Brandon Carlo

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How different will Bruins look next season?

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The Boston Bruins were within one win of taking home the Stanley Cup this year, but in the end it simply wasn’t meant to be. As disappointed as they must be, they still put together an incredible season and postseason in 2018-19, and they have something they can continue to build on in the near future.

Yes, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are both over 30 and, yes, Zdeno Chara is 42 years old, but there’s enough talent there that they may go on another championship push as soon as next season. General manager Don Sweeney will have to get creative in order to improve his team, but he’s found a way to add to this roster every year.

The Bruins have about $14.3 million in cap space heading into the offseason. Re-signing Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo will likely eat up a good chunk of those available funds though. They also have to decide whether or not they want to bring back Marcus Johansson, who they acquired from the New Jersey Devils right before the trade deadline. Danton Heinen will also be a restricted free agent, while Noel Acciari is scheduled to become a UFA on July 1st.

For Sweeney, the issue isn’t just re-signing potential free agents this year, it’s also about projecting ahead to next summer when Jake DeBrusk will be an RFA and when Torey Krug and Charlie Coyle will need new contracts. There was a lot of trade speculation around Krug throughout the season, but do the Bruins really want to move him after the postseason he just had? Probably not.

In the end, Sweeney can’t sit around and do nothing, and he probably won’t. So what can he do to make this group better?

Boston is set up in goal with Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Assuming McAvoy and Carlo are back, they’ll have eight defensemen under contract next season. So, unless Krug is moved, you’d have to think that they like the way their defense looks heading into next season.

One area where they can improve, is scoring depth. As we saw throughout the Stanley Cup Final, David Krejci and DeBrusk were relatively quiet. Krejci is now 33 years old, and he’s the highest paid forward on the team at $7.25 million (there are two years left on his deal).

Also, finding someone to take on David Backes‘ contract would be huge (two years remaining at a cap hit of $6 million). Sweeney would have to give up some kind of asset to make that happen though. Buying out Backes isn’t really an option, because he would cost $5.67 million on the cap next season and $3.67 million the year after that. They need someone to take him ofter their hands for a draft pick and/or a prospect.

If the Bruins can make the money work, they’ll likely be in the mix for a number of big-name free agents on July 1st. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them make a run at Matt Duchene, Jordan Eberle, or even Kevin Hayes, who is from Dorchester, Massachusetts. If they keep the perfection line together, they need to find a way to address the second line so that they can remove some of the scoring pressure on Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.

So there’s a good chance the Bruins will look similar to the group that just went to the Stanley Cup Final, but don’t be surprised if they add a piece or two up front in an attempt to get themselves over the hump next year.

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.

Stanley Cup Buzzer: Bruins, Blues are going to Game 7

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  • Don’t blame it on the jinx. Superstitions didn’t stump St. Louis; instead, it was superlative play from Tuukka Rask. He shut down the Blues while they really carried the play through the first 40 minutes of Game 6, and then the Bruins blew open what had been just a 1-0 game heading into the third period. Prepare for the agony and ecstasy of a Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final, hockey fans.

Boston Bruins 5, St. Louis Blues 1 (Series tied 3-3; Game 7 airs at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday [NBC; stream here])

This one was a lot closer than it indicated, and not just because Zdeno Chara scored an empty-netter for Boston. While Jordan Binnington was the star of Game 5 for St. Louis, Rask stole one (or at least two-thirds of this one) for Boston, and the Bruins ran away with the final frame to sap any drama from the latter stages of Sunday’s contest. Really, if you step back and look at the series, it only seems fitting that this one is going the distance.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Tuukka Rask

Even the one goal Rask allowed tells part of the story of his Game 6, as it initially looked like he made the save, by Ryan O'Reilly‘s attempt barely went over the red line.

Really, the Blues didn’t deserve to be shut out, not that goose eggs only happen by merit. They put forth a ferocious effort, although their special teams let them down at key times. Rask made 28 out of 29 saves in this one, although there was one close call that will really leave you scratching your head.

It’s tough to make a definitive argument for a specific Blues player to win the Conn Smythe, if they get it, as it’s been a team effort. The Bruins have enjoyed some nice performances from plenty of other cast members, but if a Boston player gets it, it’s going to Rask. He’s been dynamite.

[More on Rask’s big Game 6 performance.]

2. Brad Marchand

Consider this a collective award for “The Perfection Line.” Even with Patrice Bergeron failing to generate a point in Game 6, his effort was considerable, including six shots on goal.

