach who has “contributed the most to his team’s success,” will be announced during the NHL Awards show in Las Vegas on June 20.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Jared Bednar: With a full summer to work with compared to 2016-17, Bednar helped guide the Avalanche to a 47-point improvement and a trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2014. The production of their youth was key in the resurgence, with Bednar using 11 rookies throughout the season, tied for the most in the NHL. Led by Alex Kerfloot (43 points), J.T. Compher (23 points) and Tyson Jost (22 points), Colorado rookies played an NHL-high 419 games. The offense also posted its best numbers since 2006-07 with the number of goals scored (shootout excluded) increasing from 165 last season to 255 in 2017-18.

The Case for Bruce Cassidy: During his first full season in Boston, Cassidy led the team to 50 wins and 112 points, the Bruins’ fourth-highest total in 40 years. Like Colorado, the Bruins received contributions from their kids with an NHL-best 58 goals from rookies in 2017-18. Cassidy’s impact extends back to when he took over for Claude Julien over a year ago. The Bruins went 18-8-1 in final 27 games of last season to help return to the playoffs following a two-year absence. This season, Boston cruised through the regular season and was in contention until the final few days for not only the top spot in the Eastern Conference but also the Presidents’ Trophy.

The Case for Gerard Gallant: What else can you say about the job Gallant, an Adams finalist for the second time, and the Golden Knights did during an historic inaugural season? Vegas finished with 51 wins and 109 points to become the first modern-era expansion team from any of the four major North American professional sports leagues to win its division. After a hot start, the Golden Knights saw their goaltenders hit with injury, which included losing Marc-Andre Fleury to a concussion for two months. They would use four netminders to stay afloat and set an NHL record on Feb. 1 with their 34th win, most by a team in its first season.

2018 NHL Award finalists
Ted Lindsay Award (Thursday)
Mark Messier NHL Leadership Award
King Clancy Trophy
Calder Trophy

Bill Masterton Trophy
Lady Byng Trophy
Norris Trophy
Selke Trophy
Vezina Trophy

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins, Maple Leafs battle in Game 7

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Game 7: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
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Call: Mike Emrick, Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk
Series preview
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[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Heinen over Wingels right choice for Bruins in Game 7

Game 7, and the next career-defining moment for Tuukka Rask

• Maple Leafs hope playing ‘desperate’ hockey aids them again vs. Bruins

SECOND ROUND OPENING GAMES

Thursday, April 26
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Friday, April 27
Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Saturday, April 28
If Boston advances… Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
If Toronto advances… Maple Leafs at Tampa  Bay Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.