The Playoff Buzzer: Rask keeps dominating, Hurricanes special teams keep struggling

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  • Tuukka Rask is the difference in the Eastern Conference Final.
  • The Carolina Hurricanes’ special teams is also a factor … a negative one for them.
  • David Krejci reaches a personal postseason milestone for the Bruins.

Boston Bruins 2, Carolina Hurricanes 1 (BOS leads series 3-0)

There are two very big factors for the Boston Bruins’ commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final.

The obvious one is the play of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask because he has been, in a word, dominant, and he was at his best in the Bruins’ 2-1 Game 3 win on Tuesday night.

The other factor is the fact that Boston’s special teams has completely taken over the series. Carolina had struggled on both the power play and penalty kill in the first two rounds and entered the series near the bottom of the league in both categories in the playoffs. Things have not gotten much better against the Bruins.

After Tuesday’s 0-for-5 night on the power play (including a first period two-man advantage where they did not score), the Hurricanes are just 1-for-12 in the series and have already given up five power play goals to the Bruins on 12 attempts. That is not going to get the job done at this point in the playoffs. Or at any point, really.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. Simply the best player on the ice. He stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced and is now up to a .939 save percentage in the playoffs. He kept the Bruins in the game early in the first period when they were getting outshot by a 20-6 margin, holding off the Hurricanes’ initial surge just long enough for the Bruins to finally strike first early in the second period. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game this is some of the best hockey he has ever seen Rask play. You will not see goaltending much better than this from anyone.

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. He struck again for the Bruins to record his sixth goal and 16th point of the playoffs. His power play goal in the second period goes in the books as the game-winner, which is now his second of the playoffs. Dislike him all you want, he is one of the absolute best players in the NHL and a constant force on the ice.

3. Chris Wagner, Boston Bruins. The Bruins’ fourth line started the scoring early in the second period when Wagner scored his second goal of the series. The unit was strong all night long for the Bruins and continued what has been a solid showing all postseason. The only downside of the night for Wagner and the Bruins is that he exited the game in the third period after blocking a shot and the immediate response from Cassidy after the game did not sound optimistic.

Highlights of the Night

Wagner’s goal came off of a pretty passing play by the Bruins’ fourth line. When you are getting play like this from your bottom line you are going to be in a pretty good position.

Marchand got a little bit of a lucky break on his goal in the second period, but sometimes you need that in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to get the win.

Here is a brief collection of some of Rask’s best saves on the night.

Factoids

  • The Bruins’ Game 3 win was their sixth in a row, tied for the third-longest postseason winning streak in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • David Krejci recorded his 100th career postseason point for the Bruins, tying him for third on the franchise’s all-time playoff scoring leaderboard. [NHL PR]
  • Rask became the first goalie since Tim Thomas in 2011 to stop at least 20 shots in a postseason period. [NHL PR]
  • This was the Bruins’ 60th win of the season, including regular season and playoffs, the eighth time in franchise history they have accomplished such a feat. [NHL PR]
  • The Bruins are one win away from what would be their 20th appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. [NHL PR]

Wednesday’s schedule

Game 3: San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream) (Series Tied 1-1)

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.

NY governor says pro teams can resume training

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo says teams in his state can return to their facilities for training after a pause of more than two months.

”Starting today, all the New York professional sports leagues will be able to begin training camps,” the Democratic governor said during a news conference Sunday.

The New York City area was one of the hardest-hit parts of the U.S. by the coronavirus pandemic, but COVID-19 deaths and new infections in the state have been trending downward.

Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are discussing the resumption of their seasons with their players’ unions.

”I believe that sports that can come back without having people in the stadium, without having people in the arena – do it! Do it!” Cuomo said. ”Work out the economics, if you can. We want you up. We want people to be able to watch sports. To the extent people are still staying home, it gives people something to do. It’s a return to normalcy. So we are working and encouraging all sports teams to start their training camps as soon as possible. And we’ll work with them to make sure that can happen.”

WCHA’s Alabama-Huntsville cuts hockey program

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Alabama-Huntsville is dropping men’s hockey and men’s and women’s tennis as part of budget cuts in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

School officials said athletes in those sports who want to join another team’s roster will be released without penalty and free to transfer immediately. If they choose to stay, their current scholarships will be honored for the duration of their academic careers.

Alabama-Huntsville was one of the only southern schools to have a men’s hockey varsity program. The Chargers won Division II national titles in 1996 and 1998 and were Division II runners-up in 1994 and 1997 before making the move to the Division I level for the 1998-99 season.

