Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys to Game 3 of Stanley Cup Final

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When Carl Gunnarsson scored at the 3:51 mark of overtime in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night, he gave the St. Louis Blues their first ever Stanley Cup Final win.

They return home on Saturday night with a chance to take the lead in the series in Game 3 (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN; Live Stream) when they host the Boston Bruins.

So far it has been a tough, physical series and there is no indication that is going to change on Saturday night. Both teams have had stretches where they have carried the play, and given that the Blues are returning home to play in what should be a charged up environment the Bruins should be prepared to weather an early storm.

Here are the three keys for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

• Discipline … again

This has been the talking point for the Blues so far in the series, and we have to keep mentioning it because it keeps becoming a factor.

Through the first two games the Blues have already been shorthanded 10 times (to only five times for the Bruins) and have already surrendered a pair of power play goals. The Blues’ inability to stay out of the penalty box helped crush any momentum they had built early in Game 1, and then nearly got them into trouble in Game 2.

The Bruins’ power play has been a nearly unstoppable force throughout the postseason, converting on more than 31 percent of their chances. That is one of the highest marks in the history of the league and it has helped drive the team’s offense.

The Blues can not keep giving that unit chances to take over a game because it has shown time and time again this postseason that it can do just that. If the Blues can keep this a 5-on-5 game they have to like their chances. But if they can not help themselves when it comes to taking penalties they run the risk of losing a huge opportunity to win their first ever championship.

It is pretty clear that this series has a physical tone to it, and the Blues obviously want to try and impose that on the Bruins, but there has to be a line between playing physical and playing reckless.

During the first two games the Blues have had a difficult time walking that line.

• Bruins’ top line

If there is a concern early on for the Bruins it might just how quiet their top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak has been over the first two games. So far they have managed just one empty-net goal while also getting outscored, outshot, and outchanced when going head-to-head against the Blues’ top line that is being driven by an incredible hot streak from Vladimir Tarasenko.

They have enough of a track record — both individually and as a group — that they should be expected to snap out of this little funk because it is awfully hard to imagine them having three consecutive off games. But sometimes slumps happen to even the very best players, and if one starts to get away from you early in a best-of-seven series that could be the difference between winning and losing the whole thing.

“March, Pasta, Berge and Krej are all first for scoring, so they’ve done it in the Playoffs,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said on Thursday. “Not maybe in these two games, it’s short sample size, but that’s what we’re looking for. The better players perform, better chance of winning. I expect they’ll be better in St. Louis offensively. We’ll go from there.”

The quartet of Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, and Krejci has combined to score 27 of the Bruins’ 63 goals so far in the playoffs, but in the first two games of the series they have managed only the aforementioned Marchand empty-netter, while Pastrnak (an assist) is the only one that has contributed to another goal.

Depth scoring is an essential ingredient to winning, but the Bruins are still going to need their top players to find the back of the net, especially if the Blues’ top line — and especially Tarasenko — continues to play the way it has.

• Both teams missing key depth players

It is all the result of one play in Game 2.

The Bruins will find themselves playing without defender Matt Grzelcyk after he was injured on a hit by Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist early in Game 2. Grzelcyk isn’t one of the stars on this Bruins roster but he has become an extremely valuable player due to his ability to move the puck and help feed the team’s transition game. They missed that element after he exited Game 2 and were unable to consistently contend with the Blues’ aggressive forecheck.

It could be an issue in Game 3 and beyond if he remains sidelined.

He will be replaced by veteran defender John Moore. It is not only a drop off in terms of what to expect out of that spot on the third-pairing, but it also puts more pressure on Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug to make more of an impact because they are only two other defenders on the roster that can excel when it comes to moving the puck.

That play also resulted in Sundqvist being suspended for Saturday’s game, putting a pretty significant dent in the Blues’ depth.

Sundqvist has been a great find for the Blues on their fourth line and had a breakout 2018-19 regular season performance that has carried over to the playoffs where he has had a knack for scoring some big goals while also playing a sound defensive game. But his hit on Grzelcyk was a reckless one and was the second time in the first two games that he took a bad penalty by delivering a bad hit from behind.

The first one cost the Blues in Game 1 when McAvoy responded on the ensuing power play with a game-tying goal.

