Danton Heinen

Bruins dominate Hurricanes for 2-0 series lead

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The Boston Bruins weren’t exactly nurturing during a 6-2 win against the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 to take a 2-0 series lead on Mothers’ Day.

Controversy swirled around penalty calls that helped the Bruins turn Game 1 on its head, but there wasn’t a whole lot of drama in Game 2 beyond “should Rod Brind’Amour replace Petr Mrazek or keep Curtis McElhinney on the bench?” Yes, it was that kind of afternoon for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Honestly, that 6-2 score feels generous to Carolina, as both of the Hurricanes’ goals were of the late, “garbage” variety. Consider how dizzying the last four periods had been for Mrazek and the Carolina Hurricanes, aside from a faint push to save some face.

  • Heading into the third period of Game 1, the Hurricanes were up 2-1.
  • The Bruins scored all four goals of that third period to win Game 1 by a score of 5-2.
  • Things were close for most of the first period of Game 2, but then Boston fired in two quick goals.
  • The B’s fattened that lead to 4-0 through the second period, making a dazzling Mrazek stick save feel like a footnote.
  • Brind’Amour stuck with Mrazek in the third period, to some surprise. Things … well, didn’t get much better from there. The Bruins pushed things to 6-0 before allowing two goals when things were clearly out of reach.

Frankly, it would be more comforting for Carolina if the Hurricanes could merely blame everything on Mrazek. While he would regret some of the goals allowed – particularly the first of two by Matt Grzelcyk, and the first of Connor Clifton‘s career – the Hurricanes aren’t down 2-0 in this series because of leaky goaltending alone.

Carolina must address some key issues as Game 3 approaches on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN; stream here).

For one thing, the Bruins are absolutely dominating the special teams battle, to a greater extreme than expected.

Carrying over the momentum from scoring two power-play goals during that four-goal third period from Game 1, the Bruins went 2-for-2 on the power play in Game 2. Those power-play goals happened when the contest was still in doubt, really cementing the thought that the Bruins hold a significant advantage when it comes to the man advantage.

Failing on the penalty kill was rough enough for Carolina, yet the Hurricanes’ power play has been sputtering. They went 0-for-4 in Game 2, and in a telling moment, Patrice Bergeron set up Danton Heinen‘s goal shortly after leaving the penalty box on a failed Hurricanes power play.

Maybe the Hurricanes will gain a little bit of confidence from gaining two late goals in Game 2, even if they were generally inconsequential. If nothing else, the Hurricanes finally halted a dominant run for the Bruins, as Boston had scored 10 consecutive goals from the third period of Game 1 through much of Game 2.

Aside from that outburst in garbage time, the Hurricanes need to prove they can regularly threaten Tuukka Rask and the Bruins. The special teams battle needs to at least be closer to a draw, rather than the one-sided drubbing we’ve seen so far. And, yes, the Hurricanes must get some more saves — whether it’s Mrazek stopping those pucks, or if Carolina turns to Curtis McElhinney.

The Hurricanes found themselves down 2-0 against the defending champion Washington Capitals in Round 1, only to turn things around in front of rabid home fans to eventually win that series in seven games. In fact, the Hurricanes haven’t lost a home playoff game during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so expect a far better effort from Carolina against Boston in Game 3 on Tuesday.

The frustrating and comforting thought is that Carolina hasn’t been anywhere near its best so far during the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, and it’s shown on the scoreboard.

Carolina doesn’t have a long time to figure things out, however, as the Bruins are looking almost unstoppable in Round 3.

The Hurricanes host the Bruins in Game 3 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN; 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’ playoff plan calls for Rask, rookies in Game 1

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If the Round 1 series lives up to the hype, Maple Leafs – Bruins could very well come down to supporting cast members moving the needle while big stars duke it out.

With that in mind, the Bruins made some interesting lineup decisions heading into Game 1 (airing on Thursday at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN – live stream here).

In a sense, Bruce Cassidy’s calls come down to opting for one forward, defenseman, and starting goalie over three similar options. While Cassidy might quibble with that, let’s boil it down to those three decisions, especially since Cassidy might zig and zag depending upon how the series goes.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Choice 1: Tuukka Rask over Jaroslav Halak.

