Poetry on ice: Bruins’ potent power play is key to Cup Final

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Patrice Bergeron wins the faceoff and Jake DeBrusk retrieves the puck for Torey Krug, who waits just long enough for Bergeron to set up and shoots it at his stick for a textbook deflection goal.

This is the Boston Bruins’ masterful power play at its nearly unstoppable best.

When the Bruins go on the power play, it’s poetry in motion on the ice that comes from a combination of detailed coaching and planning, high-end talent and exquisite execution.

Boston scored with precise efficiency on all four of its power-play chances in a 7-2 rout of the St. Louis Blues in Game 3 and is the biggest reason the Bruins lead the Stanley Cup Final 2-1 going into Game 4 Monday night.

”It’s just the creativity and guys stepping into certain roles, certain spots, and we fill in for each other,” Krug said. ”When we’re on and we’re in sync, we’re a really dangerous unit.”

Toronto, Columbus and Carolina already figured that out in the first three rounds, and St. Louis needs to develop a solution or this series will be over quicker than Krug can move the puck.

Boston’s playoff-best power play has converted on 35.9% of its opportunities and could be the first unit to finish over 30% in the postseason since the 1981 champion New York Islanders.

”We just have a lot of different abilities and talents out there,” puck retrieving ace Brad Marchand said. ”We’ve been together for a while now, so we’re comfortable with communicating and trying to look for different things. With Torey back there making the plays that he’s making, we get lucky sometimes.”

This has nothing to do with luck.

Bruce Cassidy is a power-play mastermind who can spot trends and flaws as well as any coach in the NHL. After the Bruins scored on two of their 10 power plays in Games 1 and 2, he noticed a hole in the Blues’ penalty kill, made some adjustments and, boom, Boston scored four power-play goals … on four shots.

”Bruce does a great job of giving us cues that if this player does this, this is the option that we’re going to have and the opportunity that we’re going to have to score a goal,” said Krug, who joined Hall of Famer Denis Potvin as the only defensemen to record at least four points in a Cup Final game.

”We’ve been able to, after 10 power plays through two games, point out some things. Without giving it away, we’re trying to take advantage of it now.”

Cassidy said his power play operates differently from a lot of other hockey teams because it relies more on puck movement down low than a blast from the point.

Blues penalty killer Ryan O'Reilly noted the Bruins worked more from Krug at the point in Game 3 and it caught them off guard.

Here’s how they did it:

• Bergeron’s tip was a set play Cassidy drew up off a faceoff win that players executed to a T.

David Pastrnak‘s backhand came after a Bergeron-to-Krug point-to-point pass and Krug finding him inexplicably wide open in front.

• Krug’s wrist shot developed off a give-and-go with Marchand after he found open ice and snapped it past goaltender Jordan Binnington.

Marcus Johansson‘s one-timer against a fatigued Blues penalty kill happened when David Backes retrieved the puck, Johansson and Krug passed it back and forth like practice and goalie Jake Allen had no chance of stopping the puck.

”We put the puck on net and when you do that, good things happen,” Bergeron said. ”It was four different ways, the way we scored. I think we’re trying to take what’s in front of us instead of forcing plays.”

The video clips of Boston’s power play could fill a seminar on how to score 5-on-4 in the NHL. And the Blues know it.

”They can beat you so many different ways,” St. Louis defenseman Robert Bortuzzo said. ”They got a great net-front guy in Bergeron who’s always scoring around the net. They got Krug who can blast it, Pastrnak can blast it and Marchand’s just a heady player. Those are the toughest power plays to defend.”

You can’t stop them, you can only hope to contain them. And even that’s not working out for St. Louis, which was the least-penalized team through three rounds and has taxed its penalty kill with 17 minors through three games.

Asked how to defend Boston’s power play, retired forward Stu Grimson responded: ”Don’t take a penalty. Leave it on the bench.”

Easier said than done.

”There’s so many different ways that they’re coming at you, so you’re going to play them a bunch of different ways,” Bortuzzo said.

”Limiting entries is the big one for our group. I think we can make them put pucks in and then have them get to set up. That takes time and sometimes it’s frustrating and it’s something we build off, so I think being good at the blue lines is big for us.”

Or the Bruins make entries irrelevant because they don’t let the puck leave the zone. The NHL a few years ago instituted the rule that all power plays begin with a faceoff in the attacking zone as one way to generate more offense. The Bruins are the perfect example of that: They won five of six power-play faceoffs in Game 3 and scored goals 21, 51, 31 and 23 seconds into each chance.

”I have to be better in the circle taking those faceoffs to not give them any easy opportunities,” O’Reilly said.

The St. Louis coaching staff will have to make some adjustments after the penalty kill looked lost Saturday night. But much of that credit belongs to the Bruins’ No. 1 power-play unit of Bergeron, Krug, Marchand, Pastrnak and DeBrusk.

”They support one another really well, they retrieve pucks that have turned over exceptionally well,” said Grimson, an NHL Network analyst who scored one power-play goal in 771 games.

”It’s a mix of chemistry and great anticipation, especially when those top three guys are out there together. It all kind of centers around Bergeron. He’s kind of critical to it all. But the others. Between Pastrnak and he’s your high-end skill and Marchand on the other side is great at recovering pucks, it’s just a great balance of everything that kind of makes up a really lethal power play.”

Going 2 for 10 in Games 1 and 2 is nothing to sneeze at, especially considering St. Louis is 1 for 10 in the series. But Krug chalked up the 4-for-4 breakout to a keen adjustment and better assertiveness and decision-making.

It’s also that the Bruins’ power play operates like clockwork and fuels everything about their offensive game.

”They know that they have the ability to score and generate offense,” Cassidy said. ”One of the ways you get going offensively is to finish your chances and to get going on the power play. We talked about that. It’s not unique to our team. Most skilled guys, if they get to feel the puck on the power play, things start to happen. I think it bleeds into 5-on-5.”

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

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Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports
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SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

“Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

Bob Frid-USA TODAY Sports
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The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

“I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

“Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.

Bruins rolling, rest of NHL making final push for playoffs

John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
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SUNRISE, Fla. — Bruce Cassidy’s Vegas Golden Knights lost eight of 10 games going into the All-Star break after leading the Pacific Division at the midway point of the NHL season.

They’re still safely in a playoff spot in the Western Conference, but they can’t keep it up.

“We’re still in a good position – that’s the way we look at it,” Cassidy said. “There’s not too many teams that can cruise home the last 30 games in this league, and we’re certainly not one of them.”

Cassidy’s old team, the Boston Bruins, probably could. They’re atop the NHL and running away with the Atlantic Division.

With 39 wins and 83 points through 51 games, Boston is on pace to break the record for the best regular season in NHL history. The Carolina Hurricanes, who beat Boston in seven games in the first round last year, are next in the standings at 76 points.

“Top to bottom, there’s no weaknesses,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said.

The Bruins are in a class of their own, but the playoff races behind them in the East and West should be hot down the stretch with roughly 30 games to go before the chase for the Stanley Cup begins.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

The Hurricanes rode a seven-game winning streak into the break, putting some fear into the Bruins in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy and home-ice advantage through the postseason. Winger Max Pacioretty re-tearing his right Achilles tendon five games into his return didn’t slow them down, and if their goaltending holds up, Carolina stands a good chance of reaching the East final.

“This team, it’s a special group of guys,” said Brind’Amour, who captained Carolina to the Cup in 2006 and is in his fifth year as coach. “We kind of show that nightly. It’s just very consistent, and they take their job real serious. They do it right.”

The second-place New Jersey Devils are contending for the first time since 2018. Bottoming out the next season helped them win the lottery for No. 1 pick Jack Hughes, a two-time All-Star who has them winning ahead of schedule.

“Much better than being out of the mix,” Hughes said. “We’re really excited because it’s going to be a lot of important hockey, and it’s going to be really competitive and we’re really pumped to be where we are.”