It’s really a jump ball between Marchand and David Pastrnak, though, as both forwards ended Game 6 with a goal and an assist. For my money, Marchand’s goal was the most crucial of the contest. The Blues were really pouring it on, and the Bruins couldn’t squander a 5-on-3 power play opportunity. They didn’t, thanks to some great puck movement, and a nice finish by Marchand. That 1-0 goal wouldn’t serve as the game-winner, but Boston really needed it.

Marchand assisted on Pastrnak’s pretty 4-1 goal, which was a nice display of skill and poise, while throwing a bucket of ice water on any semblance of resistance after ROR shrunk Boston’s lead to a more tenable 3-1.

3. Charlie McAvoy

The second star basically went to two forwards, while the third goes to the overall Bruins’ defensive effort, personified most boldly by McAvoy.

Now, you could make an argument for Jake DeBrusk and the Bruins’ second line, as they made a difference in Game 6, with DeBrusk shining when things were tight. Other Bruins defensemen could jockey for the third billing; Chara scored that empty-netter and showed courage once again, while Brandon Carlo‘s bouncer was the GWG.

And, yes, a very cursory glance at McAvoy’s stats (zero points, what could have been a problematic penalty against Vladimir Tarasenko) wouldn’t impress.

If you dig deeper, you’ll realize how crucial McAvoy was. McAvoy really tilted the ice in his favor during his 25:22 TOI, including almost 21 minutes of tough five-on-five play. He was on the right end of the possession battle to an impressive extent; according to Natural Stat Trick, McAvoy was on the ice for 15 shots for and only six against at even-strength. McAvoy stands far above his other Bruins teammates in other, fancier measures, as well.

Oh yeah, and he also helped Rask keep that puck out – somehow – on that memorably batty play.

Hot take: the Bruins  better make sure they sign McAvoy, who’s a pending RFA.

Factoids

  • Being that the Blues had been swept in all of their previous Stanley Cup Final appearances, it’s redundant to say that this is new for them, and the Bruins have played in a Game 7 in a Stanley Cup Final. This is, however, new for Boston, as this is the first time the Bruins will host a Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final. Every other “Original Six” team has already hosted at least one Game 7 of a SCF.
  • Karson Kuhlman is the 21st different Bruins player to score at least one goal during this run. The Bruins have tied the 1987 Philadelphia Flyers for the record for most unique scorers during a single postseason. Clearly, Tuukka Rask needs to break the tie. (Sportsnet points out John Moore as a more realistic, less entertaining option.)
  • Speaking of Rask, Sportsnet notes that he has an absurd .966 save percentage on the road during his last seven road playoff games.
  • Torey Krug has six points during this Round 4 series. Only one other Bruins defenseman has generated more points during a Stanley Cup Final series: Bobby Orr scored eight in 1972 and seven in 1974.
  • The Bruins are now 25-1 in playoff games when Brad Marchand scores a goal. His seven goals in Stanley Cup Final games (19 games played) ties Marchand for second all-time among Bruins, with Orr (eight goals in 16 GP) and Johnny Bucyk (eight goals in 24 GP) tied for first. Marchand is currently tied with Wayne Cashman, who generated seven goals in 26 games.

How to watch Game 7

Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday (stream here).

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.

St. Louis newspaper gets roasted for ‘jinxing’ Blues before Game 6

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Sunday night wasn’t just a tough night for Jordan Binnington and the St. Louis Blues.

People are also giving The St. Louis Dispatch grief for “jinxing” the Blues. Apparently, in the electronic version of the newspaper, an ad was accidentally included that prematurely celebrated a Stanley Cup victory. Yeah.

The advertisement was for Enterprise, and included a letter from Blues chairman and governor Tom Stillman thanking fans. Pretty standard stuff … as long as the championship victory, you know, happens. ESPN’s Randy Scott shared screen grabs of the advertisement, which was originally pointed out by protected Twitter user Rob Heaton:

(That cupholder bit from the Martin Brodeur commercial apparently has some legs …)

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch apologized for the mishap on Twitter, and seemed to lean into it with some humor by calling it a “sneak peek.”

Unfortunately for the Blues and the newspaper, the Bruins won Game 6 by a score of 5-1 on Sunday. Earlier on when the mistake was first noted by people like Heaton, the reactions were mainly filed away and grumbled upon by the more superstitious among the Blues fans. After St. Louis, lost though … well, you know the drill if you’ve been on the Internet during the past few years: the anger ramped up, and in some cases got a little weird. Yes, the tired hashtag “#FakeNews” showed up more than once.

Luckily, most of the reactions amounted to good-spirited ribbing, though:

It’s only a matter of time before Wendy’s weighs in, too, right?

Of course, the people at the Post-Dispatch didn’t make Brandon Carlo‘s shot take that funny bounce. They didn’t inspire Tuukka Rask to play an outstanding game.

And, honestly, it’s surprising this sort of thing doesn’t happen more often. Mistakes happen, and wires can get crossed, particularly when you’re putting out multiple versions of a newspaper or other publication.

Either way, they’re likely really hoping the Blues win Game 7 at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday (NBC; stream here).

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.

Bruins push Stanley Cup Final to Game 7 by beating Blues

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After Jordan Binnington stole Game 5 for the Blues, Tuukka Rask did the same for the Bruins in Game 6. With that, hockey fans get the ultimate treat: the 2019 Stanley Cup Final is going to Game 7 (8 p.m. ET on NBC on Wednesday; stream here).

If you look at the final score (Bruins won 5-1), you’d probably assume that Boston dominated with its season on the line. Instead, the Blues put forth a pretty stellar effort, at least when Game 6 was still in question.

Tuukka Rask needed to be brilliant, particularly through the first 40 minutes, as the Blues dominated puck possession in Boston’s zone. Despite the disparity in play, Brad Marchand‘s 1-0 tally on a 5-on-3 power play was the only goal of the first two periods.

Binnington really wasn’t awful, for the most part, in Game 6. Instead, the Bruins were able to make some great plays and great shots, with Karson Kuhlman‘s milestone goal being an example of just fantastic puck placement. That said, the margin of error is tiny at this level, and Brandon Carlo‘s goal will haunt Binnington, and not just because it would eventually count as the game-winner:

Rask allowed one goal by red-hot Ryan O'Reilly, and even then, it barely beat the fantastic Finn. That tally shrunk the Bruins’ lead to 3-1, but David Pastrnak‘s high-skill goal made it 4-1, sapping any strength from a Blues comeback bid. Meanwhile, the fifth goal of the game was an empty-netter, and Zdeno Chara did the honors.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Blues fans chanted “We Want the Cup” during the waning seconds of Game 6, and you can understand why fans aren’t just faking some optimism. After all, this Blues team has earned the moniker of “road warriors” with the way they’ve been able to win so many tough, big games away from St. Louis.

They’ve never experienced a Game 7 for all the marbles, though.

Quite a few key Bruins have been there, winning in 2011, although that was in front of an explosively angry Vancouver crowd. You’ll surely hear about the experience edge as Wednesday’s Game 7 approaches, yet if the Blues bring this kind of effort again, it will be anyone’s Game 7.

St. Louis might need Binnington to match Rask to finally win that first-ever Stanley Cup, though.

Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday (stream here).

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.

Stanley Cup Final: Looking at Bruins’ potential defensive options for Game 5

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Monday’s Game 4 loss to the St. Louis Blues was already the second time in the Stanley Cup Final that the Boston Bruins have had to finish a game with only five healthy defenders.

And for the second time they were on the losing end of the decision thanks in part to their shorthanded lineup.

In Game 2, it was Matt Grzelcyk that was sidelined after he was on the receiving end of an illegal check that kept him out of Games 3 and 4 of the series, while also resulting in a one-game suspension for Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.

In Game 4 it was veteran Zdeno Chara exiting the game after he was hit in the face by a Brayden Schenn shot that deflected off of Chara’s own stick. Even though he returned to the bench wearing a full face-shield for the entire third period, he never took another shift and was unavailable the entire time.

The status of both players remains very much in doubt for Game 5 of the series on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC) when it shifts back to Boston. That could be a huge problem for the Bruins.

It is still possible that one — or both — could be available, but that is still a huge unknown at this point and there is still the possibility that neither could be in the lineup. That is the potential doomsday scenario for the Bruins.

If there is one thing that can be said about this Bruins team it’s that they have done a remarkable job overcoming injuries all season, and it might be one of the most impressive aspects of their regular season record and run to the Stanley Cup Final. They have spent a significant portion of the season playing without some of their best players (often at the same time) and still managed to finish with one of the league’s best records. When everyone (or at least most of their lineup) is healthy they have looked like a powerhouse team that can be nearly impossible to beat.

