Stanley Cup Final Roundtable: Secondary scoring, underrated contributors

Leading up to Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final (Monday, 8 p.m. ET, NBC), Pro Hockey Talk will be looking at every aspect of the matchup between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues.

Which team is in bigger trouble if they fail to get secondary scoring?

SEAN: Tuukka Rask is going to make life difficult for any Blues player to score, and if the top line of Schwartz, O’Reilly and Tarasenko are slowed on any given night, the secondary scoring is essential. It’s been a huge part of their success. The same can be said for the Bruins, but their top line has been unstoppable and will give the Blues’ defense fits. Boston’s secondary scorers drying up won’t be as big of a death knell as it would be for St. Louis, who have stepped up in their own way this postseason.

JAMES: The Blues’ highest-end scorers are nothing to sneeze at … but unfortunately, the bar goes higher in the postseason, particularly when you’re facing arguably the best top line in the NHL in Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak. Those three could carry Boston to a series win if need be, and they also boast the two-way acumen to win a strength vs. strength battle if St. Louis goes top-heavy.

ADAM: It’s the Blues, simply because I think Boston’s top-end players are a little better and they have more of them. Tarasenko and O’Reilly can definitely make an impact on their own, but the Bruins’ trio of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak has carried them quite often over the past two years and I see no reason why they couldn’t do it again if needed.

JOEY: I’m going to go with the Blues. The Bruins have had 19 different goal scorers in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so as important as Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak are, the rest of the team can still find a way to contribute offensively. St. Louis has made it this far without their top scorers contributing all that much, but the good news for them is that their high-end guys have started chipping in more. They’ll need Tarasenko and company to keep rolling if they’re going to win the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

SCOTT: There were stretches against Toronto and against Columbus where Boston’s otherwise dominant top line wasn’t as trigger happy. And it was then that the Bruins’ depth really showed. They’ve seen goal scoring come from 19 different players in this playoffs, from the top line right down to the guys on the fourth. The Bruins have a chance if those guys aren’t producing, is what I’m saying. I’m not sure the same can be said of the Blues if Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz aren’t lighting the lamp. There’s depth on the Blues roster, certainly, but this is the Cup Final against the hottest goalie in the playoffs and one of the best defensive teams in front of him. St. Louis can’t afford not to have their top guys running on all cylinders.

RYAN: The Blues. Boston’s top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak can carry the Bruins if needed. If this series turns into a battle of the top lines, then I don’t see St. Louis coming out on top. The Blues have gotten significant contributions from Ryan O'Reilly, David Perron, and Tyler Bozak in particular in the postseason and that needs to continue.

Who has been the most underrated contributor for each team?

SEAN: Do you know who has recorded the sixth-most playoff points since 2011? It’s David Krejci, who has 29 goals and 80 points in 98 games since the Bruins Cup run eight years ago. He’s been a reliable contributor in the shadows of Bergeron and Marchand, who typically lead the way and nab the headlines. This postseason he’s third on the team with 14 points and has gone consecutive games without recording a point only once since the end of January.

Another year, another Cup Final for David Perron. In his third stint with the Blues, Perron has already set a career high in postseason points with 13 in 19 games this spring. He scored a goal and added eight assists last season for the Vegas Golden Knights during their run to the Cup Final. This season he’s played a huge role as part of the team’s secondary scoring after netting 23 goals and 46 points.

JAMES: Defensemen for each side: Torey Krug for the Bruins; Colton Parayko for the Blues. Krug is a vital cog in the best power play of this postseason, and brings value beyond offense, too. Parayko, meanwhile, opens up Alex Pietrangelo to more scoring opportunities by being so stout defensively, and Parayko can also chip in on offense with a rifle of a shot.

