The Boston Bruins became the first team to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final when they eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night. Unlike most other teams that go all the way, the Bruins’ journey seemed to get easier and easier as the playoffs wore on. But why have they had so much success this postseason?
The Bruins managed to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round, it took them six games to send the Columbus Blue Jackets packing in the second round, and they took care of business against Carolina fairly easily.
“Obviously still a long way [to go], a lot of work left in front of us, but I thought we’ve been focused, and that’s what you need,” Patrice Bergeron said after eliminating the Hurricanes, per NHL.com. “Everyone is contributing, everyone is a leader in this locker room, and at this time of the year, that’s what makes you advance.”
Bergeron, of course, is right. This team is focused and they’ve battled their way through three very different opponents. But let’s break down specific elements of their game that led to them being the first team in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
• Tuukka Rask: The Bruins netminder has been terrific throughout this postseason. If the playoffs ended today, there’s no doubt that he’d be the favorite to land the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He owns a 12-5 record with a 1.84 goals-against-average and a .942 save percentage during these playoffs. Since dropping back-to-back games to the Blue Jackets early in the second round, Rask and the Bruins have rattled off seven consecutive wins.
“It means a lot. It’s so difficult to advance in the playoffs, let alone make it to the Final,” Rask said. “We need to really enjoy this but realize that we have lots of work to do. I mean, every year is a new year, different groups, you always think you have a chance, and I think the past few years we’ve really built something special here with a great group of guys. Really, just happy to be part of it.”
Rask is in a zone right now. No matter who their next opponent is, St. Louis or San Jose, rattling the Bruins netminder’s cage early on might be the key to winning it all.
• Depth: How many different players have scored a goal for the Bruins this postseason? 19. Yes, 19! I’m not going to list them all, but you get the point. When you can get that kind of contribution from your entire lineup, you’re setting yourself up for success. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has an incredible first line that he can throw out there in any situation, but the lines that follow are also reliable. Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, who were both acquired via trade, have fit in perfectly. No team can rival the Bruins in that department.
• Special Teams: Cassidy’s team has won the special teams battle against each of their three opponents in the postseason. Their penalty kill is ranked fourth at 86.3 percent and it’s the best one among the three teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As for their power play, it’s been lethal. It’s currently clicking at 34 percent, which is impressive considering they’re the only team to be over 30 percent. By comparison, the Sharks are at 18 percent while the Blues are at 16.7 percent. Special teams will be key, again, in the Stanley Cup Final.
• First Line:Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak haven’t played together throughout this entire postseason, but they’ve been a critical part of Boston’s success. Heading into the Stanley Cup Final, they’ve accounted for 22 of their team’s 57 goals this postseason (38.6 percent). These three will continue to be a handful for their next opponent.
• Top four defensemen: Charlie McAvoy is the Bruins’ best defender, but they found a way to win without him in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. Still, He’s averaged over 24 minutes of ice time in the postseason and he’s picked up 7 points in 16 games along the way. Zdeno Chara, who missed Game 4 with an undisclosed injury, has also logged some important minutes on the penalty kill. The pairing of Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug has also come up big repeatedly for Boston during their run.
Keep in mind that these round-ups aren’t necessarily comprehensive, what with there being 24 NHL teams undergoing training camps.
Oh, and It’s probably fair to say that a more detailed schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers is the biggest hockey news for Tuesday. So check that out if you want to plan your viewing habits in late July and early August.
Bruins’ Pastrnak not yet practicing; others miss day two (or more) of NHL training camps
Look, it’s important to remember that NHL teams are keeping things unclear. They probably will up until the point that the 2020 Stanley Cup (ideally, safely,) gets awarded. So please keep that in mind anytime we note absences and players not fully participating.
With that out of the way (for now), a few notes:
For the second training camp day in a row, David Pastrnak didn’t practice with the Bruins. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that it seems like Pastrnak, as well as others like Ondrej Kase, are still going through the quarantine process after coming back from overseas. Pastrnak may not get to skate with the full Bruins group until Thursday.
“ … I don’t think they will be too far behind. I think some European players were in countries where they were free to skate earlier, so they might have had the benefit of skating while guys couldn’t here,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said of Pastrnak, via Haggerty.
In some cases, players are still self-isolating. Sometimes players aren’t skating with full groups, for what could be a variety of reasons. There was some rumbling about Shea Weber missing portions of Canadiens practice time, and skating by himself. Such hand-wringing might end up overblown.
Should note that Claude Julien says he expects Shea Weber to be back at full practice Wednesday
Naturally, illnesses and injuries sabotage plans. There’s at least one planned absence, though: Capitals forward Lars Eller. ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski reports that Eller will leave the Toronto bubble for the birth of his child. The Ellers expect the child to be born around Aug. 8, which would fall around the Round Robin for Seeding as part of the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. (Again, you can check out that schedule here.)
The Maple Leafs removed Timothy Liljegren from their return-to-play roster. Quite a bummer, as Liljegren could become an important part of their defensive future as the team braces for a cap crunch.
Golden Knights set for goalie battle? (And other bits)
Perhaps coach Peter DeBoer is merely being tight-lipped to the point of near-trolling, as seems to be the NHL way. Or maybe he really doesn’t know if the Golden Knights will tab Marc-Andre Fleury or Robin Lehner as their No. 1 goalie.
DeBoer- "We have two starting goalies and we're going to play them both." #VegasBorn
If you’re weighing loyalty most heavily, then the Golden Knights would go with Fleury. His strong play ranked as a big reason they appeared in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
But if you look at recent play, Lehner’s ranked among the NHL’s best goalies since 2018-19. Meanwhile, “The Flower” wilted a bit lately. Also, DeBoer is still-new to the Golden Knights, and thus might not feel the same obligation to Fleury that, say, Gerard Gallant might have.
So we’ll see. There are plenty of goalie training camp battles to watch, but others feel more like battles of lesser evils than the interesting opportunities Vegas has.
It’s dangerous to read too much into line combination experiments as early as day two of NHL training camps. That said, it can be entertaining to picture how they’d work.
Signings continue to trickle in. That includes the excellently named Jack Rathbone signing with the Canucks, and the Ducks landing an extension with Troy Terry (granted, you may disqualify the Ducks from this post since they aren’t among the 24 teams involved in the return to play).
Hockey fans got a decent idea of how they’ll get their playoff fix (COVID-19 permitting) when the NHL shared an outline of a schedule for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers. The NHL shared more specifics regarding dates and times for the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers on Tuesday, though, and also the exhibition schedule. NHL schedule Stanley Cup
You can now plan your NHL playoff viewing schedule accordingly from July 28 – Aug. 5, with other game times to be determined starting on Aug. 6.
Speaking of to-be-determined, broadcast information will come later.
NHL return-to-play exhibition schedule
As you can see, the NHL exhibition schedule begins on Tuesday, July 28 and runs through Thursday, July 30:
Dates, times, NHL playoff schedule for 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
Check out the most updated schedule information for each series involved in the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers, via the NHL:
STANLEY CUP QUALIFIERS BY SERIES
EASTERN CONFERENCE(all games at Scotiabank Arena, Toronto)
(All times, TV information will be announced at a later date; home team listed second)
(5) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (12) Montreal Canadiens
Saturday, Aug. 1: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Canadiens vs. Penguins, 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Penguins vs. Canadiens, 8 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Penguins vs. Canadiens* Saturday, Aug. 8: Canadiens vs. Penguins*
(6) Carolina Hurricanes vs. (11) New York Rangers
Saturday, Aug. 1: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Rangers vs. Hurricanes, 12 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Hurricanes vs. Rangers, 8 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Hurricanes vs. Rangers* Saturday, Aug. 8: Rangers vs. Hurricanes*
(7) New York Islanders vs. (10) Florida Panthers
Saturday, Aug. 1: Panthers vs. Islanders, 4 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Panthers vs. Islanders, 12 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Islanders vs. Panthers, 12 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Islanders vs. Panthers* Sunday, Aug. 9: Panthers vs. Islanders*
(8) Toronto Maple Leafs vs. (9) Columbus Blue Jackets
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 8 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs, 4 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets, TBD Friday, Aug. 7: Maple Leafs vs. Blue Jackets*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Blue Jackets vs. Maple Leafs*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 2: Flyers vs. Bruins, 3 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Capitals vs. Lightning, 4 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Lightning vs. Bruins, 4 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Capitals vs. Flyers, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Bruins vs. Capitals, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Flyers vs. Lightning, TBD
WESTERN CONFERENCE(all games at Rogers Place, Edmonton)
(5) Edmonton Oilers vs. (12) Chicago Blackhawks
Saturday, Aug. 1: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 3 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Blackhawks vs. Oilers, 10:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Oilers vs. Blackhawks, 10:30 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Oilers vs. Blackhawks*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Blackhawks vs. Oilers*, TBD
(6) Nashville Predators vs. (11) Arizona Coyotes
Sunday, Aug. 2: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Coyotes vs. Predators, 2:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Predators vs. Coyotes, 2:30 p.m. ET Friday, Aug. 7: Predators vs. Coyotes*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Coyotes vs. Predators*, TBD
(7) Vancouver Canucks vs. (10) Minnesota Wild
Sunday, Aug. 2: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Wild vs. Canucks, 10:45 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Canucks vs. Wild, TBD Friday, Aug. 7: Canucks vs. Wild*, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Wild vs. Canucks*, TBD
(8) Calgary Flames vs. (9) Winnipeg Jets
Saturday, Aug. 1: Jets vs. Flames, 10:30 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Jets vs. Flames, 2:30 p.m. ET Tuesday, Aug. 4: Flames vs. Jets, 4:45 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Flames vs. Jets*, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Jets vs. Flames*, TBD
Sunday, Aug. 2: Blues vs. Avalanche, 6:30 p.m. ET Monday, Aug. 3: Stars vs. Golden Knights, 6:30 p.m. ET Wednesday, Aug. 5: Avalanche vs. Stars, 6:30 p.m. ET Thursday, Aug. 6: Golden Knights vs. Blues, TBD Saturday, Aug. 8: Golden Knights vs. Avalanche, TBD Sunday, Aug. 9: Stars vs. Blues, TBD
* – if necessary
Day-by-day version of playoff schedule for NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Qualifiers
The New York Islanders on Tuesday signed goaltender of the future Ilya Sorokin to a $2 million contract for next season.
The deal includes $1 million in salary and a $1 million bonus. A day earlier, the Islanders signed Sorokin to an entry-level deal for the remainder of this season even though he’s not eligible to play.
Sorokin, 24, is considered one of the top prospects at any position not currently in the NHL. A third-round pick of the Islanders in 2014, he was among the Kontinental Hockey League’s best goalies this past season with a 1.50 goals-against average and .935 save percentage.
Two other teams signed Russian prospects Monday who can’t compete in the resumption of this season. The Montreal Canadiens signed defenseman Alexander Romanov for three years, and the Minnesota Wild signed forward Kirill Kaprizov for two years.
All three players are burning a year by signing for this season, a way of getting to more lucrative contracts sooner in the future.
The Islanders are one of several teams going into the NHL’s expanded 24-team playoffs with a goaltending competition. Coach Barry Trotz said he’ll let it play out between Russian Semyon Varlamov and German Thomas Greiss to determine who might start Game 1 of the qualifying round against the Florida Panthers on Aug. 1.
While Varlamov is under contract for three more seasons — perhaps in later years to mentor Sorokin — Greiss is a pending free agent. Sorkin backed up for the gold medal-winning Olympic Athletes from Russia at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games and showed his NHL potential over several KHL seasons and world championships.
Draisaitl, MacKinnon, Panarin are 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award finalists
Leon Draisaitl of the Oilers, Nathan MacKinnon of the Avalanche, and Artemi Panarin of the Rangers have been announced as the finalists for the 2019-20 Ted Lindsay Award, which is given “to the most outstanding player in the NHL.”
The is voted on by fellow members of the NHL Players’ Association. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov won the award last season.
Draisaitl and Panarin are first-time finalists, while this is the second time that MacKinnon is up for the award. The winner will be announced at some point during the conference finals.
The case for Leon Draisaitl: The 2019-20 Art Ross Trophy winner, Draisaitl led the NHL with 110 points and finished third in the league with 43 goals. He played every game for the Oilers this season and was first in points per game (1.55), assists (67), and power play points (44). He was second in power play goals (16) behind David Pastrnak and second in even strength points (66) behind Panarin. A win would mark the third time the Oilers have taken home the award in the last four seasons. Connor McDavid was voted the TLA winner in 2016-17 and 2017-18.
The case for Nathan MacKinnon: After missing only one game for the Avalanche this season, MacKinnon finished fourth with 93 points and led his team in scoring by 43 points. He was also seventh in goals (35), third overall in even strength points 962), fourth in power play points (31), and fifth in points per game (1.35). The 2019-20 season was the third straight year he finished with at least 35 goals and 90 points. It was also the third consecutive season he finished with exactly 58 assists. He would become only the second player in franchise history to win the award following Joe Sakic in 2000-01.
The case for Artemi Panarin: The Bread Man’s first year on Broadway was nothing short of spectacular. He set career highs in goals (32), assists (63), and points (95), led the NHL in even strength points (71), and was third in points per game (1.38). Prolific in production, he recorded points streaks of 12 and 13 games this season. He would become the second Ranger to win the award joining Jaromir Jagr (2005-06).
NHL AWARD FINALISTS ANNOUNCEMENT DATES • Wednesday, July 15: Jack Adams Award, Calder Trophy • Thursday, July 16: Lady Byng Trophy, Masterton Trophy • Friday, July 17: Willie O’Ree Award, Vezina Trophy • Monday, July 20: Norris Trophy, Selke Trophy • Tuesday, July 21: Hart Trophy