Chris Wagner

Bruins’ fourth line continuing to shine during Stanley Cup run

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BOSTON — It was an eighth straight win for the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night, and it was another game where the fourth line contributed heavily.

The Bruins’ “Perfection Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak received deserved attention entering the series against the St. Louis Blues, but Boston is three wins away from another title because of their depth. From that depth has come the production from Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom, who make up two-thirds of the fourth line in the absence of injured Chris Wagner, who’s been replaced by Noel Acciari.

“It’s unbelievable,” said forward Marcus Johansson after Game 1. “And I think everyone says this, but one of the strengths of this team is that we have four lines that can produce at any given time and on any given night. What a better time to do it than tonight. It’s not just that they scored the goals, they led the group to taking the game over and playing more physical, and that’s what led us to winning this game.”

Monday night it was Kuraly, who was acquired in the Martin Jones trade in 2015, who broke the 2-2 tie 5:21 into the third period to give the Bruins the lead for the first time. Kuraly also had the primary assist on Connor Clifton‘s tying goal 1:16 after Vladimir Tarasenko gave the Blues a 2-0 lead early in the second period.

The goal was another big moment for the 26-year-old Kuraly, who has a knack for this kind of stuff. According to the NHL, nine of his 21 career goals have either tied the game (3) or ended up as the winner.

The production of the fourth line brings back memories of 2011 and the famed “Merlot Line” of Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell. Named after the color of their practice jerseys, the trio combined for 29 goals and 62 points during the regular season and another four goals and 11 points during their run to the Cup that spring.

“That line was huge for us the one year and even in playoffs came in and scored some big goals and [provided us] some momentum that we needed at times during games,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s a fair comparison when you look at Sean and his line, what they’ve been able to do for us night in, night out, and stepping up in big moments. They’ve been doing it since the start of the year and they just keep showing up for us.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The trio, which had included Wagner before he broke his hand in the Eastern Conference Final, has produced regularly, with Kuraly leading the way with three goals and seven points. The line can do it all. They skate well, forecheck well, move the puck well, and their teammates continually say they wouldn’t be playing at this point of the season without them.

“I wouldn’t want to play against that line nor any other line on our team,” said Clifton.

The fourth line has been shining all postseason and now that that’s continuing as the spotlight gets brighter and brighter, their teammates are happy to share in the attention.

“I think a lot of times you overlook those type of players or lines,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, “how big they play, especially during the season, they not necessarily get on the scoresheet, but they do so much for the team besides scoring. It’s great they’re getting recognition and a lot of credit because in the playoffs you have to rely on [those lines].”

Blues-Bruins Game 2 is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET from TD Garden on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Stanley Cup Buzzer: Kuraly, Bruins overwhelm Blues

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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.

Bruins hope to have a healthy Chara for Stanley Cup Final

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BOSTON (AP) — The Bruins were able to sweep Carolina in the Eastern Conference final without captain Zdeno Chara.

Now they’re hoping 10 days off before the start of the Stanley Cup Final will be enough time for the defenseman to return.

The title round begins May 27 when Boston will face San Jose or St. Louis, with that conference final 2-2. The Bruins completed their sweep Thursday with Chara out with an undisclosed injury.

”We have a lot of time to make the absolute right decision to give him the proper time to get over something that’s been nagging him,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Saturday. ”And we’ll cross our fingers that will be the case. But we’re confident it will be.”

Sweeney stopped short of guaranteeing Chara’s return for Game 1.

”I’m not living in how or where Zee feels. I expect he’ll be fine,” Sweeney said. ”But I’m not going to sit here and make a proclamation in terms of promises. I do believe that time will be used effectively and he’ll be fine. But sometimes those are out of your control.”

Defenseman Kevan Miller and forward Chris Wagner are doubtful for Game 1 of the Final. Miller hasn’t played since April 4 because of a lower-body injury. Wagner injured his right arm blocking a shot in Game 3 against Carolina.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

Rask’s roll has Bruins a win away from Stanley Cup Final

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Tuukka Rask is stopping just about any puck playoff opponents can shoot his way – even the ones he doesn’t see.

The goaltender has been dominant in the Boston Bruins’ six-game postseason winning streak that has them on the doorstep of the Stanley Cup Final. Just don’t expect him to make any grand declaration of being ”in the zone” as he makes stop after stop in these playoffs.

He’s confident and comfortable. Leave it at that.

”I’ve felt good for many, many months,” Rask said. ”It’s just the way when you’re seeing the puck, when you feel comfortable. It’s about timing and patience and all that. I think experience helps that. … The way I usually want to play, I want to play calm and make myself look big and maybe even tough chances, try to make it look easy kind of.

”So if that’s in the zone, then so be it. But I just try to be focused and give us a chance.”

That’s exactly what Rask has been doing, too, in helping the Bruins to a 3-0 lead on the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final. Boston goes for the sweep Thursday night in Raleigh.

The 32-year-old Finnish netminder has stopped 85 of 90 shots in the first three games of the series with the Hurricanes, who have just been unable to solve Rask even when getting a handful of open-net chances. He’s allowed nine goals amid 205 shots in the six-game streak, good for a .956 save percentage and a 1.5 goals-against average.

Overall, he’s second in the playoffs for save percentage (.939) and goals-against average (1.96) while posting a playoff-best 11 victories in 16 games.

”He looks super calm right now,” said Carolina defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who spent three seasons as Rask’s teammate with the Bruins. ”We have to do a better job of getting in his face and making it harder on him. I mean, if he’s going to see it, he’s going to stop it, so we’ve got to get some sloppy stuff around the net.”

Yet it didn’t matter what the Hurricanes did Tuesday night in an all-out attack on Rask to start the game. They couldn’t zip or slip one by him.

Rask stopped 20 first-period shots – 20! – and ensured the Bruins went into the first intermission in a scoreless game despite the Hurricanes carrying play in front of a rowdy crowd that had helped Carolina go 5-0 at home in the postseason to that point.

That included one sequence roughly three minutes in when Rask stopped Nino Niederreiter‘s tip, Micheal Ferland‘s putback at the crease and Justin Williams‘ follow-up try despite Rask losing his stick. There was another Williams rebound that wasn’t officially counted as a shot on goal,, too. It was a harrowing few seconds for Boston coach Bruce Cassidy, who quipped: ”I might have had my eyes closed for three of them.”

”He’s been dialed in” since the start of the playoffs, Cassidy said. ”He’s been excellent. He really hasn’t had a poor night. He’s had a couple that were, I’d say, above average and the rest have been very good. Tonight the first period was excellent.”

That gave the Bruins a chance to regroup, then come out and score twice in the second period to take control.

Sure, Rask caught a break when Carolina’s Teuvo Teravainen missed a wide-open net in the opening minute when the goalie fell trying to slide across the crease. And Rask said there were shots that he never spotted until the puck hit him.

”There’s a couple of chances I didn’t see in the first period,” he said. ”A lot of times, if you don’t see it and don’t move, you’re going to have a better shot at saving it than if you would move too much.”

Then again, when a goaltender is playing as well as Rask is, sometimes he makes his own luck.

”He’s always given us a chance to win,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said. ”That being said, right now he’s definitely in the zone and doing some amazing stuff.”

NOTES: Cassidy said fourth-line winger Chris Wagner has returned to Boston for further testing and will not play in Game 4. Wagner, who scored the Bruins’ first goal in Game 3, hurt his right arm while blocking a shot late in the third period. … Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said Curtis McElhinney would ”probably” make his second straight start in goal. Petr Mrazek started the Hurricanes’ first nine playoff games but allowed 10 goals in the first two games of this series.

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

The Playoff Buzzer: Rask keeps dominating, Hurricanes special teams keep struggling

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  • Tuukka Rask is the difference in the Eastern Conference Final.
  • The Carolina Hurricanes’ special teams is also a factor … a negative one for them.
  • David Krejci reaches a personal postseason milestone for the Bruins.

Boston Bruins 2, Carolina Hurricanes 1 (BOS leads series 3-0)

There are two very big factors for the Boston Bruins’ commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final.

The obvious one is the play of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask because he has been, in a word, dominant, and he was at his best in the Bruins’ 2-1 Game 3 win on Tuesday night.

The other factor is the fact that Boston’s special teams has completely taken over the series. Carolina had struggled on both the power play and penalty kill in the first two rounds and entered the series near the bottom of the league in both categories in the playoffs. Things have not gotten much better against the Bruins.

After Tuesday’s 0-for-5 night on the power play (including a first period two-man advantage where they did not score), the Hurricanes are just 1-for-12 in the series and have already given up five power play goals to the Bruins on 12 attempts. That is not going to get the job done at this point in the playoffs. Or at any point, really.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. Simply the best player on the ice. He stopped 34 of the 35 shots he faced and is now up to a .939 save percentage in the playoffs. He kept the Bruins in the game early in the first period when they were getting outshot by a 20-6 margin, holding off the Hurricanes’ initial surge just long enough for the Bruins to finally strike first early in the second period. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said after the game this is some of the best hockey he has ever seen Rask play. You will not see goaltending much better than this from anyone.

2. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. He struck again for the Bruins to record his sixth goal and 16th point of the playoffs. His power play goal in the second period goes in the books as the game-winner, which is now his second of the playoffs. Dislike him all you want, he is one of the absolute best players in the NHL and a constant force on the ice.

3. Chris Wagner, Boston Bruins. The Bruins’ fourth line started the scoring early in the second period when Wagner scored his second goal of the series. The unit was strong all night long for the Bruins and continued what has been a solid showing all postseason. The only downside of the night for Wagner and the Bruins is that he exited the game in the third period after blocking a shot and the immediate response from Cassidy after the game did not sound optimistic.

Highlights of the Night

Wagner’s goal came off of a pretty passing play by the Bruins’ fourth line. When you are getting play like this from your bottom line you are going to be in a pretty good position.

Marchand got a little bit of a lucky break on his goal in the second period, but sometimes you need that in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to get the win.

Here is a brief collection of some of Rask’s best saves on the night.

Factoids

  • The Bruins’ Game 3 win was their sixth in a row, tied for the third-longest postseason winning streak in franchise history. [NHL PR]
  • David Krejci recorded his 100th career postseason point for the Bruins, tying him for third on the franchise’s all-time playoff scoring leaderboard. [NHL PR]
  • Rask became the first goalie since Tim Thomas in 2011 to stop at least 20 shots in a postseason period. [NHL PR]
  • This was the Bruins’ 60th win of the season, including regular season and playoffs, the eighth time in franchise history they have accomplished such a feat. [NHL PR]
  • The Bruins are one win away from what would be their 20th appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. [NHL PR]

Wednesday’s schedule

Game 3: San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream) (Series Tied 1-1)

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.

Bruins top Hurricanes to take commanding 3-0 series lead

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In the end the goaltending change really didn’t matter much for the Carolina Hurricanes, mostly because the goalie at the end of the ice — Boston’s Tuukka Rask — continued his brilliant postseason performance to help lift the Bruins to a 2-1 Game 3 win.

You might even go as far as to say that Rask stole this one.

The Bruins now have a commanding 3-0 lead in the Eastern Conference Final and will have a chance to end it on Thursday night to clinch first Stanley Cup Final appearance since the 2012-13 season.

It had to be a bad omen for the Hurricanes on Tuesday when they dominated the first period and had absolutely nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

Teuvo Teravainen missed a wide open net in the game’s first minute, the power play continued to struggle and failed to capitalize on an extended 5-on-3 advantage, and when they did create a great scoring chance and get the puck on net Rask was nearly unbeatable in the Boston crease.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

After mostly sleepwalking through the first period, the Bruins were able to strike for the game’s first goal just 1:21 into the second period when Chris Wagner scored his second goal of the playoffs.

Just five minutes later Brad Marchand scored on the power play to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead when he got a bit of a fortunate bounce in front of the net to beat Curtis McElhinney for his sixth goal of the playoffs.

McElhinney played good enough to win for the Hurricanes after getting the start over Petr Mrazek, but he had zero margin for error.

That is because the star of the game was Rask.

While he was a little lucky to have Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov both miss the net completely on wide open looks, he was the best player on the ice and kept the Bruins in the game in the first period when they were outshot by a 20-6 margin. They were not all easy saves, either. He was challenged early and often and never flinched, continuing what has been one of the best postseason performances of his career.

The only slip-up he had was late in the second period when a Calvin de Haan shot snuck through his pads to get the Hurricanes on the board. They were never able to beat him again after that, or really even come close.

After sweeping the New York Islanders in Round 2 (after the Islanders swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in Round 1) the Hurricanes are now facing the possibility of being swept themselves.

This was Carolina’s first loss on home ice this postseason and Boston’s sixth win in a row overall.

Game 4 of Bruins-Hurricanes is Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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.