ADAM: On the Boston side it is definitely David Krejci. He is like the forgotten man on that team but he has been around forever it seems and always has a knack for producing on these big stages. He has done it again in the playoffs and doesn’t really seem to be slowing down all that much even as he gets into his 30s. He’s been a workhorse for that team for years. For St. Louis, I think Alex Pietrangelo. He is their No. 1 defender but we really don’t talk enough about how good the Blues’ defense (and him especially) actually is. He has been great this postseason.

JOEY: No one seems to talk about David Krejci. The big three in Boston get all the headlines, but Krejci always seem to elevate his game at the right time. The 33-year-old has quietly put up 14 points in the first 17 games of this year’s playoffs and he’s chipped in 101 points in 125 career postseason games.

SCOTT: For Boston, I believe it’s become Marcus Johansson. I think people will finally begin to notice his contributions with just one series left. He’s been stout offensively and contributed on a few key moments for the Bruins over the past two rounds. He’s become a key trade-deadline acquisition for Boston. For St. Louis, I still think Oskar Sundqvist has been a quietly good contributor on the fourth line. He ended the San Jose series with a goal and an assist over the final two games, including the game-winner in Game 5.

RYAN: I don’t think Jay Bouwmeester has gotten enough attention for his key role in getting the Blues this far. He doesn’t do much offensively anymore, but even at the age of 35 he’s been a workhorse for the Blues in the playoffs. He’s averaging 23:02 minutes per game and has blocked 36 shots in the playoffs. The Blues would be in a very tough spot without him playing such a big role on the blueline.

On the Bruins side, while Boston’s top line has understandably gotten a lot of attention, the third unit has been a significant part of their success, led in part by trade acquisitions Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. I’ll single out Coyle as the most effective of that group with his six goals and 12 points.

Will the 11-day layoff help or hurt the Bruins early in the series?

SEAN: The Bruins have tried to keep the intensity up in practices during their break, including holding a full scrimmage last week in front of a sold out crowd. There’s no way to simulate an NHL playoff game, but there’s enough experience on that roster that such a break won’t have a long affect on the team, if at all. The first game of a Cup Final always features a feeling out process, so that could allow the Bruins to shake off their rust and get back to the style that saw them blow through the Eastern Conference to reach this point.

JAMES: The Blues have had a pretty ample breather in their own right, so the Bruins’ rest advantage isn’t as extreme as, say, the 1986 Canadiens, who had a week off versus the 1986 Flames only getting a day off. I tend to roll my eyes at certain rust talk, as I’d wager that most struggles (beyond maybe the first 20-40 minutes of Game 1) are probably more to do to getting fewer bounces or facing tougher opponents. Still, 11 days is pushing it, and I worry the most about Tuukka Rask, who was red-hot. Will he be less sharp? I still say take the rest when you can, but this feels like the hockey equivalent of an NCAA football team getting a month off before a big bowl game. So I’d say hurt, but just a paper cut.

ADAM: I honestly don’t think it is going to matter simply because the Blues have been off for a long time, too. I don’t think the Bruins are going to complain too much about having an extended rest at this time of year. Their first two matchups were really difficult and the break has probably done them some good. They might be a little rusty in the first 10 minutes, but the first period of the first game of the Stanley Cup Final tends to be a little choppy anyway because both teams are still getting a sense of what the other is all about.

JOEY: As much as their intra-squad game will help them, I think they’ll be rusty early on in Game 1. But I don’t think it’ll hamper them for an entire game. The Bruins found a way to overcome a quick turnaround and they’re good enough to figure things out after a long layoff. I don’t think the layoff will be a big factor either way.

SCOTT: Meh. I’m not a huge believer in the whole rest-equals-rust debate. The Bruins needed it to tend to some bumps and bruises. If anything, it’s probably a bigger issue for Tuukka Rask given the run he was on prior to it. I just don’t see how rest is a bad thing is something as grueling as the Stanley Cup Playoffs. And let’s not forget, St. Louis is coming off an extended rest of their own here. If anything, they’ll need to survive the first period to get their groove back.

