Bruins’ playoff plan calls for Rask, rookies in Game 1

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If the Round 1 series lives up to the hype, Maple Leafs – Bruins could very well come down to supporting cast members moving the needle while big stars duke it out.

With that in mind, the Bruins made some interesting lineup decisions heading into Game 1 (airing on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN – live stream here).

In a sense, Bruce Cassidy’s calls come down to opting for one forward, defenseman, and starting goalie over three similar options. While Cassidy might quibble with that, let’s boil it down to those three decisions, especially since Cassidy might zig and zag depending upon how the series goes.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Choice 1: Tuukka Rask over Jaroslav Halak.

This one, obviously, is the most explicit. It’s also the most important, and one that could provide the most debate — at least, if the Bruins are willing to turn to Halak if Rask stumbles, which is plausible considering the sheer firepower of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Not to mention how great Frederik Andersen can be when everything’s clicking.)

In 46 games this season, Rask went 27-13-5 with a .912 save percentage. He’s enjoyed some considerable highs during his Bruins career, yet the returns have been more modest as the 32-year-old’s shown his age a bit. Since 2015-16, his save percentage has been at .917 or below. That’s not terrible by any stretch, yet there have been spans that prompted people to question Rask’s status as the No. 1 goalie.

Strong pushes from backups in recent years account for those debates as much as anything Rask’s done, and that’s been especially true with Halak in 2018-19. The often-underrated goalie sported a fantastic .922 save percentage while compiling a 22-11-4 record, and his 2010 run with the Canadiens was among the most memorable recent runs for a playoff goalie.

The good news is that, really, the Bruins have two viable choices. The bad news is that, if Rask falters, people will really second-guess this decision, especially if there are prolonged struggles.

[Toronto’s perspective: now is time for Babcock, Leafs.]

Choice 2: Karson Kuhlman instead of David Backes.

Through the first 11 games of his NHL career, Kuhlman scored three goals and two assists for five points. If the 23-year-old can keep up, Kuhlman could really help Boston push for depth beyond their deadly, possibly league-best top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Kuhlman fitting with the effective duo of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk would allow the Bruins to try to hang with Toronto’s considerable third-line depth by keeping Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, and Danton Heinen together.

It’s a small sample size, but Kuhlman’s been a strong possession player so far for Boston, so this might just work.

Really, if Backes draws back into the lineup, maybe it would be for a forward other than Kuhlman, anyway?

Choice 3: Connor Clifton plays, Steven Kampfer scratched.

Like Kuhlman, Clifton is only 23, and hasn’t been in that many games, as Clifton appeared in 19 during the 2018-19 season. (Less relevant yet fun: both of their names are also alliterative.)

On one hand, Clifton failed to score a goal and only generated one assist during those 19 games. On the other hand, he handled his 17:42 TOI pretty well, with possession stats that grade out nicely. Now, it certainly couldn’t have hurt his numbers to be paired most often with Torey Krug, but it’s better to look solid than to flounder in such a situation.

So far, the Bruins’ plan appears to be partnering Clifton with Matt Grzelcyk on the third pairing, which would likely ease some of the concerns regarding throwing a rookie into a pressure-packed situation against a dangerous opponent.

Kampfer could be a threat to bump Clifton out of the lineup, and the same can be said for John Moore if he can return from an injury. It’s possible that, inexperience and all, Clifton might be the best option of the three. Early on, Cassidy certainly seems to prefer Clifton to Kampfer.

Maple Leafs – Bruins Game 1 from TD Garden takes place on Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. (livestream)

For more on these two teams, check out the series preview. Get a rundown of Thursday’s full slate of Game 1 action with The Wraparound.

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.

Stanley Cup Final: Blues vs. Bruins full schedule, TV info

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The St. Louis Blues have eliminated the San Jose Sharks in six games, and now the the 2019 Stanley Cup Final matchup is set.

Beginning with Game 1 on Monday, May 27 at TD Garden, the Blues will battle the Boston Bruins.

If a Game 7 is needed, it will take place on Wednesday, June 12, in Boston at 8 p.m. ET.

The Bruins are playing in their first Stanley Cup Final since 2013 and are trying to win it for the first time since 2011. The Blues went to the Cup Final in each of their first three years in the NHL, with their last appearance coming in 1970. They are looking for their first championship.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Here is the complete schedule for the entire series

(All times ET, subject to change).

GAME 1 
Monday, May 27: St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins | 8 p.m. ET, NBC

GAME 2

Wednesday, May 29: St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins | 8 p.m. ET,  NBCSN

GAME 3

Saturday, June 1: Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues | 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN

GAME 4

Monday, June 3: Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues | 8 p.m. ET, NBC

*GAME 5

Thursday, June 6: St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins | 8 p.m. ET, NBC

*GAME 6

Sunday, June 9: Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues | 8 p.m. ET, NBC

*GAME 7

Wednesday, June 12: St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins | 8 p.m. ET, NBC

*If necessary

————

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Blues reach first Stanley Cup Final since 1970

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  • For the first time since 1970, the Blues are going to the Stanley Cup Final. Remarkably, they’ll face the same opponent in the Bruins. To make it to Round 4, they had to dispatch the Sharks, which they managed in Game 6 on Tuesday.

St. Louis Blues 5, San Jose Sharks 1 (Blues win series 4-2; 2019 Stanley Cup Final begins on Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC [full schedule and TV info])

Once again, the Blues raced off to a hot start, with David Perron giving them a 1-0 lead just 1:32 into Game 6. They ended the first period up 2-0, and while the Sharks put up a stubborn fight on Tuesday, it didn’t really feel like the contest was ever in doubt. Any time the Sharks seemed to push to make things closer, the Blues either stomped out their scoring chances or scored a gut-punch of a goal. San Jose simply ran out of gas, although St. Louis would argue that it was because they emptied the Sharks’ tank.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Ryan O'Reilly

“ROR” generated three assists in Game 6, and none of those helpers came on the empty-net goal.

It was a strong all-around effort from O’Reilly even beyond the scoring, as he finished Game 6 with a +2 rating, went 12-6 on faceoffs, and delivered a hit during 18:28 TOI. O’Reilly had been kept off of the scoreboard for three consecutive games, so this is a nice outburst for the two-way center as he readies for what’s sure to be some tough matchups as St. Louis pivots to preparing for the Boston Bruins.

2. Jordan Binnington

Thanks to some great play from the likes of Colton Parayko, the Blues were mostly able to keep the battered Sharks to the perimeter. There wasn’t a whole lot of room to work with, which remains consistent to the way St. Louis has played for most of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and really how the Blues have played for the last few months.

Binnington’s steady presence in net is the number one reason that can work, though.

For most of the third period, the Blues sat on what began as a 3-1 lead, while the Sharks desperately pushed for goals by way of a 10-3 shots on goal advantage during the final 20 minutes. None of their attempts worked well enough to bring them back into the game, as Binnington ended the night making 25 out of 26 saves, including some key late stops against Evander Kane and especially Logan Couture.

Can the remarkable rookie win the goalie duel against Tuukka Rask? It figures to be one of his toughest tests yet.

3. David Perron

This was a great team effort for the Blues, making it tempting to place someone like Parayko as one of the three stars.

Yet, it’s worth mentioning Perron, particularly since he’s one of those forwards who keeps putting up points, yet continues to be overlooked. Perron helped the Golden Knights make it to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, and now he’s back in Round 4 during his latest run with the Blues.

Perron finished Game 6 with a goal and a primary assist, with his goal being especially important. Again, it was the 1-0 tally very early on, allowing the Blues to nurse (and enhance) another 1-0 lead quickly into a contest. The Blues are tough enough to score against when all things are even, but become even more oppressive when they have a lead. This is now the fifth time they’ve scored a goal within the first two minutes of a game during this run, and the Blues are 5-0 in those games.

Bigger names like O’Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, and Jaden Schwartz have been heating up lately, but Perron is the type of player who might be able to swing what could be a tightly matched series versus the Bruins.

Factoids

Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final takes place in Boston at 8 p.m. ET on Monday. Click here for the full schedule and TV info.

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.

Blues move to Stanley Cup Final after sinking Sharks

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The last time the St. Louis Blues made it to a Stanley Cup Final, it was all the way back in 1969-1970. They were swept by the Boston Bruins during that long-ago visit, with Bobby Orr’s famous leaping goal putting a bow on things. So, the current-day Blues hope that this … “rematch” goes far better.

To get this far, the Blues had to beat the San Jose Sharks, the team that most recently knocked them out of a Round 3 series back in 2015-16.

An injured Sharks team just didn’t have enough to push through the bruising Blues in Game 6 on Tuesday, as St. Louis won 5-1 to win the series 4-2. With that, the Blues will take on what’s sure to be a well-rested (maybe too rested?) Bruins team in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

An empty-netter inflated the score in Game 6, and Tyler Bozak‘s 4-1 insurance tally happened fairly late in the proceedings, so this one was pretty close at times. That said, the Sharks ultimately only got so close before the Blues pulled far ahead.

Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final takes place in Boston at 8 p.m. ET on Monday. Click here for the full schedule and TV info.

Tough start, and finish, for Sharks

Being without Joe Pavelski, Erik Karlsson, and Tomas Hertl was already a tough way for San Jose to start Game 6, and didn’t really get better from there, as David Perron deflected a puck past Martin Jones to make it 1-0 for St. Louis just 1:32 in. Things looked pretty dire for the Sharks heading into the first intermission, after Vladimir Tarasenko‘s power-play goal made it 2-0.

Credit the Sharks for continuing to fight, but credit the Blues for taking it to the Sharks to give San Jose little hope of actually winning that fight.

Dylan Gambrell ended up being one of the Sharks who drew into action thanks to all of those injuries, so he made for a great story by scoring his first NHL goal in his first playoff game. The Sharks embraced that added life, briefly, as Logan Couture almost scored before Colton Parayko cleared the puck from Jordan Binnington‘s crease. But it remained 2-1, and Gambrell’s goal ended up being a fun footnote instead of a turning point.

Not long after that brief surge, the Blues got their two-goal lead right back. Brayden Schenn‘s been agonizingly close to scoring for a while now, so he was clearly relieved when he scored the 3-1 goal on the power play. Maybe that goal drought explains the creativity of Schenn’s sword-sheathing celebration?

Blues, Binnington shut the door

It wasn’t just Schenn who was struggling to score late in this series. The Sharks, as a team, were just as cold when it came to piercing the Blues’ defense, and during the rare moments when they found space, Binnington was usually up to the task.

The Blues were clearly content to sit on their 3-1 lead during the third period, and Binnington made sure that such a strategy worked out. He made some tremendous saves against Evander Kane and Logan Couture, including stopping Couture on a semi-breakaway, earning a big cheer from an appreciative crowd in St. Louis.

The Blues won Game 4 by a score of 2-1, then handed the Sharks a disastrous 5-0 defeat in Game 5. So, during these last three games, San Jose only managed two goals overall. Heading into the postseason, it seemed like Martin Jones would be the problem if the Sharks fell short. While Jones faced his highs and lows, the Sharks’ seemingly explosive lineup simply ran out of firepower.

***

Now, the Sharks must face an uncertain offseason with Erik Karlsson, Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Gustav Nyquist heading toward unrestricted free agency. As much as this run has been about the likes of Hertl and Timo Meier (a pending RFA) emerging as the future of the Sharks alongside Couture, the Sharks’ path ahead seems a little murky. This was a memorable and exciting run for the Sharks, yet it ends with that all-too-familiar empty feeling.

The Blues, meanwhile, face a straightforward future, but one that likely brings plenty of bumps in the road. Beat the Bruins and win that first-ever Stanley Cup, or repeat decades-old history.

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 will scrimmage to stay sharp for Stanley Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — The Boston Bruins think they’ve found a way to stay sharp for the Stanley Cup Final while waiting a total of 10 days between games.

The Eastern Conference champions will hold a public intrasquad scrimmage on Thursday night, and coach Bruce Cassidy said he’ll try to maintain a regular game-day schedule so that the players will get back in the routine before the opener of the championship series on Monday.

”We’ve got some ideas we bandied around. We came up with this one,” Cassidy said on Tuesday, the Bruins’ fifth day off since sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the East finals. ”We’ve had good practices, but this will be a little bit different.”

The Bruins needed seven games to dispatch the Toronto Maple Leafs in the opening round, then had one day off before starting the second round against Columbus. They finished off the Blue Jackets in six games, and had two days to rest before Game 1 against the Hurricanes.

But that series ended Thursday, and the Bruins haven’t even had an opponent to prepare for yet. The St. Louis Blues took a 3-2 lead into Game 6 against the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday night.

”If St. Louis wins … we can start a little bit of that prep for special teams,” Cassidy said. ”If not, we’ll just go through the basics.”

Cassidy said last week he would reach out to other teams to get pointers on how to handle long layoffs. Among them: the New England Patriots, who routinely have a first-round bye, in addition to a two-week break before the Super Bowl.

The Bruins coach said on Tuesday that he touched base with all of the teams in town, as well as some of the Boston players from the 2011 and ’13 teams that went to the Final and other NHL coaches who have had long breaks. But he declined to share their advice.

”We’ll take what we thought was relevant to us and go from there,” Cassidy said, acknowledging that a seven-game series is different than preparing for a Super Bowl. ”In the first game, we want to be good. We want to be sharp. We want to be on time. We want to win. But we have a bit more luxury than say a one-and-done.”

The scrimmage will be two, 25-minute periods, with two officials on the ice. But some rules will be ignored in the interest of situational drills and keeping everyone healthy.

Cassidy said he may create a four-on-four situation as well as a six-on-five for a potential end-of-game, pulled goalie scenario. The checking line will face off against the top line, and players might switch teams to get the matchups Cassidy wants to work on.

Individual players, including goalie Tuukka Rask, will decide how much they want to play.

The winning team will earn … something.

”They will put something on the line,” Cassidy said. ”That’s something I have to discuss with them. I think that’s important. What it is it could be something very minimal, or whatever it is they want to decide.”

Other than that, the coach said he will be happy if everyone comes out of the scrimmage healthy. He said it will be no different than practice, when players know not to check their teammates, but because of the increased stakes, he will talk to the team about it.

”This isn’t a physicality contest out there. It’s compete on pucks. It’s play with some pace,” he said. ”I think we’re smart enough. That will be the message I relay to some of the younger guys: We’re doing this for a reason. But the reason is not to injure anybody.”

Fans can attend Thursday’s scrimmage for $20, and park for $10; popcorn will be free for children. Proceeds will go to the Boston Bruins Foundation.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports