Brandon Carlo

Puncher’s chance: Fighting is up during unique NHL playoffs

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The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season was hanging by a thread from one of Jason Spezza‘s gloves when he dropped them to the ice to fight Dean Kukan.

”I just tried to spark the guys, just trying to show some desperation and have some push-back,” Spezza said after Toronto’s emotional comeback victory against Columbus he played a substantial role in. ”Without the crowd you don’t have that, so just trying to create some emotion.”

Spezza versus Kukan was fight No. 8 in the first week of the NHL playoffs, almost triple the total from the entire 2019 postseason combined.

Fighting has decreased drastically in recent years, especially in the playoffs when every shift matters, but the unique circumstances of hockey’s restart – several months off, empty arenas and more intense best-of-five series – have ratcheted up the fisticuffs in the battle for the Stanley Cup.

”Guys are full of energy, and there’s guys walking the line a little bit more,” New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz said. ”In a short series, I think guys are looking to change momentum. … When a guy’s coming at you and intense, you’re being intense back, and when those two sparks collide, sometimes there’s fire. We’ve seen a couple of scraps and some have been game-changing.”

Spezza’s bout changed Game 4 of Toronto-Columbus, much like Justin Williams fighting Ryan Strome less than three minutes into the first NHL game since March set a tone for Carolina’s sweep of the New York Rangers.

Sometimes it hasn’t worked out so well, such as Winnipeg defenseman Nathan Beaulieu challenging 6-foot-3, 231-pound Calgary forward Milan Lucic 2 seconds into the game that wound up being the Jets’ last of the season.

”You understand what Nate’s trying to do: He’s trying to show that they’re ready to play and they’re not going to go down without a fight,” Lucic said. ”For me, you just want to show that you’re ready to play and you’re not going to back down from their push, no matter if it’s a fight or whatever.”

Four months of built-up testosterone might explain some of this, though the reasons behind each fight have varied. Jets captain Blake Wheeler fought Matthew Tkachuk after the hard-nosed Flames winger injured Mark Scheifele on a hit that was either a terrible accident or a ”filthy, dirty kick,” depending on who’s being asked.

Wheeler conceded he didn’t even see the play but felt the need to defend a teammate. Five-foot-nine Boston defenseman Torey Krug did the same after Tampa Bay forward Blake Coleman hit Brandon Carlo in open ice when those division rivals met in a seeding game.

Fight first, ask questions later.

”You see a lot of fights right after good hits, clean hits, hard hits, and you see a lot of them after questionable hits and you see a lot of them after obviously head shots,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”That’s become the norm a bit in hockey now where players kind of react to a hit that they don’t see 100 percent of it.”

In other cases, emotions just boil over. It happened twice in four games between Minnesota and Vancouver, including the opening minutes of Game 4 when Ryan Hartman and Jake Virtanen squared off. Hartman did his best to get under opponents’ skin from the series opener when he grabbed Canucks forward Micheal Ferland‘s stick while sitting on the bench.

There weren’t a whole lot of friendships forged as the Canucks eliminated the Wild in four games, or almost anywhere in the qualifying round. Old friends Tampa Bay and Washington renewed pleasantries when Yanni Gourde fought T.J. Oshie, and that bad blood won’t be forgotten if they meet later in the playoffs.

Rivalries will continue to emerge, so don’t expect the gloves to stay on as the stakes get higher.

”Guys are playing the game purely and for the love of the game and you see how much they love it and how much they want to win,” Calgary coach Geoff Ward said. ”Saying that, there could be a potential for more. But I think that’s just an indication of how much guys are willing to do whatever it takes to shift momentum in a hockey game and you try to help get a win.”

Crosby, Ovechkin among NHL stars helping CCM donate 500,000 surgical masks

CCM plans to donate 500,000 surgical masks for COVID-19 healthcare workers
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Hockey equipment company CCM announced plans to donate 500,000 surgical masks to healthcare workers. CCM states that they hope to donate the surgical masks “as early as the week of April 27.” They also stated that Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, and other CCM endorsers helped make the donation possible.

“By teaming up with our roster of CCM athletes, we will be able to play a role in the collaborative effort to get past this crisis,” CCM Hockey CEO Rick Blackshaw said in a statement. “We focused on the best use of our network and our resources to have the quickest impact. Sourcing greatly needed equipment through our established supply chain partners in Asia is the most efficient way for us to support and keep our real heroes safe.”

CCM revealed the list of hockey players involved in the initiative: Mathew Barzal, Patrice Bergeron, Brock Boeser, Dani Cameranesi, Brandon Carlo, Thomas Chabot, Kendall Coyne Schofield, Sidney Crosby, Melodie Daoust, Alex DeBrincat, Brianna Decker, Matt Duchene, Matt Dumba, Marc-Andre Fleury, Filip Forsberg, Jake Gardiner, Miro Heiskanen, Filip Hronek, Jonathan Huberdeau, Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Charlie McAvoy, Connor McDavid, Alex Ovechkin, Artemi Panarin, Carey Price, Vladimir Tarasenko, and John Tavares.

CCM’s plan to donate surgical masks adds to list of contributions from hockey world

This continues atrend of hockey teams, players, and companies contributing in different ways to help people during the coronavirus crisis.

Bauer recently announced its own initiatives (with help from Jack Eichel) involving manufacturing face shields. Bauer even provided instructions on how to make the shields on their website. Mary-Kay Messier explained Bauer’s plans during a recent episode of the Our Line Starts podcast.

Earlier this month, Islanders players helped to donate more than 3,000 N-95 masks to assist local causes.

NHL teams have also taken measures to pay employees during the coronavirus pause, among other meaningful efforts.

None of this erases the sacrifices healthcare workers are making. And this still figures to be a lengthy, difficult process. But it’s fantastic to see many in the hockey world rise to the occasion, CCM included.

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.

What is the long-term outlook for the Bruins?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Boston Bruins.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Bruins have two big things going for them to maintain a pretty big window for Stanley Cup contention.

The most important is that they have a great core of talent to build around in David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, David Krejci, and Brandon Carlo.

Along with that is the fact they have a significant portion of their team signed long-term on deals that not only have term, but are also below market value. Nobody on the team carries a salary cap hit of greater than $7.25 million (Krejci) while only two players (Krejci and starting goalie Tuukka Rask) count for more than $7 million against the cap in a single season.

The quartet of Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak, and McAvoy, for example, takes up less than $25 million in salary cap space per season through the end of the 2021-22 season. That not only keeps a tremendous group of players together, it gives the team the type of salary cap flexibility it needs to build a powerhouse team around them. The Bruins have done exactly that.

Their big challenges this offseason are going to be re-signing UFA defenseman Torey Krug — one of their top blue-liners — and securing a new contract for restricted free agent forward Jake DeBrusk, currently one of their top complementary players. Because they are getting such bargains at the top of their lineup they should have the salary cap space to make it work.

Krug will definitely be the biggest challenge (especially if there is pressure to keep him around the $6.5 million mark that everyone else in their core currently makes) but there is room.

Long-term needs

It might seem like an outrageous thing to say right now given the way the team is built, but it is really tempting to put goaltending as a long-term question.

Right now the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak is as good as it gets in the NHL. They are both outstanding and capable of being No. 1 starters in the league, while Rask has been one of the league’s elites for most of his career. But there is some uncertainty beyond this season. For one, Halak is one of the Bruins’ biggest unrestricted free agents after this season so there is no guarantee that he returns. But there is also the fact that Rask recently hinted at the possibility of potentially retiring after next season (via the Boston Globe). Still a lot of unknowns there and a situation to keep an eye on in the future.

Beyond that, depth might be the other big long-term issue.

If they are unable to re-sign Krug that would love a pretty massive hole on their blue line, and there is going to come a point where Zdeno Chara is no longer part of this team. That is half of your top-four and would be an awful lot to replace at one time if neither one is there beyond this season.

Long-term strengths

It kind of relates to everything mentioned in the core part, but they have some of the league’s best players at forward signed for multiple seasons at below market contracts.

The trio of Pastrnak-Bergeron-Marchand is one of the best lines in the entire league. Individually, they are all among the top-20 players in the league. Together, they are almost unstoppable.

On the blue line, McAvoy and Carlo are both already outstanding defensemen and are just now starting to hit their prime years in the NHL.

Basically, the Bruins have the most important pieces for sustained success already in place (superstar forwards and young top-pairing defensemen), have them all signed long-term, and they are mostly at points in their career where they should still have several elite seasons ahead of them. The Bruins have been one of the league’s top-four teams for three years in a row now and there is no sign that they are going to drop off from that level anytime soon.

 

MORE:
• Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins
Bruins surprises and disappointments

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.

Looking at the 2019-20 Boston Bruins

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the Boston Bruins.

Boston Bruins

Record: 44-14-12 (70 games), first in the Atlantic Division, first in the Eastern Conference
Leading scorer: David Pastrnak — 95 points (48 goals and 47 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves:

• Acquired Ondrej Kase from the Anaheim Ducks for David Backes, Axel Andersson, 2020 first-round pick
• Traded Danton Heinen to the Anaheim Ducks for Nick Ritchie

Season Overview: 

There isn’t much to complain about this season if you’re a fan of the Bruins. Not only did they have the best record in the Atlantic Division, they were also the top team in the Eastern Conference and they were the only squad to hit the 100-point mark at the COVID-19 pause.

After losing in the Stanley Cup Final last year, it appeared as though they’d be back there in 2020. Whether or not that happens remains to be seen, but this edition of the Bruins was impressive.

It’s easy to see why Boston was so good this year. Sure, most fans feel like they’re still missing a second-line forward to complete their team, but you know you’re in good shape when that’s all you’re really missing on your roster.

In goal, they arguably have the best one-two punch in the league with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Is that a luxury they’ll be able to afford next year? Probably not. But they were both rock-solid throughout the season. Rask went into the pause with a 26-8-6 record, a 2.12 goals-against-average and a .929 save percentage. As for Halak, he had an 18-6-6 record, a 2.39 goals-against-average and a .919 save percentage. Impressive.

The defence is balanced. They have Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk. Each one of those five has played at least 61 of the team’s 70 games this season. The group might not be together next year, as Krug is scheduled to become a free agent, but they were impressive heading into the pause.

And, of course, up front they had some of the elite offensive talent in the NHL. Pastrnak finds himself in third in league scoring with 95 points. He’s also tied for first in goals, with 48. He’s emerged as one of the premiere forwards in the NHL and he’s signed to a very reasonable contract of $6.6666 million per year for three more years.

Pastrnak was a big part of the Bruins’ success, but he had help. Brad Marchand has 87 points in 70 games at the pause and Patrice Bergeron is up to 31 goals and 56 points in 61 contests.

How far can the Bruins go? Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t. But there’s no denying this was an elite team in 2019-20.

Highlight of the Season So Far:

There were many highlights for the Bruins this season, but putting up eight goals on your biggest rivals’ rink has to be right up there.

On Nov. 26, Boston beat Montreal, 8-1, at the Bell Center. Pastrnak had a hat trick, Marchand had three points and Bergeron didn’t even play.

MORE:
Bruins’ biggest surprises, disappointments
What is the Bruins’ long-term outlook?

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins visit Red Wings on NBC

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

After beating Buffalo on Thursday to snap a nine-game losing streak, the Red Wings lost 2-0 at Columbus on Friday. Detroit was outshot 44-16 against Columbus, the second time in the past three games that the Red Wings have been held to just 16 shots. They have now been shut out in three of their last four games.

The Red Wings, perennial contenders during their recent 25-season playoff streak, are headed towards missing the postseason for the fourth straight year. They are currently in their longest playoff drought since 1979 to 1983, when they missed the postseason in five straight seasons.

The Bruins have won six straight games, outscoring their opponents 21-7. It is their third winning streak of at least six games this season. They have the best defense in the NHL this season, allowing 2.38 goals/game. They have allowed two or fewer goals in each of their last six games during this current winning streak.

David Pastrnak has 38 goals this season (3rd in NHL). However, Pastrnak has just one goal in his last six games as he looks to become the first Bruin to score 40 goals in a season since Glen Murray in 2002-03 (44 goals). Pastrnak, who held a four-goal lead over Auston Matthews as the top scorer in the league on January 12, now sits two goals behind both Matthews and Alex Ovechkin (40 goals).

With Tuukka Rask playing against Arizona on Saturday, Jaroslav Halak is set to start against Detroit. Halak has been excellent as Rask’s backup, going 14-6-6 with a 2.36 GAA and .921 SV% this season.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12:30 P.M. ET ON NBC]

WHAT: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings
WHERE: Little Caesars Arena
WHEN: Sunday, Feb. 9, 12:30 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Bruins-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS
Brad MarchandPatrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciKarson Kuhlman
Sean KuralyCharlie CoyleAnders Bjork
Anton BlidhPar LindholmChris Wagner

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykJohn Moore

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

RED WINGS
Justin AbdelkaderDylan LarkinRobby Fabbri
Tyler BertuzziValtteri FilppulaBrendan Perlini
Taro Hirose – Andreas AthanasiouLuke Glendening
Adam ErneChristoffer EhnGivani Smith

Patrik NemethAlex Biega
Madison BoweyFilip Hronek
Trevor Daley – Gustav Lindstrom

Starting goalie: Jonathan Bernier

Mike Emrick and Brian Boucher will call the matchup from Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich. Kathryn Tappen hosts studio coverage with Mike Milbury and Keith Jones.