Bruins-Blues Stanley Cup chess match just getting started

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BOSTON (AP) — Bruce Cassidy didn’t mince words or hide behind the secrecy of playoff hockey.

The Boston Bruins coach telegraphed the most important matchup of the Stanley Cup Final on the morning of Game 1. As long as he had the last change and the ability to dictate matchups, his top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak would play against the St. Louis Blues’ red-hot line of Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn and Vladimir Tarasenko.

In the chess match that is every playoff series, Cassidy’s first move put Boston down two goals in Game 1. His quick thinking on pulling the plug on that experiment helped the Bruins come back to win 4-2 Monday night with fourth-line forward Sean Kuraly and third-pairing defenseman Connor Clifton the unlikely heroes. Cassidy at times put his fourth line of Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari against the Schenn line with great success.

Almost 80% of teams that win Game 1 have gone on to win the Cup, but how Cassidy, Blues coach Craig Berube and their teams adjust will have a say in that. Game 2 is Wednesday night.

”We’ve used Kuraly’s line all year against good lines and we decided to go that route,” Cassidy said. ”It worked out for us tonight and we’ll re-evaluate it on Wednesday.”

With so much talent, size and skill on each side, there are limitless combinations Cassidy and Berube can tinker with. Depth and some good luck with health got these teams here, and both will be tested in a bruising, stick-snapping, helmetless-hitting series.

Boston has the lead. It’s Berube’s turn to respond.

”They’re going to do good things,” Berube said. ”They’re a good team and they’re going to force us into bad situations and things like that, but we need more than we gave tonight.”

The Blues have to be satisfied with how they limited Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak’s scoring chances at even strength, giving up only an empty netter to Marchand. Even the Bruins’ power-play goal came with the second unit on the ice. But the Blues know they won’t be able to hold down Boston’s top line forever, so the onus is on defensemen like Colton Parayko and Jay Bouwmeester to keep this up.

And the Bruins’ biggest stars understand that despite the contributions from unlikely sources, they need to produce.

”We know we have to get better as a line,” Pastrnak said.

If Berube prefers power against power, which contributed to goals by Schenn and Tarasenko, he also might need to make some changes to tackle Boston’s ability to get goals from its entire lineup.

Kuraly had just two goals in the playoffs coming in and Clifton one, but after the Bruins tilted the ice and dominated from the second minute of the second period on, it seemed a matter of time until goaltender Jordan Binnington cracked.

Binnington was under siege as the Bruins outshot the Blues 30-12 in the final two periods. After stopping 83 of the 85 shots he faced in Games 5 and 6 of the Western Conference final and the first period Monday, he will need to be locked in as the series goes on.

”Stuff’s going to happen, you got to handle it,’ Binnington said. ”We’ll regroup and prepare for the next game.”

Berube didn’t blame Binnington and pointed to turnovers as the culprit. Add five penalties that gave the Bruins’ playoff-leading power play too many chances, and the Blues have plenty to improve on.

”I think we can be even better,” winger David Perron. ”We’re going to have to be. We’ve shown that the other series – we got better and better as the series went on every game.”

The thing is, the Bruins likely will, too.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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

P.K. Subban gets a warm tribute during his return to Nashville

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It would have been silly for Nashville Predators fans to boo P.K. Subban during his return to “Smashville.”

Subban didn’t choose to be traded from Montreal to Nashville, and he didn’t elect to be sent from Nashville to the New Jersey Devils, either.

Sports fans aren’t always so rational, though. Really, it makes sense: spending so much money, time, and emotional energy on a game isn’t exactly the most rational thing to do. So there was some concern about how Subban would be received, especially since he’s already booed in an honestly uncomfortably large number of NHL arenas already.

Subban and others can breathe a sigh of relief, though, as while not everyone greeted Subban with open arms in as literal a way as Roman Josi did with their hug on Saturday, the team gave Subban a fantastic welcome back tribute video:

Not only does that video include some of Subban’s great moments during his three seasons with the Predators (that Stanley Cup Final appearance, a Norris Trophy win), it also captures some of the off-the-ice qualities that make Subban so fun and entertaining (and make people sometimes get perplexingly, maybe troublingly mad about him). He got up and decided to sing some Johnny Cash upon arriving in Nashville, was a fantastic charitable presence, and was a lot of fun.

(No Listerine was spilled in the making of the ad, but you can’t have it all.)

Anyway, good on the Predators and their fans for welcoming P.K. back.

As a reminder, Montreal Canadiens fans greeted him with love upon his return, too:

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.

Avs’ rising star Cale Makar shaken by hit from Bruins’ Marchand

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The Colorado Avalanche have done a masterful job, for the most part, when it comes to rolling with injury-related punches to key players such as Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. They have to hope that Saturday didn’t send another such haymaker their way.

Rising star defenseman Cale Makar (who just fell under a point per game on Saturday with 28 in 29 contests) was clearly shaken up by a hard hit by Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand.

It didn’t seem like a heinous hit by Marchand, although there are some who wonder if it was a bit high.

Either way, Makar’s reaction is troubling. You can see him shake his head multiple times following the hit, which gives the impression that he could have suffered a concussion. That doesn’t guarantee that Makar did, but it’s a situation to watch — and one the Avalanche should absolutely be careful about.

The Avalanche ended up beating the Bruins 4-1 on Saturday.

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.

Laila Anderson, bone marrow donor attend Blues game

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If it got a “little dusty” at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on Saturday, that’s understandable, because the continued story of Laila Anderson meeting Kenton Felmlee, her bone marrow donor, is sure to make most get a case of heightened allergies.

(Is that a leak from the ceiling? /Sobs)

Anyway, Felmlee was Anderson’s guest during Saturday’s Toronto Maple Leafs – St. Louis Blues game, giving the two another chance to bond, and beyond that, for Anderson to thank Felmlee for helping her in her battle with the rare immune disease HLH.

It’s great stuff, even if the actual Blues game isn’t going so great for St. Louis.

This longer clip from their first meeting earlier this week is worth watching, unless you don’t want people to see you openly weeping’n’stuff:

(Personally, I’d say it’s worth it.)

MORE ON LAILA ANDERSON AND THE BLUES:

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.

Canucks’ Miller scored an awesome water bottle breaker in OT

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Over time, you can become jaded as a sports (and specifically hockey) fan.

Stories about abusive coaches, lockouts, fans booing players for simply no longer being on their teams — it can sap some of the joy of the game.

Thankfully, we have highlights, and I can’t think of many simpler joys than someone scoring a goal and absolutely obliterating the goalie’s water bottle in the process. (As long as no one gets too dehydrated in the making of such films.)

Vancouver Canucks winger J.T. Miller did it one better on Saturday: he scored an important goal that way. Miller presented the ultra-rare OTBBGWG (overtime bottle-breaking game-winning goal) as the Canucks beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-5 in OT.

Bask in the glory of that goal in the video above this post’s headline. Here’s a fun alternate angle:

By the way, Miller continues to be a deadly offensive weapon for the Canucks. This one-goal, one-assist output extended his current point streak to an impressive eight games (5G, 6A for 11 points). Overall, Miller has 31 points in 30 games during his first season in Vancouver.

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.