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

Game 7 OT thrillers on NBCSN: Martinez sends Kings to 2014 Cup Final

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Hockey Week in America continues Sunday with Game 7 overtime thrillers.

In a back-and-forth affair, the Kings tied the Game 7 at four goals apiece in the third period to send the matchup into overtime. With a trip to the Stanley Cup Final on the line, Alec Martinez played hero for the Kings with the game-winner early in overtime, a role he would reprise in Game 5 of the Cup Final against the Rangers to clinch the title for the Kings.

Kenny Albert, Joe Micheletti, and Brian Engblom called the matchup from United Center in Chicago, Ill.

You can catch a replay Sunday on NBCSN at 12 a.m. ET.

SUNDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Kings vs. Blackhawks (Game 7, Western Conference Final, 2014 playoffs) – 12 a.m. ET on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

Game 7 OT thrillers on NBCSN: Goodrow clinches Sharks’ comeback

My Favorite Goal Goodrow's Game 7 OT winner Sharks Hertl
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Hockey Week in America continues Sunday with Game 7 overtime thrillers.

Vegas led the game 3-0 midway through the third period, before a major penalty that gave San Jose a five-minute power play. The Sharks scored four times on that power play to take a 4-3 lead, but Vegas evened the score in the final minute to force OT. In the overtime period, Barclay Goodrow scored the series-winning goal, helping the Sharks become the second team in NHL history, along with the 2013 Bruins, to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period of a Game 7.

Gord Miller and Ray Ferraro called the action from SAP Center in San Jose, Calif.

You can catch a replay Sunday on NBCSN at 10 p.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SUNDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Golden Knights vs. Sharks (Game 7, Round 1, 2019 playoffs) – 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN
• Kings vs. Blackhawks (Game 7, Western Conference Final, 2014 playoffs) – 12 a.m. ET on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

Game 7 OT thrillers on NBCSN: Bruins pull off comeback vs. Maple Leafs

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Hockey Week in America continues Sunday with Game 7 overtime thrillers.

The Maple Leafs held a commanding 4-1 lead in Game 7 in Boston midway through the third period, before the Bruins stormed back to force OT, punctuated by a pair of goals with their goalie pulled. Patrice Bergeron scored the overtime winner for a 5-4 victory, which marked the first time in NHL history a team overcame a three-goal deficit in the final period of Game 7 to go on to win the game and the series.

The late, great Dave Strader and Brian Engblom had the call at TD Garden in Boston, Mass.

You can catch a replay Sunday on NBCSN at 8 p.m. ET or watch the stream here.

SUNDAY NIGHT SCHEDULE
• Maple Leafs vs. Bruins (Game 7, Round 1, 2013 playoffs) – 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN
• Golden Knights vs. Sharks (Game 7, Round 1, 2019 playoffs) – 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN
• Kings vs. Blackhawks (Game 7, Western Conference Final, 2014 playoffs) – 12 a.m. ET on NBCSN

More information about NBC Sports’ Hockey Week in America can be found here.

What is Taylor Hall’s future with Coyotes?

Taylor Hall Coyotets
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Arizona Coyotes general manager John Chayka said this weekend that he has continued to have some discussions with Dan Ferris, the agent for pending free agent forward Taylor Hall, but that they have not yet exchanged numbers in potential contract talks.

Instead, it has simply been a matter of trying to get their heads wrapped around the current situation — everything being on hold due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic — and how it impacts both the Coyotes and Hall.

“It’s unique. I don’t have an answer for you other than to say, no, we haven’t exchanged numbers or anything like that,” said Chayka in a wide-ranging interview with the Athletic’s Craig Morgan.

“Obviously, our intent was always to get through the season and not having any conflict with Taylor’s play. This leaves us in a bit of a limbo where it’s obviously not technically the end of the season, but it also wouldn’t conflict with his play to talk. All I would say right now is that both sides are gathering information and having some discussions. Where that goes I’m not entirely sure today. As we talk, we’ll see where things go.”

The Hall-Coyotes storyline is going to be an interesting to watch unfold over the coming months because he could be one of the top players to hit the open market — whenever free agency actually begins — if he does not re-sign with the Coyotes.

The Coyotes acquired Hall from the New Jersey Devils in a mid-December trade. It was a fairly significant move at the time because Hall was the top in-season trade target in the league. He also gave the Coyotes the type of impact forward that they desperately needed to help drive their offense in an effort to make the playoffs.

While Hall has mostly met expectations (27 points in 35 games) things have not exactly worked out as the Coyotes hoped from a team perspective. When the 2019-20 NHL season went on hiatus they Coyotes were four points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference with several teams ahead of them. A big part of their tumble down the standings was injuries, specifically to their top two goalies (Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper).

The next step

In an ideal world the the Coyotes would almost certainly prefer to keep Hall. When healthy, he is an elite offensive player and the type of talent the franchise really has not had in more than a decade. He is an MVP winner, one of the most productive wingers in the world, and while he turns 29 next November he still probably has several outstanding years ahead of him as a top-line winger. They are not likely to find an upgrade or a better player anywhere else on the open market or as a realistic trade target.

There are, however, some obstacles.

The first of which is simply a matter of what Hall wants to do with his opportunity as a potential UFA. This will be the first time he has a chance to test the open market and probably his last chance to get a significant contract. Add in the fact he has played on just one playoff team in his career, and there has to be a lot of incentive to explore what is out there.

But there is another pretty big hurdle that may not get a lot of attention in this situation — the salary cap.

While the Coyotes salary situation tend to be a punch-line for people that don’t pay close attention to them, they actually have one of the largest salary cap numbers in the entire league right now, have some significant long-term investments, and do not have a lot of wiggle room under the cap in the near future. Considering that Hall is almost certain to be able to command something in the neighborhood of $8-9 million per season, there is going to be some extra work needed to make it all work.

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Arizona Coyotes
• Coyotes’ biggest surprises, disappointments so far
What is the Coyotes’ long-term outlook?

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.