Men’s hockey had been the lone Division I sport for Alabama-Huntsville. It competes at the Division II level in all other sports.

Canada’s NHL teams offer options to season-ticket holders

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Canada’s NHL teams have offered season-ticket holders rebate or refund options in acknowledgment that no more 2019-20 regular-season games will be played in front of fans in their respective buildings.

In a four-day span May 13-16, all seven teams contacted their season-ticket bases with options and, in some cases, deadlines to make a decision, according to The Canadian Press.

“It has become increasingly apparent, that any possibility will not include any further games being played this season in front of fans at Bell MTS Place,” the Winnipeg Jets said in an email.

That admission may seem anticlimactic given leagues and teams around the world are either playing in empty stadiums, or trying to figure out a way to just resume play during the COVID-19 pandemic.

But season-ticket money is a key element of NHL business. Clubs are loathe to part with it.

Canadian teams are offering refunds, but also are pushing a number of incentives to let them keep the money.

Toronto Maple Leafs season-ticket holders had to declare they wanted their money back by Victoria Day or a credit would be applied to their accounts.

Their Montreal Canadiens counterparts had to make a decision by Friday, while the Vancouver Canucks’ deadline is June 3.

NHLPA board approves 24-team, return-to play-format

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We have our first step towards resuming the 2019-20 season with the approval of the return-to-play format by the NHLPA Executive Board.

The 31 NHL team representatives voted and a majority gave the thumbs up to the 24-team, conference-based proposal.

According to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, the vote was 29-2 in favor.

Now the plan moves on to the Board of Governors for their approval.

From the NHLPA:

The Executive Board of the National Hockey League Players’ Association (NHLPA) has authorized further negotiations with the NHL on a 24-team return to play format to determine the winner of the 2020 Stanley Cup. Several details remain to be negotiated and an agreement on the format would still be subject to the parties reaching agreement on all issues relevant to resuming play.

If the BOG green lights it, the next steps would include figuring out proper safety protocols for all involved and how the hub city plan would work, among numerous other details.

Based on points percentage at the time of the March 12 NHL pause, the top four teams in each conference (Boston, Tampa, Washington, Philadelphia, St. Louis, Colorado, Vegas, Dallas) will receive a first-round bye. Round 1 will feature eight play-in matchups in a best-of-five series.

As the play-in round takes place, the eight conference leaders could potentially take part in a mini tournament that will determine the seeding for Round 2. Reseeding after the play-in round is another topic likely to be discussed.

Here’s what it might end up looking like:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Bruins
• Lightning
• Capitals
• Flyers

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Penguins
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Canadiens

(6) Hurricanes
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Rangers

(7) Islanders
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Panthers

(8) Maple Leafs
vs.                              — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Blue Jackets

WESTERN CONFERENCE

ROUND 1 BYES
• Blues
• Avalanche
• Golden Knights
• Stars

PLAY-IN ROUND
(5) Oilers
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 4 seed
(12) Blackhawks

(6) Predators
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 3 seed
(11) Coyotes

(7) Canucks
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 2 seed
(10) Wild

(8) Flames
vs.                                — Winner plays No. 1 seed
(9) Jets

Games would be played without fans with teams based in hub cities potentially located in both the U.S. and Canada. Columbus, Las Vegas, and Edmonton are a few of the cities that have shown interested in playing host to playoff games.

Since the 24-team format entered the rumor mill, it’s received a mixed reaction from players.

“Twenty-four teams sounds like a lot of teams to me,” Capitals defenseman John Carlson told Mike Tirico on Thursday. “You have to make sure there is some level playing field in terms of intensity…So while 24 teams sounds like a lot, maybe due to logistics, that makes the most sense.”

“I will say that when it comes to the format I think it is almost impossible to make everyone happy … the situation is what it is,” Lars Eller of the Capitals said via the Washington Post. “It is far from perfect. We are going to manage the best we can and I do think we will come together and find a solution regarding that. It is not going to be easy.”

Kris Letang told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman that Penguins players voted “yes” on the proposal citing “greater good for everyone.”

“At the end of the day, nobody gets exactly what they want,” Letang said. “But, we all want what is best for hockey and to continue to grow the game.”

MORE:
Predators’ Duchene: ‘You don’t want to have a COVID Cup’
Our Line Starts podcast: Evaluating fairness of 24-team NHL playoff

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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.