RYAN: Hurt. A moderate sized rest, like the one the St. Louis Blues are getting, would have probably done Boston some good. This rest is far too long though, especially for a team that was red hot. If any team can overcome it, it’s the Boston Bruins, but the long layover is nevertheless something to be overcome rather than something to be thankful for.

STANLEY CUP FINAL PREVIEW
Who has the better forwards?
Who has the better defensemen?
Who has the better goaltending?
Who has the better special teams?

X-factors
PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites
How the Blues were built
How the Bruins were built
Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

NHL, NHLPA agree on protocols to resume season

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The NHL and NHL Players’ Association agreed Sunday on protocols to resume the season, a major step toward the return of hockey this summer.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press there was an agreement on protocols for training camps and games and the sides are still negotiating an extension of the collective bargaining agreement, which is crucial to the process.

A person with knowledge of the situation said the return-to-play protocols would only go into effect if each side votes to approve the full package of the CBA extension and return-to-play agreement. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because CBA talks are still ongoing.

To complete a return, two-thirds of the league’s board of governors and majorities of the players’ executive committee and full membership must vote in favor.

If everything is ratified, it will end a pandemic-forced shutdown that began in mid-March. Games would resume in late July or early August with 24 teams taking part in an expanded playoffs, finishing with the Stanley Cup being awarded in October.

The agreement was first reported by TSN.

The 47 pages of protocols outline the health and safety measures the league and players agreed to after several weeks of negotiations. Any player has until 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday to notify his team if he’s choosing to opt out of participating in training camp and games.

For those playing, each team is limited to 30 skaters and an unlimited amount of goaltenders for camp and total roster of up to 31 players for games. Each team is limited to 52 personnel in its game city, a group that must include two trainers, a doctor and compliance officer in addition players, coaches and management.

They are expected to be quarantined from the general public during play at least for the qualifying and first two traditional playoff rounds. Family members will be permitted to join when play is moved to one city for the conference finals and Stanley Cup Final.

All team and league employees plus hotel, restaurant and arena staff coming in contact with players will be tested daily in the two ”hub” cities.

One player’s positive coronavirus test result is not expected to shut down play entirely. The league has said it would isolate any player or staff member who tests positive, acknowledging an outbreak would threaten the remainder of the season.

”The players will be pretty well-protected from being exposed,” Montreal Canadiens owner Geoff Molson said during a conference call in June. ”It’s going to be a completely different way for you all and us watching hockey and being around a team because players will be really well protected throughout the process.”

The protocols include a provision for Commissioner Gary Bettman in consultation with NHLPA executive director Don Fehr to postpone, delay or cancel games in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak.

Assuming the protocols are approved, teams are expected to open training camps July 13 before traveling to the two hub cities for games. Players have been able to skate and train off-ice in voluntary, small-group workouts since June 8 – nearly three months after hockey was halted March 12 with 189 regular-season games remaining.

Returning for the playoffs is seen as a stirring victory for the NHL, which like other top leagues faced the prospect of losing millions more without the television revenue tied to the postseason. There were deep concerns about canceling the rest of the season and word of positive tests didn’t help: 26 players since June 8, in addition to almost a dozen before that.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk called the positive test results ”eye-opening” but expected. A few players expressed concerns in recent weeks about the uncertainty surrounding a return.

”We have obviously a unique situation right now,” Montreal goaltender Carey Price said. ”The NHL and the NHLPA are trying to make the best of a very difficult situation. Moving forward I’d like to play, but we have a lot of questions that need to be answered and a lot of scenarios that need to be covered.”

If the protocols and an CBA extension cover those scenarios for enough owners and players, there will be a path forward to hand out the Stanley Cup. Only twice since 1893 has the Cup not been awarded: in 1919, when the final couldn’t be completed because of the Spanish flu pandemic, and 2005 when the season was wiped out by a lockout.

