FIve Thoughts: Alex Burrows’ Game 2 heroics a very bad sign for Boston

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Just as it goes with virtually every Stanley Cup finals game there are tons of thoughts that pop up in the aftermath of the game. Game 2 between Boston and Vancouver is no different and with the Canucks winning the game 3-2 in overtime. Storylines abound after such a turn of events.

1. There’s obviously a lot of outrage in Boston today after seeing Alex Burrows play perhaps his best game of the playoffs scoring two goals and adding an assist. It’s very clear to us that the NHL erred in not suspending Burrows for one game and while Bruins coach Claude Julien said the right things after the game there’s no doubt they and the rest of the Bruins have to be furious about it. They must put it out of their heads and then focus that anger into making sure Burrows doesn’t beat them on the ice again.

Allowing Burrows to essentially have his way with them the Bruins looked sadder than anything else. Think of it like seeing the movie “The Karate Kid” and instead of Daniel LaRusso crane kicking Cobra Kai into defeat, Johnny sweeps the leg and ends his miraculous run. If the Canucks continue to outwork, outhustle, and outplay the Bruins and take Game 3 the fans in Vancouver can start calling for that body bag for the Bruins as well as calling for the Stanley Cup.

2. One thing that’s been a severe disappointment for the Bruins is the play of their defense. Last night’s overtime goal came thanks to a bad play from Andrew Ference followed by Zdeno Chara’s inability to cover ground fast enough to catch up with Burrows. The kind of speed that Vancouver has is a major issue for a lot of players the Bruins have and while we’ve seen this be a problem for them in past seasons (think back to Boston getting bounced out by Carolina in 2009) what the Canucks do with their speed and their physicality is something Boston didn’t really deal with too often during the regular season.

The Bruins are used to wearing down teams by roughing them up. Vancouver enjoys that part of the game and even feeds off it at times. That kind of stubborn resilience can be mentally defeating to deal with. Guys like Chara, Ference, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton are delivering physically but the hits aren’t enough to get Vancouver to slow down and fall more in line with Boston’s strengths to grind the game out. Vancouver fights through the checks and keeps on motoring. Since there’s nothing legally the Bruins can do to stop them, every game turns into a war of attrition for them. That’s hard to deal with.

3. One thing the Canucks did right last night was get under Tim Thomas’ skin. While Thomas plays great when he’s fired up for a game and playing aggressive, he’s seen moments in the past where his fiery nature got the best of him and caused him to give up a bad goal. While that didn’t happen last night, Thomas got a bit more jumpy and agitated with the way the Canucks buzzed the net and found ways to make contact with him.

Late in the game, Thomas was even complaining at one point about Henrik Sedin’s presence in front of the net while other times the Bruins defense helps shove Canucks forwards into Thomas. The Bruins defense has to do a better job of putting up the wall to protect Thomas. They want him locked into the game but not to the degree where he’s looking to get his own shots in on opponents to avenge previous misgivings. Intensity is good but not when it turns into reckless play.

4. The Bruins’ top line will need to have more of a presence if they’re going to come back in this series. David Krejci, Nathan Horton, and Milan Lucic combined for seven shots on goal in Game 2 after piling up 13 all together in Game 1. While Lucic was able to get a goal thanks to their work in front of the net, seeing Krejci come away with four shots while Horton had just one is disappointing. When you’re the top line you have to do more, always. Vancouver’s top line was lights out in Game 2 in leading the way to victory. That sort of effort and skill is what it takes to win. While Roberto Luongo is having a lot to say about that line’s lack of success for Boston, they’ll need to do more of what they started in Game 2 from here on out. Scoring a grimy goal on a rebound by holding your ground looks just as good on the scoreboard as the highlight reel one does.

5. Vancouver’s work in the third period is becoming the thing of legend for them. Their depth and the way their lineup has been juggled this year have provided them with many challenges this year but they’ve been resilient all year long and their stamina late in games is astounding. Vancouver continues to find ways to battle hard to the end and pull games out late. Coming back to beat Boston in overtime is something no team had done to them yet in the playoffs. Boston was 4-0 in overtime games in the playoffs before last night. That’s a rough time to take your first defeat.