They just haven’t always had that luxury, and when they haven’t they have at times looked vulnerable.

Especially when the injuries come on their blue line.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

If Chara and Grzelcyk are unable to go that would mean the Bruins would be without two of their top-five defenders from the regular season in terms of ice-time.

That is a situation they found themselves in for 26 games during the regular season where at least two of Chara, Grzcelcyk, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, or Brandon Carlo (their top-five defenders in ice-time) were out of the lineup. For one seven-game stretch in late November they were actually without three of them. While they remained competitive throughout all of that, they were pretty close to a .500 team in those 26 games with a 13-10-3 record.

Pretty good considering the circumstances, but obviously not anywhere near as dominant as they were when everyone was healthy.

When all five are in the lineup, including playoffs, the Bruins are 25-10-4.

Here’s the good news, such as it is, for the Bruins if Chara and/or Grzelcyk miss any additional team: They still have their best and most important defenders in the lineup in McAvoy and Krug. Those are the players that really drive the Bruins’ defense at this point and can make the biggest impact. They are the best skaters, the best puck-movers, the best ones at jumping into the play and joining the rush, and the ones that can most impact the team’s transition game. Carlo, for whatever shortcomings he might have with the puck, is also still one of their better defensive players.

We already looked at the depth issues associated with Grzelyck’s absence before Game 3, and taking Chara out of the mix only adds to them even if he is no longer one of their most impactful players.

Chara is one of the best defenders of his generation, but at age 42 he is a shell of his former dominant self. He can still be useful, he can he still be strong on the penalty kill, and he is still a huge presence (quite literally) on and off the ice. But he is no longer one of the players driving the bus for this team. The fact the Bruins will still have the players that are doing that is going to help as Bruce Cassidy can still lean on them.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be issues.

For one, none of the potential options are better than Chara and Grzelcyk. If they were, they would already be playing, and anytime you get down to the seventh or eighth defenders on your depth chart you are starting to get into a tough spot.

One option that Cassidy talked about on Tuesday is potentially using seven defenders in Game 5.

“Well, the back end could have a domino effect,” said Cassidy when asked about potential lineup decisions. “Again, speculation, I hate doing this, but if we are out two D, [Grzelcyk and Chara], we might have to play seven defensemen. Putting guys in that haven’t played a ton. Maybe you’ve got to look at how does this best work out to use a guy situationally, take Z’s PK minutes, if the other guys match up, which of course would be reaching into an area that a young kid hasn’t played in the Playoffs at all. You have to be careful there. Forwards, I think we can manage. We’ve used different guys, double-shifted throughout the year. So that part doesn’t worry me as much as how is it going to affect the young kid coming out of the lineup. We’ve plugged a D in, it’s worked well for us so far. That’s the other option. I don’t think we’ll go any other route. We’ve gone this far. Those are our options right now. That’s dictated by health right now.”

With veteran John Moore playing Games 3 and 4 he would obviously be a candidate to remain in the lineup if one of Grzlecyk or Chara can not go. If they are both out, and the Bruins opt to go with seven defenders, their remaining options would include veteran Steve Kampfer and rookies Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jakub Zboril. None of the rookies have ever played in a single playoff game and have just 20 regular season games between them.

Throwing one of them right into a Stanley Cup Final game would be a massive jump, especially since none of them have played an NHL game of any kind anytime recently.

The idea of seven defenders is a tough one because it can create a lot of problems.

On one hand when you are already deep into your depth chart and short on players it doesn’t seem to make a ton sense to play MORE of your defenders that aren’t good enough to crack your regular lineup. It also shortens your forward lineup and takes out a player that is probably better and more useful than the extra defender you are putting in the lineup (which forward do you want to scratch if you are the Bruins? Nobody deserves it).

But doing so could give Cassidy and his coaching staff the option to limit who plays in what situations, putting them into positions where they can succeed and don’t risk having their flaws as exposed (like penalty kill situations, for example, or defensive zone starts against the Blues’ top line).

In the end it is a potentially difficult situation for the Bruins to navigate, and one that could significantly impact the outcome of the series.

If neither one can go none of their options are particularly good ones. Their best hope is that both are, somehow, healthy enough to play.

Game 5 of Blues-Bruins is Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC from TD Garden in Boston

MORE BLUES-BRUINS:
Bruins confident they can overcome injuries 
Chara’s status for Game 5 unknown
Chara bloodied after taking puck to face

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.