Bruins vs. Blue Jackets: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

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For the first time in franchise history the Columbus Blue Jackets will get to see what life is like in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After pulling off a stunning upset in Round 1, where they not only beat the NHL’s best team, but completely dominated them, the Blue Jackets get to see if they can shock the world once again when they take on the Boston Bruins.

The big thing to watch early in this series will be whether or not the lengthy, week-long layoff for the Blue Jackets will be something that helps or hurts them against a Bruins team that is coming off of a grueling seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs where they had to win back-to-back games to fight off elimination.

From a big picture outlook the Bruins are the superior team on paper and based on their overall regular season performance, but the same thing was said about the Lightning in the previous round, and we all saw how that turned out.

Going back to March 24 the Blue Jackets are 11-1-0 in their past 12 games, with that only loss coming at the hands of the Bruins, a 6-2 defeat on April 2.

The two teams met three times during the regular season with each team winning once in a blowout, and the Bruins taking the extra game in a 2-1 overtime decision on March 16.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Schedule

Surging Players

Boston: It should be no surprise that the three-headed monster of of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak is leading the way offensively for the Bruins. They have been doing it for years, and they did it again in Round 1 against the Maple Leafs. What is really helping is they are getting a lot of contributions from players outside of that group. Charlie Coyle, one of the Bruins’ trade deadline acquisitions, scored three goals in Round 1, Brandon Carlo didn’t record a point but was outstanding at times defensively, and their Game 7 offense came from a lot of their unsung depth players. The Bruins are a team with superstars at the top of the lineup (all playing exceptionally well) and has found some depth to go with the. That is a dangerous combination.

Columbus: Instead of dealing away their pending free agents, the Blue Jackets went all in at the trade deadline with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid, and it not only helped produce the first postseason series win in franchise history, it helped them pull off one of the biggest Round 1 upsets ever. Duchene was one of the driving forces behind that four-game sweep of the Lightning, recording seven points in the four games. Artemi Panarin was also an impact player throughout the opening round, while young players Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand started to make a name for themselves.

Struggling Players

Boston: Marcus Johansson had what could probably described as an “up-and-down” series for the Bruins. He scored a huge goal in Game 7, but it was his only point in the five games he played while he also finished as a team-worst minus-4 in the series. Jake DeBrusk also had a quiet round, but that was mostly due to poor shooting luck (only one goal on 20 shots) than anything that he was or was not doing.

Columbus: When you sweep the best team in the NHL in four games there probably are not many players on your roster that are struggling, and even if there are, you haven’t had enough time to figure out who they are. Still, the Blue Jackets would probably like to see a little bit more from Dzingel and Brandon Dubinsky in Round 2, as both were held off the scoresheet entirely in their first four games.

Goaltending

Boston: Bruins fans always seem to be waiting for an opportunity to criticize Tuukka Rask and make him the scapegoat for whenever the team falls short in the playoffs. While his regular season performance wasn’t consistently great, and there is reason to believe he is not the same goalie he was four or five years ago, he is still a very capable starter that has the potential to steal a game or two, and perhaps even an entire series should it come to that. He was outstanding in the first round with a .928 save percentage and was at his best in Games 6 and 7 when the Bruins needed him most.

Columbus: This was always going to be the big question for the Blue Jackets. For as good as Sergei Bobrovsky has been throughout his career he has been one of the least productive goalies in the NHL come playoff time, consistently melting down at the worst possible time. He did a lot of work in Round 1 to quiet the doubters in helping to shut down one of the greatest offenses the NHL has ever seen. The Blue Jackets dominated the series so much that they didn’t even need Bobrovsky to be great, and he still finished with a .932 save percentage in what has been — by far — the best postseason performance of his career.

Special Teams

Boston: The Bruins’ power play can be a game-changer for them. It was among the best in the NHL during the regular season, and then absolutely dominated the Maple Leafs in Round 1 by scoring seven power play goals in the seven games (and they didn’t even get a power play in Game 7). And it wasn’t just any one player during the damage. They received power play goals from six different players in the first round (only Bergeron scored more than one) while eight different players recorded at least one point on the power play. The only flaw the unit has — and it is a big flaw — is that it is sometimes vulnerable to shorthanded goals against, giving up 15 during the regular season and another one in Round 1. The Bruins’ PK unit, on the other hand, is a tough group to figure out. With Bergeron, Marchand, and the defense they have behind them it should be a good group, at least based on the talent they have at their disposal. But they were only middle of the pack during the regular season and were just “okay” against the Maple Leafs, though they did kill have six in a row to end the series, including all five in Games 6 and 7 when facing elimination.

Columbus: It’s not always about how many goals you score, but when you score them. That was the case for the Blue Jackets’ power play that was one of the worst in the NHL during the regular season, but went off in Round 1 by scoring on five of its 10 attempts against the Lightning. Nobody should reasonably expect them to continue clicking at 50 percent into Round 2, but if they can find a couple of goals on the man-advantage and continue their excellent penalty kill that could be a huge difference in the series — especially if they can keep staying out of the box. Columbus was tied for best PK unit in the league during the regular season and then followed that up by taking just six minor penalties in the four games against Tampa Bay. Their PK will probably get more use in Round 2, and they are going to be challenged by a Bruins power play that is not only good, but is white-hot right now.

X-Factor for Bruins

After scoring 27 goals in only 68 games during the regular season Jake DeBrusk had a mostly quiet series against the Maple Leafs, but he still showed some signs (like the fact he had 20 shots on goal) that he could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way at some point very, very soon. If he does that would give the Bruins just one more weapon that Columbus has to contend with and try to slow down. In his first two years in the league he has already shown that he can be a legit top-six forward and could be a huge X-factor in Round 2 for the Bruins.

X-Factor for Blue Jackets 

Alexandre Texier was a late addition to the Blue Jackets’ roster, and the 19-year-old has already made a sizable impact. He has only played in six NHL games (two at the end of the regular season, all four playoff games to this point) and has already scored three goals and an assist. That includes his two goals in the Blue Jackets’ series-clinching win over the Lightning where he opened the scoring with an early power play goal.

Prediction

Bruins in 6. The Blue Jackets are not going to be an easy out, and even though they entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed the roster they have now is very different from the one they had for most of the regular season. And all of the new additions seem to have found their place in the lineup. They are legit. But so are the Bruins, and they not only have a trio of stars at the top of their lineup that are probably superior to Columbus’ top players, but they have also found some depth to complement them.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable
Conn Smythe favorites after Round 1
Hurricanes vs. Islanders
Blues vs. Stars
Avalanche vs. Sharks

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Blues All-Stars proud to represent franchise on home ice

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ST. LOUIS — After the cheers died down and the puck dropped, the Blues All-Stars wanted to give their fans inside Enterprise Center more reasons to make noise on Saturday night. But while they offered some hope coming back late in the first period of their semifinal with the Pacific Division, the Central Division team would ultimately fall 10-5 and see their All-Star Weekend come to a close earlier than desired.

“It’s not the result we wanted, but it was fun to be out there,” said Jordan Binnington, who was playing in his first All-Star Game. “I think the boys had fun and it was overall a fun weekend. But now it’s time to get back to business.”

Between Binnington, Alex Pietrangelo, David Perron, Ryan O’Reilly, and head coach Craig Berube, the hosts were well represented. That was on display during the opening face off when Berube put out a starting lineup featuring all four of his players.

“He asked me before the game [about the lineup],” Pietrangelo said afterward. “I said, you really have one job — it’s to start us. Don’t mess it up.”

That moment was just one of many on the night that highlighted the team, their fans and the organization. Celebrity fans Jenna Fischer and Jon Hamm, along with Blues alums Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull served as honorary coaches. Anthem singer Charles Glenn, who retired after last season as he battles multiple sclerosis, returned to a roaring ovation from the sold out crowd as he belted out “The Star-Spangled Banner.” The energy would jump up a notch a little later when Laila Anderson, the team’s inspiring young fan, introduced the four Blues players.

“She was really good,” said Perron. “She had a good voice and was pretty loud. She had fun doing it, so it certainly was special for all of us.”

Hosting All-Star Weekend was another unforgettable moment in a year filled with them for the Blues. From the rollercoaster ride of last season ending with the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title, to the team getting off to a strong start in the 2019-20 season, there’s a lot of good momentum with the franchise.

“It’s pretty special,” Pietrangelo said. “Pretty fun to put on a show for our home crowd. We have good fans and we put on a show this weekend. Everybody saw that.”

MORE ALL-STAR COVERAGE:
Pacific wins close All-Star Game final
Best moments from 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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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.

Hockey’s young stars shine in NHL All-Star 3-on-3 tournament

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Young Laila Anderson delivered one of the most poignant moments of the weekend when she introduced the Blues’ four All-Stars. The players who stood out on the ice later weren’t all that much older.

Hockey’s youth was on grand display in the NHL All-Star 3-on-3 tournament on Saturday night, which was won by the Pacific Division. Whether it was Boston’s 23-year-old David Pastrnak earning MVP honors with six points or Vancouver’s 21-year-old Elias Pettersson scoring twice and trying a lacrosse goal, the fifth incarnation of 3 on 3 making up the All-Star Game was a showcase of the game’s present and future.

”It’s a young man’s game now in the NHL, and these guys, they’re superstars,” Dallas Stars forward Tyler Seguin said.

The night featured as many swear words during Green Day’s performance as saves by some of the goaltenders, who aren’t exactly in a good spot with more open ice than defense going on. Things tightened up and the final before the Pacific beat the Atlantic 5-4 and claim the $1 million prize.

”The second half, they turn it on and started to really play, which is good for the All-Star Game,” said Pastrnak, who gets a car for his four goals and two assists. ”We’re all having fun, but it comes to the end that we are all hockey players and it’s in our nature that everybody wants to win. Even if you’re playing and having fun, you still want to win.”

Along the way, there were plenty of opportunities for players to try things they ordinarily wouldn’t in a game that counts. Along with Pettersson, Chicago veteran Patrick Kane thought about celebrating his eighth NHL All-Star appearance by lifting the puck in lacrosse style before his hockey sense kicked in.

”I was thinking about it at that moment, and then I was kind of thinking that our team kind of needed a goal,” said Kane, who was cheered and booed in enemy territory. ”Then I gave away the puck anyway, so I should’ve just tried it.”

One of the most memorable parts of the night came when lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong swore multiple times during Green Day’s performance, words that could be heard in-arena but were bleeped on the TV broadcast.

”I heard a lot of F-bombs,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”I was like, is this OK?”

Before that, there were family friendly moments and reminders of the Blues’ Stanley Cup run last season. Anderson, the 11-year-old whose courageous battle with a rare immune disorder served as the team’s inspiration when winning its first Cup title, announced Blues All-Stars Ryan O'Reilly, Jordan Binnington, David Perron and Alex Pietrangelo.

”She was really good, too,” said Blues forward David Perron, who along with O’Reilly gave Anderson a hug when they were introduced. ”She had a good voice and was pretty loud and she had fun doing it, so it certainly was special for all four of us.”

St. Louis natives Jon Hamm and Jenna Fischer and Hockey Hall of Fame Blues alumni Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull spent time behind the benches as honorary captains. With less pressure and more pomp and circumstance, even usually intense Blues coach Craig Berube could relax.

”I didn’t do much coaching,” Berube said. ”I just stood there. It’s kind of nice, you just watch and watch the skill level and the talent out there and really just not have to engage too much. It’s stress-free.”

Blues fans who cheered Binnington’s success in the skills competition Friday didn’t get to see their players reach the 3-on-3 final because the Central Division lost the Western Conference semifinal 10-5 to the Pacific. Calgary’s Matthew Tkachuk, who grew up in St. Louis, had two goals and two assists including the game-winner.

Pastrnak and Ottawa Senators forward Anthony Duclair each had a hat trick to help the Atlantic beat the Metropolitan in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

”I just wanted to show what I can do,” said Duclair, whose comeback season has been one of the best stories in the NHL thus far. ”When you’re playing with the best players in the world, you’re going to make some plays.”

Those plays came fast and furious and not without some drama. After some incidents during Oilers-Flames games this season left no love lost between the heated Alberta rivals, Draisaitl could be seen – perhaps jokingly – cursing at Tkachuk after setting him up for a goal.

”It was a nice play by him,” Draisaitl said with a laugh. ”We’re all here to have fun. We’re all here to have a good time and things like that, they happen in the game but this is not the time to be grumpy about anything.”

There’s plenty of time for that the rest of the NHL season.

Best moments from 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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After a fun skills competition on Friday, the Pacific Division beat the Atlantic 5-4 to win the 2020 NHL All-Star Game on Saturday. David Pastrnak won the MVP, while the Pacific split that $1 million. Those results don’t capture all of the best moments of the 2020 NHL All-Star Game, however.

Let’s consider some of the funny,  entertaining, and things that we’re more likely to remember than Pastrnak winning MVP (no offense, Pasta).

Laila Anderson introduces the Blues

Having Anderson introduce the Blues’ All-Star representatives was a delight. The Blues kind of owe her after Anderson was their “good luck charm,” right?

Blues fans … cheer for Patrick Kane?

Naturally, the St. Louis crowd was pulling for a Central Division team heavy on Blues. Of course, that meant they also occasionally felt the urge not to boo Patrick Kane of the rival Blackhawks. It made for a funny moment after a Kane goal:

Kane is no stranger to hearing boos at All-Star games, as Nashville fans let him have it (to John Scott’s delight) in 2016. After Saturday’s festivities, Kane explained why the boos don’t bother him that much.

“It’s all in good fun,” Kane said. “To be honest with you, sometimes you get booed, you kind of like it a little bit. It’s St. Louis and Chicago, it’s a huge rivalry. Not only in hockey, but pretty much every other sport they play against each other. I guess that’s only baseball, but… You know what? Had a lot of fun this weekend and I thought that was a pretty cool moment …”

Tkachuk to Draisaitl

“The Battle of Alberta” was put on hold (kind of?) being that Flames star-pest Matthew Tkachuk teamed up with Leon Draisaitl on the winning Pacific team.

The two engaged in an awkward exchange. Tkachuk sent a nice pass to Draisaitl in the opening game, leading to a goal. Draisaitl high-tailed it out of there, possibly while muttering a profanity at his frenemy. Afterward, Draisaitl claimed that he was just joking.

Regardless, nothing from All-Star weekend detracts from the billboard-worthy hype for the next “Battle of Alberta.” To refresh your memory, the Flames and Oilers will meet in what should be fascinating Jan. 29 and Feb. 1 games. Buckle up (and fasten your chinstrap/actually keep your mouthpiece in, Matthew).

Big weekend for Tomas Hertl

Casual hockey fans might know a lot more about Hertl. He brought laughs (and frightened chills) by wearing a Justin Bieber mask during the skills event.

Hertl followed up that style with substance. The Sharks forward scored four (often beautiful) goals in the first round, then managed the All-Star Game final’s clinching goal.

Overall, the 2020 NHL All-Star weekend provided plenty of fun, memorable moments, Tkachuk vs. Tkachuk, and a Mascot Showdown. Chalk that up as a success. If you want more information regarding the events, check the sections below.

Read up on the two first-round games:

Atlantic 9 – Metropolitan 5
Pacific 10 – Central 5

Celebrities, Skills, and more

Recent All-Star Game winners, MVPs

Winners:
2019: Metropolitan 10 – Central 5
2018: Pacific 5 – Atlantic 2
2017: Metropolitan 4 – Pacific 3
2016: Pacific 1 – Atlantic 0
2015: Team Toews 17 – Team Foligno 12
2012: Team Chara 12 – Team Alfredsson 9
2011: Team Lidstrom 11 – Team Staal 10
2009: East 12 – West 11 (OT)
2008: East 8 – West 7
2007: West 12 – East 9

MVPs:
2019: Sidney Crosby
2018: Brock Boeser (quite memorably)
2017: Wayne Simmonds
2016: John Scott (also very memorably)
2015: Ryan Johansen
2012: Marian Gaborik
2011: Patrick Sharp
2009: Alex Kovalev
2008: Eric Staal
2007: Daniel Briere

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.

All-Star MVP Pastrnak puts on a show for Atlantic Division

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ST. LOUIS — Bruce Cassidy is used to seeing what David Pastrnak did in the 2020 NHL All-Star Game every night. The Bruins forward put on a show on Saturday to earn MVP honors despite his Atlantic Division team losing the $1 million prize to the Pacific Division.

Pastrnak, who leads the NHL with 37 goals, scored three times in the Atlantic’s 9-5 semifinal win over the Metropolitan Division. He then added a goal and an assist in the final, but the Pacific Division finished on top 5-4.

“We had a good start. Obviously it was fun, but unfortunately came on the losing [end],” Pastrnak said afterward. “We wanted to win. Definitely a little bit painful.”

As is the thing with the three-on-three All-Star format, the two semifinals were a bit slow at points, but the final always sees the intensity pick up. The Atlantic stormed out to a 3-1 lead after the first half, but the Pacific roared back with four goals in the final 10 minutes.

“We all had fun but when it comes to the end we are all hockey players and it’s in our nature that everybody wants to win,” he said. “Even if you’re playing and having fun you still want to win.”

Along with MVP honors Pastrnak also gets to take home a 2020 Honda CR-V Hybrid, which he said he’s not sure what he’ll with just yet.

Pastrnak now joins Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque, and Bill Guerin as the only Bruins to take home All-Star Game MVP honors.

“It’s a huge honor, especially in an organization like the Bruins,” Pastrnak told Bruins TV. “Ray actually already texted me. It’s unbelievable.”

MORE ALL-STAR COVERAGE:
Pacific wins close All-Star Game final
Best moments from 2020 NHL All-Star Game

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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.