Vancouver, however, has been doing this sort of thing all playoffs long in either finding ways to comeback late in games or finishing teams off. That sort of toughness is what makes them so hard to beat and Boston is now finding this out the hard way. Giving up the game-winning goal with 18 seconds left to play in Game 1 and now Game 2’s overtime winner coming just 11 seconds in are excruciating ways to lose.

Capitals tie series with Blue Jackets

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In Game 4, the Washington Capitals showed their heart by not working overtime.

The Capitals dropped both of their home games to start their first-round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets, opening the floodgates for people to dust off their favorite, cruel jokes about this team. They’ll return home with those one-liners drying up, though.

After falling behind 2-0 in the series, the Capitals flipped the script to tie it up 2-2 after beating the Blue Jackets both times in Columbus. The symmetry wasn’t complete, however; while Washington continued the series trend of overtime nail-biters by winning beyond regulation in Game 3, they made no mistake about winning Game 4 by a score of 4-1.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This wasn’t a case where the Bruins got the bounces and the finishes to win. The Capitals have shown signs of dominance even in defeats during this series, but they really smothered the Blue Jackets in Game 4.

The Capitals generated a 33-24 shots on goal edge, won about two-thirds of the faceoffs, and generally carried the play by every metric.

Tom Wilson making it 1-0 was valuable, and jokes about blown 2-0 leads aside, T.J. Oshie‘s eventual game-winner was important during the second period. Alex Ovechkin‘s goal from his opposite office widened the gap too much for an overmatched Blue Jackets team, even with Boone Jenner scoring and giving Columbus a brief boost.

With a goal and an assist in Game 4, this is yet another reminder that Ovechkin is a playoff performer, even if his team isn’t always there with him. After Washington went down 2-0 against Columbus, Ovechkin said “it’s going to be fun when we bounce back and tie the series,” and that’s exactly the situation Washington is in after … whatever the opposite of “holding serve” is.

Of course, people will quickly forget this triumph-within-the-series if the Capitals ultimately bow out of the first round, anyway.

The Caps must feel really good about their collective play as they aim to become the first team to win at home in this series in Game 5. Their power play has been productive, playing tight defense, getting scoring from Ovechkin/others, and Braden Holtby looks poised in regaining his usual spot in net. It’s the sort of stretch that changes the Capitals’ narrative from “here we go again” to “could this be the year we finally make a run?”

With this series now essentially becoming a best two-out-of-three clash, the disposition could easily go from sunny back to gloomy, but give this beleaguered group credit for keeping cool heads and making this anyone’s game once again.

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 push Leafs to brink

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The Boston Bruins found themselves on the wrong end of plenty of stats in Game 4, but even with Patrice Bergeron on the shelf, they won 3-1 to push the Toronto Maple Leafs to the brink of elimination.

Boston took a 3-1 series lead with tonight’s win despite Toronto generating a 32-21 shots on goal advantage, hogging the puck, and holding home-ice advantage.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Goaltending was one big area of advantage for the Bruins. Tuukka Rask was forced to make some tough saves as Mitch Marner and other Leafs players created plenty of chances. One cannot help but wonder if fatigue is a bit of a factor for workhorse Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen, meanwhile, as he’d likely love to have this Torey Krug goal back:

That early 1-0 lead provided a cushion for the Bruins to adjust to life without Bergeron (again), although Tomas Plekanec did tie things up. Ultimately, the Bruins were able to cash in on two 2-on-1 rushes, with Brad Marchand burying a tremendous setup by David Pastrnak for the game-winner and Jake DeBrusk finding the net after a great feed by David Krejci (who has absorbed some criticism for his play lately).

The two goals were remarkably similar in exhibiting the Bruins’ smarts and finish, along with the Maple Leafs lacking in a few areas on defense, as Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak were exposed (among others). Here’s that Marchang GWG:

Game 5 shifts back to Boston on Saturday. You can watch that game on CNBC, with puck drop slated for 8 p.m. ET.

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 without Bergeron vs. Leafs in Game 4

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The Boston Bruins rolled through much of the regular season despite injuries, even to key players like Patrice Bergeron. The fact that they’re unfortunately experienced playing without Bergeron is probably the only silver lining regarding his late scratch heading into Game 4.

The Bruins announced that Bergeron is day-to-day with what they’re deeming an upper-body injury, so Riley Nash slips into Bergeron’s spot between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

This stands as an obvious opportunity for Auston Matthews to roam more freely against the Bruins and a chance for the Maple Leafs to tie this series in front of their home fans.

NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty makes a good point that Bergeron missing Game 4 is especially troubling since the Bruins played Game 3 on Monday, gaining an extra off day between contests.

Bergeron generated five assists through the first three games of this series, including four helpers in Game 2. He was limited to 64 regular-season games in 2017-18, falling just short of a point-per-game with 63. Naturally, his all-around game goes beyond goals and assists, so this hurts badly for the Bruins, whether they had some experience playing without him or not.

As of this writing, the two teams are tied up 1-1. Click here for the livestream link.

This news comes not that long after news surfaced that Bergeron’s once again been named a finalist for the Selke.

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.

Doughty, Hedman, Subban are 2018 Norris Trophy finalists

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Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and P.K. Subban of the Nashville Predators have been named finalists for the 2018 Norris Trophy. The award, voted on by the Professional Hockey Writers Assocation, is given “to the defense player who demonstrates throughout the season the greatest all-round ability in the position,” will be handed out during the NHL Awards show June 20 in Las Vegas.

This is the fourth time Doughty has been name a finalist. He won the award in 2016 after finishing second the year before. Hedman finished third in the voting last season and this is the second time he’s finished in the top three. Subban, like Doughty, has a Norris Trophy on his resume (2013). This is the third time he’s been up for the award.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

The Case for Drew Doughty: The Kings blue liner finished sixth in scoring among defensemen with 60 points, which included 10 goals. He also led all NHL players in total ice time with 2,200:31, finishing with an average of 26:50 per game. He had a strong possession game with a 53 percent Corsi and a 4.39 Relative Corsi, meaning LA fired nearly five shots more per 60 minutes when Doughty was on the ice.

“I’m not starting the season, thinking ‘oh I got to get the most points I can, so I can win the Norris,’” he told The Athletic last month. “I’m starting the season, thinking, ‘I’ve got to get my defensive game even better, because that’s where my team needs me the most – to lead the charge in that area. It’s a team game and it’s about winning championships.”

The Case for Victor Hedman: Hedman finished tied for first among defensemen in goals scored with 17 and finished fourth in points with 63. He set a career high in ice time with 1,990:30 total minutes, averaging 25:51 per night. The possession stats for the Lightning defenseman were solid as well, with a 52 percent Corsi and a 0.38 Relative Corsi.

“I’m fortunate to be on an unbelievable team that helped me out through my first decade in the league, to help me grow into the player I want to be,” he told Sports Illustrated in February. “Still got stuff to work on and get better at, but obviously winning the Norris would be something that I want to do. I want to be at the top of my game. I want to play my best every night.”

The Case for P.K. Subban: Subban was right behind Hedman in goals scored (16) and right behind Doughty in total points (59). He logged 1,977:24 of ice time, playing in all 82 games for the Predators this season. As you’d expect from a Norris finalist, his possession stats were good, as he finished with a 52 percent Corsi and a 0.3 Relative Corsi.

Earlier this season, Subban told the Tennessean he felt his defensive game was overlooked. “The offensive part of my game has always been there,” he said. “The defensive part has always been there as well, but for whatever reason, I don’t seem to get the credit for what I do in my (defensive) zone and how I contribute defensively for our hockey club.”

2018 NHL Award finalists
Lady Byng (Friday)
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.