Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven

What Went Right: Boston Bruins

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The Boston Bruins run to the Stanley Cup, the franchise’s first since 1972, had more than its share of ups and downs and drama. From winning three Game 7s through the playoffs, twice fighting off 0-2 holes to start a series, to the tough injuries through the playoffs to Patrice Bergeron and Nathan Horton, there were moments when things looked bleak. Through all that though the Bruins persevered and proved that a team can work as a unit of 20 players and conquer all.

While it’s easy to say that everything went right for Boston on their march through the playoffs, there’s a few things that standout in particular. No, they don’t all start with Tim Thomas either.

1. But seriously, Tim Thomas

We’re not going to keep you waiting to read about how Tim Thomas’ playoffs were the reason why the Bruins overcame everything and won the Stanley Cup. You know it, we know it, everyone knows it: Without Tim Thomas playing out of his mind the Bruins are likely dead in the water in the opening round of the playoffs.

He broke Kirk McLean’s records for shots faced and saves made in one playoff season and broke Johnny Bower’s record for most saves made in the Stanley Cup finals. Thomas’ 1.98 goals against average and .940 save percentage through the playoffs are remarkable numbers considering the amount of action he saw through the Bruins’ 25 playoff games. While he had his struggles against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals his team helped bail him out. He repaid them by saving their bacon in the Stanley Cup finals in every way possible. Thomas’ playoff performance coupled with his regular season play will go down as one of the single greatest goaltending seasons of all time.

2. Production from everywhere

The Bruins finished the playoffs with 12 players in double figures in points. Of those 12, nine were forwards. Doing the math that I know you can all do so well that means three lines worth of players producing goals and half of the defensemen getting in on the action as well. A steady, balanced attack that saw virtually everyone end up being dangerous in one way or another.

David Krejci led the way with 12 goals and 11 assists to lead everyone in the playoffs in scoring with 23 points. Despite missing two games, Patrice Bergeron racked up 20 points (6 g, 14 a)  and Brad Marchand finished with 11 goals and eight assists of his own. Nathan Horton missed the final four games of the finals but scored series clinching goals against Montreal and Tampa Bay and wound up with 17 points in the playoffs. Michael Ryder despite all of his critics in Boston also finished with 17 points.

Even on defense the Bruins got great production. Dennis Seidenberg and Tomas Kaberle each had 11 points while Andrew Ference had 10 points. Seidenberg providing the points on his pairing with Zdeno Chara (nine points of his own) made their twosome all the more fearful as they were shutting down top lines and adding offense on occasion as well. For all the slings and arrows Kaberle took from fans and media alike, he turned out to have a great playoffs. Perhaps Boston won’t be so quick to let him walk this summer after all.

When a team rolls out that kind of production across such a wide range of players on different lines it makes matching up against them difficult. The work Boston’s fourth line did in disrupting opponents flow and providing a spark was intense as Gregory Campbell, Dan Paille, and a combination of Shawn Thornton and Tyler Seguin did wonders to mix things up. Their ability to do all that was made possible thanks to some fantastic tutelage.

3. Claude Julien can coach him some hockey

Claude Julien’s tenure in Boston hadn’t always been a pretty one. From his choices to let Tyler Seguin be a healthy scratch at times during the season and in the playoffs to his insistence on keeping Michael Ryder in the lineup despite his mercurial play, to his not always joyful demeanor he was a guy Boston fans didn’t always warm up to. In the playoffs though he showed what he’s all about.

In the face of struggles against Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Vancouver he faced questions over how to handle the lineup and the strategy employed against those teams and made the slight tweaks and adjustments necessary to help turn the tide. The Bruins series against Montreal might stand out as his crowning glory as the Bruins headed to the road for Games 3 and 4 down 0-2 in the series and battled back to even things up and ultimately won in seven games. With all the drama and hysterics involved in that opening round series, it would’ve been easy to let things get away. Julien never wavered in how to handle things.

While the Bruins stuck to their plans, he figured out ways to tweak Montreal, found ways to bust up Tampa Bay’s 1-3-1 defense, and juggled his set up against Vancouver enough to make them wildly uncomfortable throughout the series. The strategies employed weren’t always obvious but the subtle work he did in keeping things rolling ahead is impressive and needs to be better appreciated.

4. Turns out special teams weren’t so bad after all

Sure the Bruins power play was savaged all playoffs long for being poor. At 11.4% that power play success isn’t much to write home about in the playoffs but their work all around including how to play shorthanded was incredible, especially in the Stanley Cup finals.

Facing a Canucks power play that was scoring at nearly a 30% rate, the Bruins stifled them forcing them to go 2-33 in the series (6%) all the while they scored three shorthanded goals in the series. When you’re able to turn the tables on a team that thrived on scoring with the man advantage like that it’s like punching someone in the gut. In the case of the Canucks it was more like Brad Marchand punching a Sedin in the face like a speed bag. For all the Bruins shortcomings on the power play, they made sure to more than make up for it when killing off the opponents power plays.