They’re followed by the New York Rangers, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Islanders. All three New York-area teams could make it, which was the expectation for the Rangers after reaching the East final last year.

“I think the run last year really taught us a few things and stuff that we obviously could build on for the rest of this year,” 2021 Norris-Trophy winning defenseman Adam Fox said.

ATLANTIC

The Rangers lost to the Lightning in six games last spring, when two-time champion Tampa Bay reached the Stanley Cup Final for the third consecutive season before getting beat by the Colorado Avalanche.

The Lightning are almost certain to face the Toronto Maple Leafs – who haven’t won a playoff series since the NHL salary cap era began in 2005 – in the first round and remain a threat to the Bruins.

But Boston has separated itself despite starting the season without top left winger Brad Marchand and No. 1 defenseman Charlie McAvoy. The Bruins have lost only 12 games under new coach Jim Montgomery.

“You just keep winning,” said All-Star right winger David Pastrnak, who’s tied for third in the league in scoring. “Every single line and every single guy is going and it obviously builds our confidence. It’s funny sometimes what confidence can do in hockey.”

The Islanders should have some more confidence after acquiring 30-goal scorer Bo Horvat from Vancouver, but still need to make up ground to get in.

CENTRAL

Defending champion Colorado climbed in the standings – winning seven of eight going into the break despite an injury-riddled first half of the season. Captain Gabriel Landeskog still has not made his season debut since undergoing knee surgery. It would be foolish to bet against the Avs coming out of the West again.

“It’s up to us: We control our own fate,” All-Star center Nathan MacKinnon said. “We need to definitely keep playing the way we were before the break. No matter who’s in the lineup we were playing well, playing hard, so it would definitely help with healthy bodies.”

They still trail the Dallas Stars, Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild in the Central, and the Nashville Predators are on their heels. Only the Stars and Jets are essentially guaranteed a spot.

“Every point, you grind for it,” Stars leading scorer Jason Robertson said. “Every point’s going to be a dog fight, so it’s going to be a fun 30 games down the stretch.”

PACIFIC

Undisputed MVP favorite Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, who were swept by Colorado in the West final, have a little bit of catching up to do in the Pacific Division.

The top spot is held by the Seattle Kraken, who surprisingly are on pace to make the playoffs in their second season but still need to fend off the Los Angeles Kings and the Vegas Golden Knights.

Edmonton – and the Battle of Alberta rival Calgary Flames – have the talent to not only get in but make a run. McDavid leads the league with 41 goals and 92 points, 16 more than No. 2 scorer and teammate Leon Draisaitl, and is producing unlike anyone since Hall of Famer Mario Lemieux in the mid-1990s.

Now he’ll try to carry the Oilers into the playoffs and beyond.

“It hasn’t been easy at all for our group. We’ve kind of had to battle for everything that we’ve got,” McDavid said. “We’ve always been a second-half team for whatever reason. Even since my first year, we’ve always been better in the second half, so we’ll definitely look to continue that. That being said, we’re not going to hang our hat on that and expect that to carry us to the playoffs. There’s a lot of work to be done.”

Capitals sign Sonny Milano to 3-year, $5.7 million extension

Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Washington Capitals signed winger Sonny Milano to a three-year extension worth $5.7 million.

General manager Brian MacLellan announced the contract, adding to an already busy All-Star break for taking care of future business. The Capitals extended forward Dylan Strome for five years, $25 million.

Like Strome, Milano has fit in as a new addition for Washington. He’s now set to count $1.9 million against the salary cap through the 2025-26 season.

The 26-year-old Milano has been a near-perfect bargain signing for the Capitals after joining them on an NHL veteran one-year deal after this season got underway. He has eight goals and 14 assists for 22 points in 40 games since getting called up from Hershey of the American Hockey League.

Originally drafted by the Columbus Blue Jackets 16th in 2014, Milano split his first eight seasons in the league with them and the Anaheim Ducks. He went unsigned as an unrestricted free agent last summer despite putting up 34 points in 66 games with Anaheim.