Memory of 2013 Cup Final defeat serving as motivation for Bruins veterans

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BOSTON — The TD Garden crowd were on their feet. The clock was ticking down as the Boston Bruins held a 2-1 lead. Corey Crawford rushed to the bench for the extra attacker with 1:29 to go in the the third period. Then, it happened…

Toews to Bickell. Score!

Bolland. Score!

In a matter of 17 seconds, the Bruins went from forcing a Game 7 in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final to losing the game and watching the Chicago Blackhawks celebrate on their ice.

The Bruins veteran core has been on both ends of a Stanley Cup Final resultTwo years before that stunning defeat they were parading the Cup around Rogers Arena after a Game 7 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Both nights were memorable for different reasons, but losing left them with a bigger learning experience.

“You realize when you get to this point how hard it actually is,” said Brad Marchand. “The longer you’ve been around the league, you look at some guys that have been around for a long time and how few opportunities you get. It’s extremely difficult to get to this point. You need everything to go your way. You need the calls, you need the bounces, you need guys to be healthy, guys step up at the right time all the way through the year. It’s extremely tough just to get to this point here, and to win is even harder than that. Once you lose you realize how close it is. You get a taste but you don’t get that victory, you don’t get to feel all those sensations of winning.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, and Tuukka Rask were on both of those teams and could get back that “sensation of winning” they all felt eight years ago if they were to win Wednesday night in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a grind and the payoff can be so great.

“You put everything on the line for two-and-a-half months to get to this point so you enjoy being in the moment and give everything you got,” said Bergeron.

The Bruins veterans have certainly reminded their teammates who have never reached this point to not take the experience for granted. Some of them may never get back to the Cup Final in their careers, so they have to savor the opportunity. Six years later, that core gets another crack to make more memories and move another championship ahead of that defeat in their memory banks.

“It’s extremely difficult, and unfortunately that’s the way it goes,” said Marchand. “Someone has to win, someone has to lose. It’s the best thing in the world for the team that wins and it sucks for the team that loses. Being on both sides of it, you realize how hard it is and just how s—– it is to lose. 

“That sticks with you forever. Winning and losing, it sticks with you forever. You don’t forget everything that happens when you win and definitely don’t forget what happens when you lose.”

Blues-Bruins Game 7 from TD Garden in Boston will be Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBC.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS COVERAGE:
Win or lose the Conn Smythe should belong to Rask
Stanley Cup photos inside Bruins’ dressing room serve as inspiration
How much it costs to attend Game 7 of Blues-Bruins
St. Louis newspaper gets roasted for ‘jinxing’ Blues before Game 6

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Elvis thrives: Merzlikins is on fire for Blue Jackets

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Elvis Merzlikins advanced a bold goal lately: to be more than just a funny name. He is leaving opponents all shook  up absolutely red-hot for the Columbus Blue Jackets right now.

Elvis absolutely hound-dogged shut out the New Jersey Devils in Columbus’ 5-0 on Saturday, and that 41-save performance was far from his first standout evening. Merzlikins generated three shutouts in his last four games, allowing just two goals overall. The Blue Jackets won all four of those games.

(OK, this post includes enough cheesy Elvis jokes … arguably.)

During seven appearances between October and November, the 25-year-old goalie languished with sub-.900 save percentages. Since then, he’s started to take off.

Some “too perfect” moments for Elvis Merzlikins and the Blue Jackets

Maybe Merzlikins made a New Year’s Eve resolution to dominate? Perhaps it was because Elvis asked reporters to leave him alone? Merzlikins suffered only two losses since Dec. 31, winning eight of 10 games.

The lights-out play already makes the story endearing, but there are notes of the surreal. Consider a few facts about his hot streak:

“That’s what you like about him. He’s strong mentally,” Tortorella said after the Jan. 11 Vegas shutout, via Rob Mixer of First Ohio Battery. “He’s a piece of work as far as his personality, which I like. A lot of things have been thrown at him here…but he’s handled himself really well. I’m happy for him.”

  • Merzlikins ended up making it back-to-back shutouts, as he also blanked the Bruins with a 34-save shutout. His three shutouts have upped the ante each time: first 27 saves, then 34, then 41 against the Devils on Saturday.

Tortorella deserves ample credit for creating a cocoon for his goalies, of course.

Regardless, Merzlikins is playing a big role in helping the Blue Jackets stay in the East wild-card races. Here’s hoping that our jokes rise up the charts or we might just need to leave the building.

(Sorry. I’m so, so sorry.)

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.

Hat trick helps Ovechkin pass Lemieux, tie Yzerman for ninth on NHL goals list

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An historic week for Alex Ovechkin was capped off with a hat trick Saturday afternoon during a 6-4 win over the Islanders. His three goals pushes him past Mario Lemieux and into ninth place with 692, tying him with Steve Yzerman.

Ovechkin opened the scoring and then passed Mario Lemieux for 10th all-time in the third period as the Capitals mounted their comeback. He ended his day with an empty-netter to seal the win and tie Yzerman. The Islanders led 4-1 entering the third period.

Powered by two consecutive hat tricks, Ovechkin has eight goals in his last three games and 10 in his previous six.

That’s now three consecutive multi-goal games for Ovechkin, the first time he’s done that in his career. Earlier this week he not only passed Teemu Selanne for 11th on the all-time goals list but also hit the 30-goal mark for the 15th time in his career. He, along with Jaromir Jagr and Mike Gartner, are the only players to ever record 15 consecutive 30-goal seasons.

With three goals Saturday — the third time he’s recorded hat tricks in consecutive games — Ovechkin now has 34 on the season as he eyes a ninth 50-goal season. His hat trick was the 26th of his NHL career, tying him with Maurice Richard for eighth all-time.

Next in Ovechkin’s sights? Mark Messier, who finished with 694 goals in his career.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Dallas Stars activated Stephen Johns before their game Saturday night in Minnesota, clearing the way for the defenseman’s first game in almost 22 months.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old Johns hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Panthers down another goalie, injured Driedger to miss weeks

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SUNRISE, Fla. (AP) — Florida goalie Chris Driedger will miss several weeks with what’s believed to be a groin injury, the latest health issue at that position for the Panthers.

The Panthers announced the diagnosis Saturday, calling it a lower-body injury.

Driedger was hurt midway through the first period of the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. He is 5-2-0 in nine appearances for Florida this season, with a 2.48 GAA.

The Panthers have also been without goalie Sergei Bobrovsky for much of January while he recovers from an upper-body injury.

Florida begins a stretch of six consecutive road games Saturday in Detroit. That six-game run also includes the All-Star break and the Panthers’ bye week.