***

The Bruins did so many great things in the playoffs it’s no wonder they came away with the Stanley Cup. In their quest to repeat next season, they’re in stunningly good shape as they’ll only have a couple of minor roster decisions to take care of regarding free agents. Add to that that they get yet another high-end draft pick from the Maple Leafs and things are looking awfully nice in Boston.

Provided Boston gets a healthy Nathan Horton (and maybe Marc Savard) back next season and then perhaps more minutes and improving play from Tyler Seguin things are looking awfully good once again for the Bruins in 2011-2012.

Penguins, Sharks discuss bumpy road to Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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PITTSBURGH (AP) It wasn’t supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn’t supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they’d become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL’s biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn’t makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

“I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things,” Crosby said. “I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point.”

It’s a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL’s most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose’s window for success hadn’t shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

“I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did,” Thornton said. “I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are.”

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby’s tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

FRESH FACES: When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh’s goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick‘s backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn’t give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

“HBK” IS H-O-T: Pittsburgh’s best line during the playoffs isn’t the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

POWERFUL SHARKS: San Jose’s brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

OLD MEN AND THE C(UP): Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

“When I say ‘Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say ‘I was 2-years-old,'” Zubrus said.

Top prospects Tkachuk, Mitchell power London to 2016 Memorial Cup

RED DEER, AB - MAY 29:  JJ Piccinich #84 of the London Knights (OHL) collides with Jean-Christophe Beaudin #16 of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) during the Memorial Cup Final on May 29, 2016 at the Enmax Centrium in Red Deer, Alberta, Canada. (Photo by Codie McLachlan/Getty Images)
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The London Knights feature a line full of players with interesting NHL futures, and all three of those forwards came up big on Sunday.

Matthew Tkachuk, Mitch Marner and Christian Dvorak combined forces to pull London to a 3-2 overtime win against the Rouyn-Naranda Huskies, winning the 2016 Memorial Cup.

Things looked pretty shaky for London; its winning streak looked like it was in danger with Rouyn-Naranda taking a late 2-1 lead. The Knights failed on what seemed like a golden 5-on-3 opportunity, but they didn’t let that deter them.

Tkachuk scored two goals, Dvorak generated a goal and an assist and Marner was named tournament MVP as the Knights’ 17th consecutive win wrapped up the Memorial Cup for that special group.

Tkachuk (a high-end prospect for the upcoming draft) and Marner (the fourth pick to Toronto back in 2015) are the bigger names, but Dvorak – the 58th pick back in 2014 – came up big, too.

Yes, Thornton and Marleau have been dreaming of a run like this

SAN JOSE, CA - MAY 07:  Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks celebrates after Patrick Marleau (not pictured) scored the game winning goal against Kevin Bieksa #3 (L) and the Vancouver Canucks in overtime of Game Four of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2013 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at HP Pavilion on May 7, 2013 in San Jose, California. The Sharks defeated the Canucks 4-3 to sweep the series 4 games to 0.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
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After seeing them suffer some ignominious playoff defeats, plenty of people are happy for Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton as they enter their first Stanley Cup Final.

The two veteran San Jose Sharks forwards aren’t playing coy about it, either; they’ve been picturing such scenarios for ages.

Both Thornton and Marleau seemingly uttered the same things as Game 1 approaches against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday.

“This is everything I’ve been dreaming about for a long, long time,” Marleau said.

It’s hard to believe that we are months removed from a time when it seemed like one or both of these longtime Sharks were in the thick of seemingly legitimate trade rumors. Marleau, in particular, sounded like he might be on the verge of moving on.

Instead, they’re as deep in the postseason as they have ever been and Thornton is talking about his beard.

Life is good.

Joel Ward believes NHL should retire No. 22 in honor of Willie O’Ree

RALEIGH, NC - MAY 15:  NHL ambassador Willie O'Ree talks with the Capital City Crew and the Raleigh Youth Hockey Association during a clinic, Hockey is for Everyone, sponsored by the NHL and the Carolina Hurricanes at the Cary Ice House on May 15, 2010 in Raleigh, North Carolina.   (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images for NHL)
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Sometimes players wear a jersey number as a tribute to a childhood favorite. Sometimes it’s merely to mark their birth year and other times it’s merely what was handed to them.

For Joel Ward, his 42 has a lot of meaning, and it brings to mind black athletes who were pioneers in their respective sports.

Yes, indeed, Ward wears No. 42 to honor Jackie Robinson. As the San Jose Sharks forward told ESPN, he’d love it if the NHL discussed retiring No. 22 in honor of its first black hockey player, Willie O’Ree.

“I definitely think Willie should be recognized for sure,” Ward said. “The league obviously does that with task force but I do think that Willie should definitely be a big part of the league for sure for what he did. It’s a no-brainer. Without Willie, it would be tough for me to be sitting here today. I definitely think Willie should be a big part of this.”

Sounds like a great idea, one that would echo the MLB doing the same with Robinson’s No. 42.

For more, check out that great ESPN story.