This one, obviously, is the most explicit. It’s also the most important, and one that could provide the most debate — at least, if the Bruins are willing to turn to Halak if Rask stumbles, which is plausible considering the sheer firepower of the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Not to mention how great Frederik Andersen can be when everything’s clicking.)

In 46 games this season, Rask went 27-13-5 with a .912 save percentage. He’s enjoyed some considerable highs during his Bruins career, yet the returns have been more modest as the 32-year-old’s shown his age a bit. Since 2015-16, his save percentage has been at .917 or below. That’s not terrible by any stretch, yet there have been spans that prompted people to question Rask’s status as the No. 1 goalie.

Strong pushes from backups in recent years account for those debates as much as anything Rask’s done, and that’s been especially true with Halak in 2018-19. The often-underrated goalie sported a fantastic .922 save percentage while compiling a 22-11-4 record, and his 2010 run with the Canadiens was among the most memorable recent runs for a playoff goalie.

The good news is that, really, the Bruins have two viable choices. The bad news is that, if Rask falters, people will really second-guess this decision, especially if there are prolonged struggles.

[Toronto’s perspective: now is time for Babcock, Leafs.]

Choice 2: Karson Kuhlman instead of David Backes.

Through the first 11 games of his NHL career, Kuhlman scored three goals and two assists for five points. If the 23-year-old can keep up, Kuhlman could really help Boston push for depth beyond their deadly, possibly league-best top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Kuhlman fitting with the effective duo of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk would allow the Bruins to try to hang with Toronto’s considerable third-line depth by keeping Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, and Danton Heinen together.

It’s a small sample size, but Kuhlman’s been a strong possession player so far for Boston, so this might just work.

Really, if Backes draws back into the lineup, maybe it would be for a forward other than Kuhlman, anyway?

Choice 3: Connor Clifton plays, Steven Kampfer scratched.

Like Kuhlman, Clifton is only 23, and hasn’t been in that many games, as Clifton appeared in 19 during the 2018-19 season. (Less relevant yet fun: both of their names are also alliterative.)

On one hand, Clifton failed to score a goal and only generated one assist during those 19 games. On the other hand, he handled his 17:42 TOI pretty well, with possession stats that grade out nicely. Now, it certainly couldn’t have hurt his numbers to be paired most often with Torey Krug, but it’s better to look solid than to flounder in such a situation.

So far, the Bruins’ plan appears to be partnering Clifton with Matt Grzelcyk on the third pairing, which would likely ease some of the concerns regarding throwing a rookie into a pressure-packed situation against a dangerous opponent.

Kampfer could be a threat to bump Clifton out of the lineup, and the same can be said for John Moore if he can return from an injury. It’s possible that, inexperience and all, Clifton might be the best option of the three. Early on, Cassidy certainly seems to prefer Clifton to Kampfer.

Maple Leafs – Bruins Game 1 from TD Garden takes place on Thursday night at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. (livestream)

For more on these two teams, check out the series preview. Get a rundown of Thursday’s full slate of Game 1 action with The Wraparound.

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.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins – Red Wings on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Sunday night’s matchup between the Boston Bruins at the Detroit Red Wings. Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

On one side, you have the Bruins, a team hoping to cement its hold on the second seed in the Atlantic Division, and thus a round of home-ice advantage.

The Red Wings don’t face much in the way of stakes … yet they’ve been playing with pride lately, nonetheless. It might not help their tanking chances to win on Sunday, but try telling that to the players on the ice.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6:30 PM. ET – NBCSN]

What: Boston Bruins at Detroit Red Wings
Where: Little Caesars Arena
When: Sunday, March 31, 7:330 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
Live stream: You can watch the Bruins-Red Wings stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINES

BRUINS

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciMarcus Johansson

Danton HeinenCharlie CoyleChris Wagner

Joakim NordstromNoel AcciariDavid Backes

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy

Torey KrugBrandon Carlo

Kevan MillerMatt Grzelcyk

Starting goalie: Jaroslav Halak

RED WINGS

Darren HelmDylan LarkinAnthony Mantha

Tyler BertuzziAndreas Athanasiou — Dominic Turgeon

Martin Frk — Christoffer EhnTaro Hirose

Matt Puempel — Ryan Kuffner

Danny DeKeyserFilip Hronek

Niklas KronwallMadison Bowey

Dylan McIlrath — Luke Witkowski

Jake Chelios

Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard

Brendan Burke (play-by-play) and Brian Boucher (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Little Caesars Arena in Detroit, Mich. Pre-game coverage starts at 6:30 p.m. ET with NHL Live, hosted by Kathryn Tappen alongside Keith Jones and Anson Carter.

Should Bruins add more at trade deadline after Coyle?

After trading Ryan Donato and a pick for Charlie Coyle, GM Don Sweeney said that the Boston Bruins might be done at the trade deadline.

“I don’t know if we’re necessarily going to do anything else,” Sweeney said during a conference call, via NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty. “We are going to continue to make calls and receive calls, and we’ll continue to monitor the marketplace to see what may or may not fit with our hockey club. We’re going to continue to cross our fingers that we stay healthy. I think our club has . . . put themselves in a position to compete for a playoff spot and improve the positioning if possible as we come down to the last 21 games. We’re going to continue to look at areas. But we’re excited.”

The Bruins pushed their winning streak to seven games on Wednesday, tentatively giving them home-ice in a potential first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. So, yeah, it’s understandable that Boston’s excited about its chances. The fact that they’ve accomplished this while navigated injuries to the likes of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Zdeno Chara only brightens their outlook.

But, should the Bruins continue to add? Let’s take a look at how much of a boost Coyle might be, what the Bruins have to work with, and try to gauge the pros and cons of more trades.

A versatile piece

As strong as the Bruins have been in 2018-19, they’ve been extremely top-heavy, counting on a mixture of staunch defense, fantastic goaltending, and the top line of Pastrnak-Bergeron-Brad Marchand.

Charlie Coyle could give David Krejci a viable winger, along with Jake DeBrusk. He has plenty of experience centering his own lines, too, so Boston may eventually decide that Coyle works best as a 3C.

When we look back on the trade, it’s possible that we’ll realize that the Bruins might have sold low on Ryan Donato’s potential. Whatever the cause (coach, his own struggles) was, the 22-year-old was only averaging 12:30 TOI per game this season, down from last year’s rookie workrate of 14:42.

Whether Coyle explodes alongside a playmaker like Krejci, merely produces at his solid Wild rate, or anchors a third line, it’s nearly certain that he’ll provide more immediate dividends than what Donato would have delivered from Bruce Cassidy’s doghouse.

If Coyle ends up being the extent of the Bruins’ trade deadline spoils, it wouldn’t be all bad.

Cap Concerns

Now, if the Bruins want more, things get interesting.

At a very affordable $3.2M cap hit (through 2019-20), Coyle doesn’t break the bank, and is likely to be more valuable than he’s getting paid. The Bruins also didn’t give up much in draft capital to land Coyle, merely handing over a conditional fifth-rounder along with Donato.

So the Bruins have their picks, most notably from the top three rounds, along with the Rangers’ fourth. For a contending team that’s already added a roster player, the Bruins have reasonable ammo to try to go after someone else.

Cap Friendly projects the Bruins’ trade deadline cap space at about $15.74M. (Things get a little tricky when you consider prorated cap hits and possible performance bonuses, but the bottom line is that they have more to work with than the full-season projection of $3.384M.)

Considering the circumstances, Boston would be best served only looking for a rental.

It’s unclear if Zdeno Chara would continue his run of one-year deals, and if he’d seek a raise from his current $5M mark. Charlie McAvoy‘s headed for a big raise from his rookie deal, with the only question being how much he’ll get. Danton Heinen‘s slated to become an RFA, too. Overall, the Bruins have enough concerns (including Torey Krug only being covered through 2019-20) that they’d be wise not to make too many longer-term additions. Again, Coyle’s only locked down through 2019-20 himself, so he’s likely to be more expensive in the future in his own right.

If the Bruins wanted to go bolder – but more awkward and complicated – they could also try to move David Backes‘ contract.

Backes, 34, carries a $6M cap hit through (whew) 2020-21. According to Cap Friendly, Backes has a no-movement clause through this season, which then morphs into a modified no-trade clause, so Boston would need Backes to OK a move.

Getting another team to absorb Backes’ contract would also require some convincing, yet maybe the Bruins could bribe a budget team to take it on in exchange for a pick or two? While his cap hit is unsightly, the term is becoming less formidable, and his total salary drops from $6M in 2018-19 to $4M in 2019-20 and 2020-21. These details make a Backes trade feel far more likely after this season, but it might not hurt to explore ideas now.

The bottom line is that the Bruins have some bullets in the chamber, but they’ll probably be hunting for mid-range targets, rather than the Artemi Panarin-level stars. If they even take any other shots, mind you.

A question of windows

We’ve gotten into nitty gritty details, but zooming out on the larger terrain makes future planning arguably even more interesting.

On one hand, this might be the Bruins’ best chance at a deep run. While they’ve been able to unearth some real gems in the draft, particularly Pastrnak and McAvoy, the Bruins are nonetheless highly dependent on some aging players.

Chara is 41, and still important. Bergeron seems ageless at 33, but you never know when Father Time will pull an about-face. Marchand is 30, and Krejci is 32. Tuukka Rask isn’t ancient at 31, and Jaroslav Halak isn’t either at 33, yet a more demanding game could open the door for both of their impressive goalies to slide.

For all we know, the Bruins’ window could close, and as we’ve seen from teams like the Kings, sometimes that collapse is abrupt.

That said, there’s no denying that the Bruins face a bumpy road to a hopeful playoff run.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are so far ahead of everyone else, it’s honestly kind of ridiculous. There’s the impression that we still haven’t seen the best of the Toronto Maple Leafs, who might still have some tricks up their sleeves at the trade deadline. And those are just the most prominent teams in the Bruins’ bracket.

Such competition serves as potential inspiration to add, but it also might feel discouraging. Should the Bruins really mortgage their future when they’d be beating long odds in getting out of the second round?

The good news is that the Coyle trade doesn’t close all doors for the Bruins, but it doesn’t mean these are easy questions to answer.

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.

Marchand’s four-point night helps Bruins end Blackhawks’ win streak

AP
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Even before David Pastrnak went down with an injury on Tuesday, the Boston Bruins were a team that was short on scoring depth. All season their offense has been carried by the same four or five players, with Pastrnak being one of the best.

Without him, it obviously makes the lineup even thinner and is going to put a lot more pressure on the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, and Torey Krug to do even more.

On Tuesday night in a 6-3 win over the Chicago Blackhawks, a lot of them stepped up and did just that.

The win improved the Bruins’ current point streak to eight consecutive games and was their fifth win in the past six games.

There were no shortage of offensive stars in the game for the Bruins as they had three players recorded at least three points — Marchand finished with four, tallying a goal and adding three assists, while Krejci (two goals and an assist) and Danton Heinen (a goal and two assists) each finished with three points.

While the offense was a big development for the Bruins in the absence of Pastrnak, the turning point in the game may have happened early in the first period when their penalty kill came through in a big situation. After Alex DeBrincat gave Chicago an early 1-0 lead, the Blackhawks found themselves on an extended two-man advantage following penalties by Marchand and Zdeno Chara. The Bruins not only kept the Blackhawks off the scoreboard, they completely shut down the Blackhawks’ power play with a textbook penalty kill that was probably even better than they could have drawn it up. The Blackhawks never even managed to get a good luck on the extended advantage.

Shortly after that two-man advantage ended, the Bruins erupted with three goals in a four-minute stretch.

For the Bruins, the win helps solidify their playoff positioning in the Atlantic Division.

For the Blackhawks, it snaps what had been a seven-game winning streak and is a missed opportunity to keep gaining ground in the highly competitive Western Conference Wild Card race.

More: Injured thumb to keep Bruins’ Pastrnak out of lineup for at least two weeks

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.