Seven hockey players suspended in Belarus match-fixing case

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ZURICH — Seven ice hockey players have been suspended during an investigation into match-fixing in the Belarus league.

The players — five from Belarus and two from Russia — told a domestic investigation they were paid to help arrange the outcome of a game in November, the International Ice Hockey Federation said on Friday.

“During the investigation, each of the players also admitted that they had agreed to exert an unlawful influence on the outcome of the game in exchange for illegal remuneration,” the governing body said in a statement.

The IIHF said its disciplinary board had taken over the case “for further review and sanctioning.”

The case involves Dynamo Molodechno’ losing to Mogilyov 6-5 in a Belarus Extraliga game.

The players have been suspended from taking part in any competition organized by the IIHF or its member federations.

PHT Morning Skate: NHL vs. viruses; Flat salary cap pain = Avs’ gain?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from the NHL and around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit for the PHT Morning Skate? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Lafreniere, COVID-19 hockey concerns, and how Avs may benefit from a flat salary cap

• Rank Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen among those expressing some misgivings about playing amid the COVID-19 pandemic. [TSN]

• Breaking: Alexis Lafreniere is not a defenseman. In all seriousness, a look at some Maple Leafs possibilities … which might be complicated at No. 1 because of that positional point. Maybe? [Pension Plan Puppets]

• Speaking of those Maple Leafs, Buds fans are not pleased about the idea of a possible flat, $81.5M salary cap. There are teams who might take advantage of this situation, though. Here’s why the Avalanche could be one of those teams. [Mile High Hockey]

• A look back at the NHL’s “rivalries” with viruses. Does the history of the NHL’s dealing with such issues — even the Mumps — be a cause for concern amid COVID-19 outbreaks? [Arctic Ice Hockey]

• Earlier this week, PHT selected the best landing spots for Alexis Lafreniere. What about getting even more specific? Andrew Berkshire shared his picks for some of the lines that would benefit most from adding the consensus No. 1 pick to their left side. [Sportsnet]

Other hockey links

• Sean Gentille put together an oral history for the Jean Claude Van Damme masterpiece “Sudden Death.” If you haven’t heard of the candidate for “so-bad-it’s-good” designation, how about the elevator pitch: “Die Hard at a hockey game.” [The Athletic (sub required)]

• On face value, this article focuses most on Rudy Gobert and Novak Djokovic and athletes feeling invulnerable to COVID-19. But it’s a really good read for hockey fans, players, and executives as cautionary tales with a return-to-play picking up steam. [The Score]

• Joe Pelletier of Greatest Hockey Legends wonders why the bar is set so high for goalies to get into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Not an awful point when you consider that they play the most important position in the sport, and all. I wouldn’t mind Ron Hextall making a future cut, to name just one worthy goalie. [Greatest Hockey Legends]

• Five crossovers between hockey and Todd McFarlane. Yes, the “Spawn” guy. [PuckJunk]

• Taking a run at putting together the Sabres’ roster during the upcoming offseason. It gets elaborate, including potential trades. Yes, this scenario includes trading away Rasmus Ristolainen. Don’t they all? [Die by the Blade]

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.

Our Line Starts podcast: NHL, NHLPA nearing agreement; hub cities, Olympics, CBA

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Liam McHugh, Keith Jones, and Patrick Sharp react to the reports that the NHL and NHLPA are nearing the completion of a massive agreement that would not only cover this year’s Return to Play protocols, but also serve as an extension to the Collective Bargaining Agreement. The guys discuss Edmonton and Toronto emerging as hub city favorites, as well as what it would mean for the NHL to return to the Olympics. Plus, a breakdown of the Qualifying Round series in both conferences.

Start-4:45 Edmonton, Toronto new hub city frontrunners
4:45-8:45 NHL, NHLPA nearing CBA extension, including Olympic participation
8:45-13:00 Other return to play details
14:00-23:00 Eastern Conference Qualifying Round preview
23:50-End Western Conference Qualifying Round preview

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports