Stanley Cup Final: Blues’ top line has early edge on Bruins’ top line

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One of the big matchups to watch entering the Stanley Cup Final was going to be how the Bruins would contend with the St. Louis Blues’ white-hot top line. The trio of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and Jaden Schwartz was the biggest driving force behind the Blues’ Western Conference Final win over the San Jose Sharks, and it seemed to be a given that Bruce Cassidy was going to counter them with his top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak in a power vs. power matchup.

Especially with home-ice advantage and the opportunity to dictate more of the line matchups.

But through the first two games of the series, which is now tied 1-1 after the Blues’ 3-2 overtime win on Wednesday night, Cassidy has already started to get away from that matchup as the Blues’ top line has carried the play.

Tarasenko extended his current point streak to eight games with a late first period goal in Game 2, once again victimizing the Bergeron line. Through the first two games of the series the two lines have only spent eight minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time going against each other, with the Tarasenko line outscoring them by a 3-0 margin and controlling the territorial game. Small sample size or not, that has resulted in the Bruins using their fourth line against the Tarasenko line for much of the first two games, which is hardly what we expected at the start.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Cassidy was asked on Thursday how his top line can get out of its current funk that has not only included them not scoring in the series (outside of an empty-net goal by Marchand), but also giving up its share of goals.

“Well they’ve certainly generated on the power play to get their momentum going 5-on-5,” said Cassidy. “What they’ve done well in the whole playoffs, even when they weren’t scoring, they played against Tavares and Marner, and certainly kept them off the score sheet. Then you go to Panarin and I think it was Atkinson. They’ve done a good job. So then there was Staal and Williams. So they’ve been able to at least do that part of the job. So far this series Schenn’s line’s got some 5-on-5 goals. So that’s the part of why we made the switch. Try to free them up and try to lock down that line with Kuraly.

He continued. “I suspect they’ll want to go to that matchup again, I don’t want to speak for them. They’re going to go to that matchup in St. Louis, looks like they wanted it here. So if that’s the case, then that’s a big challenge for [Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak]. They’re typically up to it. They’ve always found their game, they usually don’t go very long without being a factor. I don’t imagine that will change. I suspect in Game 3 we’ll see their best game of the series. Until that happens, it’s kind of speculation, but that’s what I suspect will happen.”

If the Bruins are going to end up winning this series that is probably going to have to happen.

For as important as depth scoring can be this time of year (and it is extremely important) you still need your best players to play like your best players. That doesn’t mean they have to dominate every single night, because everyone is prone to a slump at some point, and it doesn’t even mean that they have to score a ton of goals. But in the Bruins’ case they do have to find a way to slow down Tarasenko, Schenn, and Schwartz because that shutdown ability is one of their key roles. And also one that you always expect to be there even when the offense isn’t.

“Yeah, I think they’re a really good line,” said Bergeron on Thursday when talking about the matchup. “They play well together, they’re hard on the forecheck, they’re good at turning pucks over and sustaining some pressure with that cycling game, and they capitalized. And for us it’s about being better, and we’ve dealt with this this whole playoffs against different lines. So we look at videos, we look at tendencies, we also know how we can play and play the right way. I think sometimes it’s about simplifying but also taking care of the puck in your own zone before they get on offense.”

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

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.

Blackhawks’ Boris Katchouk sidelined by ankle sprain

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CHICAGO — Blackhawks forward Boris Katchouk will be sidelined for four to six weeks with a left ankle sprain, the team announced.

The 24-year-old Katchouk played almost 12 minutes during a 3-0 preseason loss to Detroit on Saturday night. He was acquired in a multiplayer trade with Tampa Bay in March.

The Blackhawks open the season on Oct. 12 at Colorado.

The team also said forward Jujhar Khaira is day to day with a right ankle injury.

Ducks’ Urho Vaakanainen crashes into boards, leaves on stretcher

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Ducks defenseman Urho Vaakanainen was taken off the Honda Center ice on a stretcher after he crashed into the end boards in the first period of Anaheim’s preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.

The Finnish defenseman was conscious and alert with full movement in his extremities at UCI Medical Center, the Ducks said.

The frightening incident occurred midway through the opening period when Vaakanainen smashed into the boards at a dangerous speed behind the Sharks’ net. Vaakanainen appeared to be concentrating on the pass he had just made to Derek Grant, who scored the Ducks’ opening goal on the assist.

Vaakanainen’s teammates came onto the ice and gathered around him as he was taken away on the stretcher.

The Ducks acquired the 23-year-old Vaakanainen from Boston last March in the deal that sent longtime Ducks defenseman Hampus Lindholm to the Bruins. After recording two assists in 14 games for the Ducks last season, Vaakanainen is attempting to win a top-six role on Anaheim’s defense this fall.

Lightning donate $2 million to Hurricane Ian relief efforts

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TAMPA, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Lightning and team owner Jeff Vinik are donating $2 million toward Hurricane Ian relief efforts.

The NHL team announced that $1 million each will be donated by the Tampa Bay Lightning Foundation and the Vinik Family Foundation.

“This is a tragic situation for many families and communities across the state of Florida, but especially so in the southwest region of the state,” Vinik said in a statement released by the team. “In times like these the most important thing we can do is support one another, and we hope this donation will help families recover and rebuild in the months to come.”

Ian made landfall Wednesday on Florida’s Gulf Coast, south of the Tampa Bay area. The Lightning postponed two home preseason games and moved the club’s training camp to Nashville, Tennessee, during the storm.

Maple Leafs sign defenseman Rasmus Sandin to 2-year deal

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TORONTO — Rasmus Sandin has signed a two-year, $2.8 million contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club announced on Thursday.

The 22-year-old from Sweden was the 29th overall selection in the 2018 draft. Sandin had 16 points in 51 games with Toronto last season. He’s played in 88 career regular-season games, with six goals and 22 assists, and has one goal in five playoff games.

“Got a great set of tools,” fellow defenseman Jake Muzzin said. “With experience, I think they’re only going to get better.”

The signing comes as the Leafs’ blueliners been hit hard by injuries. Muzzin has been dealing with a back issue, and Timothy Liljegren recently had surgery for a hernia.

Toronto then lost Jamie Benn (groin) and Carl Dahlstrom (shoulder) in Wednesday’s 3-0 preseason victory over the Montreal Canadiens, pressing forwards Calle Jarnkrok and Alexander Kerfoot into defensive roles for two periods.