The second one cost them by removing a key depth player (Sundqvist himself) out of the lineup for Game 3.

Along with Sundqvist, the Blues will once again be without rookie forward Robert Thomas.

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

More Blues-Bruins Game 3:
The Wraparound: Stanley Cup Final returns to St. Louis
Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist suspended
Blues’ Tarasenko sniping at Ovechkin-like level
Grzelcyk’s absence could be significant for Bruins
Blues’ top line getting best of Bruins’ top line so far

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.

Panthers offer Sarah Nurse deal to lead girls hockey program

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FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — The Florida Panthers are trying to sign a high-scoring forward who has an Olympic gold medal and two world championships, with hopes of getting the deal done in the coming days.

If it happens, she won’t be playing for the Panthers.

Sarah Nurse, the Canadian forward who had a highlight-reel goal against the New York Rangers’ Igor Shesterkin during the NHL’s All-Star Skills Competition, has the chance to run the Panthers’ new program designed to get more girls playing hockey.

Florida president Matthew Caldwell offered the job to Nurse publicly – very publicly, at a lectern, with a microphone, before a crowd of onlookers. And he was serious.

“I’m going to embarrass you, but we’re going to offer you a job today,” Caldwell told Nurse, who was seated in the crowd. “We want you to be the face of our girls program at the War Memorial. So, are you in? On the spot? We don’t deal with agents, OK. I’m a tough negotiator.”

The idea to hire Nurse was first floated to Caldwell by Melissa Fitzgerald. She’s the general manager for the War Memorial, which is the two-rink facility being refurbished by the team and will become its practice headquarters.

“We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks,” Caldwell told The Associated Press. “Our youth hockey team kind of brought it up as a joke to me, but I said, `Let’s think big. We’re building this huge facility. Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”‘

The only part Caldwell was less than serious about with Nurse was how the Panthers don’t deal with agents. He spoke with Nurse’s representative, Thomas Houlton, after the event.

Houlton did not immediately respond to a request for comment. He and Caldwell spoke for about 15 minutes after the event, which was attended by NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Panthers stars Aleksander Barkov and Matthew Tkachuk, and dozens of kids who got to play ball hockey afterward.

Nurse played for Canada’s world-champion teams in 2021 and 2022, along with Canada’s Olympic gold winners at the Beijing Games last year.

She was one of five women’s players from USA Hockey and Team Canada – the two most dominant women’s national teams in the world – who were part of the skills events. She wore custom skates highlighting Black History month and the Black Girl Hockey Club, a nonprofit focused on getting more Black girls and women into the sport.

She used a move made famous by Hall of Famer Peter Forsberg when he helped Sweden win gold at the 1994 Olympics against Shesterkin, a Vezina Trophy-winning goalie.

U.S. star Hilary Knight didn’t think Nurse’s goal should have surprised anyone, saying, “she’s a top scorer.”

Ovechkin, and Ovi Jr., take the ice at All-Star skills night

ovechkin all star
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SUNRISE, Fla. — When you’ve got the second-most goals in NHL history, you’re evidently permitted to bring a guest onto the ice for the All-Star Skills competition.

That’s why there were two No. 8 Washington jerseys out there.

Capitals star Alex Ovechkin took the ice with his Metropolitan Division teammates – and his oldest child, 4-year-old Sergei.

Sergei, named for Ovechkin’s late brother, was wearing an Ovi Jr. jersey. The kid has built a bit of a following in recent weeks, after scoring a goal at a Caps practice in December and playing a role in helping the Washington crowd celebrate his dad’s 800th goal.

It was Ovi Jr.’s first chance at being part of an All-Star weekend. His father hasn’t participated at All-Star since 2018, either because of COVID-19 or injuries. The last time his dad played in an All-Star event, Sergei hadn’t been born.

Alex Ovechkin has 812 goals. He only trails Wayne Gretzky’s 894 in NHL history.

And later in the night, Ovi Jr. got to center a line alongside his dad and Pittsburgh great Sidney Crosby. They each got an assist on a goal that Sergei scored – beating Roberto Luongo, the Florida great who came out of retirement for All-Star weekend.

Said Ovechkin after his son scored: “I think he’s really enjoying it.”

WELCOME HOME, LU

Luongo got to be part of one more All-Star competition.

In a building where a banner bearing his No. 1 jersey hangs – he’s the only former Panthers player to have that distinction – Luongo was a celebrity goaltender during the Breakaway Challenge during the Skills Competition on Friday night.

He stopped his lone shot in the breakaway, off the stick of Toronto’s Mitch Marner. On one hand, Marner is the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer this season. On the other hand, he was also wearing a white suit, sunglasses and a light blue T-shirt to keep with a “Miami Vice” theme.

Luongo, who was regaled by “Luuuuu” chants from the Florida fans all night, was up to the challenge. Marner tried to beat him to the glove side, but Luongo got enough of it to make the save – then flopped forward to cover up the rebound, the smile clearly seen through his mask.

“You got too close,” Luongo told Marner.

Later, Luongo told ESPN during the telecast of the event that “this is my house. This is my home right here. The crease is my home.”

Luongo’s pads paid tribute to his career – the design depicted his time both as a member of the Panthers and the Vancouver Canucks. They were a gift from CCM for his making the Hockey Hall of Fame.

“I’d never put the pads on since I retired,” Luongo said. “First time I put them on was this week. Felt pretty good.”

He also took part, and scored a goal, in a Florida alumni game on Wednesday night. But if there’s more alumni games, Luongo suggested he might jump back into the net.

“It back some good memories tonight to be in the blue paint, hearing the chants,” Luongo said. “Maybe one day we’ll hear them again.”

REMEMBERING JIMMY

Sergei Ovechkin – who knocked a shot into an open net during a stoppage of the skills events – wasn’t the only child who got a great view of the night.

Philadelphia forward Kevin Hayes has his 3-year-old nephew Beau with him for All-Star weekend. Beau’s father was Jimmy Hayes, Kevin Hayes’ brother.

Jimmy Hayes was 31 when he died in 2021 with fentanyl and cocaine in his system. He played for four NHL teams, including Florida.

Kevin Hayes is part of an All-Star weekend for the first time.

ANTHEM POISE

“The Star-Spangled Banner” was performed by the South Florida Gay Men’s Chorus, and group crushed it – never minding that the crowd, representing several different fan bases, was going to shout some term specific to their team at various points in the lyrics.

Florida fans shout along with “red” and “Knight,” one a nod to one of the team’s primary colors, the other for goaltender Spencer Knight. There also were some shouts from other fan bases; some St. Louis fans, for example, could be heard singing “home of the Blues” instead of “home of the brave” to close the song.

And “O Canada” performer Hannah Walpole had some shouting as she sang as well, particularly when she reached the “true North” portion of those lyrics – something typically heard at Winnipeg games.

SLAP SHOTS

Cale Makar, the reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner from the Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche, was the first participant in the Fastest Skater event – the opening competition of the night. He fell coming around the second turn. … Tampa Bay’s Pat Maroon, one of the broadcasters on the event, reported that he was “freezing” by working at ice level. “I’m used to the gear,” said Maroon, who was in a blazer and open shirt Friday night. … A big hit for those used to the regular colors of FLA Live Arena – and basically all other hockey arenas – was the ocean-water-shade of blue used for the blue lines and the creases. The faceoff dots at the circles on either end of the ice aren’t the standard solid red this weekend, but depict an image of the sun instead.

Capitals sign Dylan Strome to five-year, $25 million extension

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FT. LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The Washington Capitals signed forward Dylan Strome to a five-year extension worth $25 million.

The team announced the contract during NHL All-Star Weekend, which is taking place in South Florida – the place Strome was drafted third in 2015.

Strome will count $5 million against the salary cap through the 2027-28 season. He was set to be a restricted free agent this summer.

“Dylan is an intelligent and skilled center and has been a great addition to our organization,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “We are pleased to sign him to a long-term contract. We feel his skill set is a great fit for our team as he enters the prime years of his career at an important position.”

Strome is getting a raise from the $3.5 million deal he signed with the Capitals after the Chicago Blackhawks opted not to tender him a qualifying offer and made him a free agent. Strome has 11 goals and 25 assists in 36 games this season and ranks third on Washington’s roster with 14 power-play points.

The Mississauga, Ontario, native who played his junior hockey alongside Connor McDavid with the Erie Otters has 206 points in 325 regular-season NHL games with the Arizona Coyotes, Blackhawks and Capitals.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.