David Krejci

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Should Bruins break up top line next season?

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The Boston Bruins and their fans are likely still smarting from falling one win short of a Stanley Cup victory against the St. Louis Blues, but the bottom line is that this was an impressive run. Really, it cemented the notion that Bruins management has done a lot right in finding ways to extend this group’s window of contention, where other teams would age out of elite play.

Still, there was one thing that bothered me about the Bruins: their lack of experimentation toward the end of the regular season.

Most teams don’t get the chance to tinker without big consequences

For a long time, it was clear that the Bruins would meet the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. There was also plenty of advance notice that the Bruins were unlikely to slip from the second seed.

While other NHL teams can be dinged for a lack of experimentation as well, the Bruins (and Maple Leafs) were in a rare position in this age of parity: they basically knew where they were going to land in the playoff branches, and didn’t really face much of a threat of dropping out of their position for some time.

In other words, if the Bruins wanted to try a bunch of different things – treating the rest of the regular season as a virtual hockey science lab – they wouldn’t have faced severe consequences, even if those experimentations blew up in their faces in the form of losses.

Instead, the Bruins more or less played things out.

If there was one question I would’ve wanted answered if I were in Bruce Cassidy’s shoes,* it would be: “What if we broke up the line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak?”

* – And, make no mistake about it, this would be a bad deal for the Bruins, because Cassidy is overall a very bright coach, and I’d struggle to keep a team under one Too Many Men on the Ice penalties per period.

[More: How will the Bruins look next season?]

Hitting a wall at the worst possible time

Overall, it’s fine that the Bruins leaned toward not messing with a good thing. For the most part, that trio absolutely caves in opponents with their mix of smart defensive play, blistering passing, and dangerous sniping.

Unfortunately, that group hit some serious roadblocks during the postseason, particularly as the St. Louis Blues’ defense found ways to short circuit that top line, and the Blues’ own best players feasted to a surprisingly lopsided degree. This tweet really captures how one-sided things often were during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final:

Yikes. Yikes.

While wear and tear cannot be ignored during the grind of a deep playoff run, it’s fair to ask if the Bruins didn’t have enough of a Plan B for if the top line sputtered. To some extent, you can understand why: because they basically never ran into that problem during the regular season.

Yet, lacking alternate options might have made the Bruins easier to “solve.” Consider this striking excerpt from the latest edition of Elliotte Friedman’s “31 Thoughts.”

When it came to the Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak line, one Blue said they were determined “not to be fooled by their deception.” Those three are excellent at creating havoc through the neutral zone via the different routes they take. The Blues focused on where they wanted to get to (especially Marchand’s and Pastrnak’s preferred one-timer locations) instead of how they got there.

Attached at the hip

The Bruins certainly provided the Blues and other opponents with a lot of “tape” on the top line, so to speak, as they kept them glued together during the regular season.

Via Natural Stat Trick, Patrice Bergeron played more than 729 minutes with Brad Marchand at even-strength during the regular season, while Bergeron was only away from Marchand for less than 46 minutes. David Pastrnak saw a little bit more time away from that duo, but still spent far more time with them.

It’s striking, actually, that Pastrnak spent almost as much time away from Bergeron and Marchand during the smaller sample of the playoffs (123:12 without Marchand, 134:07 without Bergeron, in 24 games) as Pastrnak spent away from them during the regular season (202 away from Marchand, 182:27 away from Bergeron), and injuries exaggerated those regular season numbers.

You could argue that Pastrnak was moved around because of desperation, rather than inspiration, during the postseason, as things weren’t clicking. So it wasn’t exactly as if those swaps were happening in ideal circumstances.

But what if the Bruins had more combinations in their back pocket?

Roads less taken

Cassidy had the luxury of finding out a little bit more about how other duos or trios might click, but he chose not to do so. Could Marchand and Bergeron really propel their own lines, and how much does Pastrnak need at least one of those guys to thrive? Might Marchand find chemistry with David Krejci, and could Bergeron really click with Jake DeBrusk? If the drop-off from spreading the wealth vs. going top-heavy was small, then the Bruins might have been able to throw different looks against the Blues, rather than playing into their hands.

So, with all of that in mind, how much should the Bruins consider breaking up the top line for 2019-20, or at least portions of 2019-20?

Interestingly, there might be a political element to consider, too: would they grumble at being broken up? In particular, it could be a tough sell to pitch that idea to Bergeron and Marchand, specifically.

Expanding Marchand’s even-strength minutes from 2015-16 to 2018-19 with Natural Stat Trick, the results are pretty comical. Marchand spent 2,461 minutes and 40 seconds with Bergeron during that time period, and just 368:46 without Bergeron. That’s the hockey equivalent of a common law marriage.

If there’s no argument for breaking up the veterans, then maybe continued experimentation with Pastrnak is in order. Theoretically, Bergeron and Marchand could carry a lesser linemate, as that’s the general pattern around the NHL, as teams just don’t often enjoy the option to load up with their three best forwards and still have some talent left over not to get bombarded when their other three lines are on the ice.

Consistency vs. versatility

Again, the Bruins have done an impressive job finding other players, and this post is mainly asking the question regarding whether they can get even better, or at least more versatile.

This interesting piece by Steve Conroy of the Boston Herald discusses David Krejci wanting a more stable partner on the right wing to go with Jake DeBrusk on the Bruins’ mostly effective, but occasionally hot-and-cold second line.

To be fair, Krejci wants stability, where I would argue that the Bruins should try a number of different looks:

“We did touch on that a little bit, but that’s not really something I can control,” Krejci said. “We have lots of good players here who can play on that side, so I’m not worried about that. We have lots of players. But what I would like to have is consistency of the lines so you create some chemistry. You always go through some ups and downs. Everyone does. But if you stay together as a line, in your difficult time of the year, the two other guys can lift you up, or the other way around.”

Conroy brings up some options as right-handed shooters, from Pastrnak to interesting young forward Karson Kuhlman. I’d also throw Charlie Coyle‘s name in the hat, as while he’s mostly served as third-line center for the Bruins, Coyle also played at RW at times during his Wild years.

The thing is, coaches do what Krejci doesn’t like, and get the line blender going for reasons. During an 82-game season, you’re going to experience streaks, but also injuries. You also must battle stagnancy and predictability.

But, really, finding different looks comes down to the playoff contests after the 82-game season.

***

Would the Bruins have won it all if they could have kept the Blues a bit more off balance? Maybe, maybe not. You could also argue that staying the course helped the Bruins get as far as they did, in the first place.

Either way, these are the questions the Bruins should grapple with, and experiments they should undergo more often than they did in 2018-19. Chances are, their cap situation won’t allow them to add much and will probably force them to lose a nice asset like Marcus Johansson, so it’s about getting the most out of what they already have.

Cassidy & Co. deserve credit for getting a whole lot out of this group, already, yet maybe there are a few more answers that simply haven’t been explored, or explored enough to truly know?

LOOKING BACK, AND AHEAD, FOR BRUINS

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.

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.

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.

A look back at the last time Stanley Cup Final needed a Game 7

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The Boston Bruins won’t have to look far down the bench for a couple of their Game 7 heroes from their 2011 Stanley Cup winning team.

In fact, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand line up on the same line for the B’s, who will contest the 17th Game 7 in Cup Final history at TD Garden on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream).

They’re two of five Bruins players (Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Tuukka Rask) who remain on the team that played in the last Cup Final that needed to be decided by a Game 7, and between them, scored all four goals Boston needed to end a 39-year Stanley Cup drought with their sixth championship.

Looking back, there are some similarities stemming from that series eight years ago. First and foremost, the Bruins needed to rebound from a 3-2 series deficit to even get to that stage.

Trailing a strong Vancouver Canucks team, the Bruins put forth a five-goal effort in a 5-2 win at home in Game 6. That game was highlighted by a four-goal first period, one that came in a span of 4:14. The Bruins chased then-Canucks netminder Roberto Luongo for the second time in the series.

A mouth-watering Game 7 matchup back in Vancouver was further intensified after a total of 54 penalty minutes were dished out in the third period alone, including four 10-minute misconducts.

Let’s take a look back.

First period

The Canucks took it to the Bruins early, with Tim Thomas — the eventual Conn Smythe winner — making a couple of saves that otherwise could have changed the whole complexion of the game.

Then a rookie, Marchand was able to get to a puck off a Canucks faceoff win in their own zone. A couple of turns and some suspect defending by Sami Salo created some space between for Marchand, who slid the puck into the slot. The pass was met by the stick of Bergeron, who swatted his stick at it. The puck rolled back Luongo’s right leg, unbeknownst to the Canucks netminder, to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead at the 14:37 mark.

Second Period

The Bruins would effectively end the game in the middle frame, scoring twice in just over five minutes.

Before that, though, Chara made a crucial block on Alex Burrows shot that got past a sprawling Thomas but not the big man standing behind him.

Marchand nearly doubled the lead earlier just over a minute in when he raised a puck up and over Luongo but couldn’t beat the post.

Marchand wouldn’t be denied, however, and was rewarded with his first goal of the night on a nifty wraparound and a fair bit of self-inflicted goaltender interference by Daniel Sedin at 12:13.

Oh, and Luongo doing himself dirty by knocking the puck into his own net.

Bergeron’s second would come shorthanded, a dagger of sorts for the Canucks.

Gregory Campbell won the draw in the defensive zone for the Bruins and Dennis Seidenberg slammed the puck down the boards. The puck took a funny hop off the glass, falling into the path of Patrice Bergeron who was gifted a partial breakaway.

With Christian Ehrhoff draped all over him, and a penalty pending against the Canucks, Bergeron somehow guided the puck past Luongo. The goal was reviewed, with the Canucks arguing that Bergeron had put the puck in with his glove.

In the words of the great Maury, “That was a lie.”

Third period

The Canucks threw 16 shots at Thomas in the final period, looking desperately for any morsel of momentum in front of a packed Rogers Arena.

Thomas wouldn’t be felled, however, posting a 37-save shutout. Thomas made an excelled save off a streaking Sedin at the midway point of the period to preserve the goose egg. He’d stop Jannik Hansen point-blank with fewer than five minutes left in the game.

Desperate, and with just over three minutes left, the Alain Vigneault would pull Luongo for the extra skater.

The 4-0 goal would come on a clear from the Canucks that landed at the feet of Burrows. Burrows, who bit Bergeron in Game 1 of the series and fought Thomas in Game 4, couldn’t handle the quasi-pass and Marchand was more than happy to cap off his three-point night with his second goal, this time into the empty net.

Chara lifts the Cup

The drought was over.

The Bruins were Stanley Cup champs for the sixth time in franchise history.

Chara’s first pass of the Cup? That went to a Mark Recchi, who won his third Cup in his final NHL season.

Aftermath

The ugliness of 1994’s riots in the streets of Vancouver after the Canucks lost the Cup to the New York Rangers returned 17 years later.

Rioters poured into the streets of downtown Vancouver following the game and all hell broke loose.

The Bruins would make it home safely, with the parade held a couple days later.

Perhaps the best part of that victory march down the streets of Boston was Marchand showing the world he couldn’t rap.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS:
• Bruins push Stanley Cup Final to Game 7 by beating Blues
Blues, Cardinals team up to offer Busch Stadium Game 7 viewing party
Win or lose the Conn Smythe should belong to Rask 
• St. Louis newspaper gets roasted for ‘jinxing’ Blues before Game 6
Bounce back Blues need one more rally


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Wraparound: Bruins need more, especially from second line

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

With a few exceptions, namely Tuukka Rask, Sean Kuraly and Charlie Coyle, the Boston Bruins could use a lot more from some of their biggest names heading into a pivot Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream).

Rask has seen a pile of shots again. Coyle has scored in three straight games and is now tied for the team lead in goals with Patrice Bergeron at nine. And Kuraly? Well, he’s a welcomed addition to a fourth line, if we’re being fair, that’s been as solid as they come in the playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

As hockey is a team game and it’s often the sum of the parts that get the job done, the Bruins need better from some of their best.

We’ll start on the second line with Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci and David Backes.

The line has been a bit of a ghost so far in this series with no goals thus far. DeBrusk has two points in the series – his only points in the last 6 games – while Krejci (four games) and Backes (six games) are both on point droughts.

“We got to sit down with them, obviously,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “They got to change the way they’re playing. It hasn’t worked so far to generate offense… We’re going to have to revisit it, sell some different ideas of how they can generate offense.”

The top line Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, meanwhile, need another dominant game, the type where they’re unstoppable and the Bruins are, thus, unbeatable.

We saw some of that in Game 3, where they combined for five points. It’d be better to see it 5-on-5, however. Game 3 sort of skews all the numbers given the lethality of their power play in that one.

A game where they produce in the seven to 10 point range as a line would be a welcomed sight for Boston fans.

The good news for Boston is they get to play Game 5 (and 7, if it’s needed) at TD Garden, where they’ve won seven of 11 in these playoffs.

NHL PR has a couple of stats regarding the Bruins and playing at home.

  • “The Perfection Line” of Bergeron (4-2—6),  Marchand (3-6—9) and Pastrnak (3-4—7) have accounted for more than one-quarter of Boston’s tallies through 11 home games this postseason (10 of 37; 27.0%).
  • Four Boston players are averaging at least one point per game following a loss this postseason: Marchand (4-6—10 in 6 GP), Pastrnak (4-4—8 in 6 GP), Bergeron (4-4—8 in 6 GP) and Torey Krug (2-6—8 in 6 GP).

Another good omen is Tuukka Rask’s ability to bounce back in these playoffs.

Like Jordan Binnington 200 feet the other way, Rask ups the ante following a loss. He’s 5-1 with a 2.01 goals-against average and a .940 save percentage in the game after a loss.

A couple of adjustments might just prevent one team from winning two straight for the first time in this series.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleckW