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Bruins’ Chara misses warmup, ruled out of Game 4

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The Boston Bruins will be without a big piece of their defensive corps for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN)

Zdeno Chara will miss the game with an undisclosed ailment, the Bruins said after the 42-year-old missed the pre-game warmup on Thursday.

Chara is listed as day-to-day, but no other information was given. John Moore is set to replace him.

Chara took the morning skate, which was reportedly optional. Whatever the injury may be, it leaves a big hole on the backend. Chara has been playing 20-plus minutes a night in these playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Chara hasn’t missed a playoff game since April 16, 2011, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston — a streak of 98 games. The Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games win to hoist the Stanley Cup that year.

The Bruins can sweep the Hurricanes from the playoffs with a win.

UPDATE: After the Bruins completed their sweep of the Hurricanes, head coach Bruce Cassidy said he believes Chara will be ready for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “We don’t believe it is serious,” he said.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT Conference Finals predictions


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

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: 2019 Winter Classic – Blackhawks vs. Bruins

NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the 2019 Winter Classic between the Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. ET from Notre Dame Stadium. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Both teams enter with momentum having each won 3-2 in OT on Saturday. The Bruins snapped a two-game losing streak with a come-from-behind win against the Buffalo Sabres, while the Blackhawks surrendered a 2-0 lead vs. the Colorado Avalanche before rebounding to win on Patrick Kane’s OT goal – his 50th point of the season.

The Blackhawks are one of five teams that have already fired their head coach this season, after the 2017-18 season saw zero coaches fired during the regular season. Jeremy Colliton has the worst record among the newly appointed coaches, though the team’s play has improved of late

It has been hard for Patrick Kane to replicate the chemistry he had with Artemi Panarin – a combination that led to the two most productive seasons of Kane’s career. Hawks fans are hoping he could be headed towards similar success with Dylan Strome, who was acquired from Arizona in late-November and has settled in on Kane’s line along with Artem Anisimov.

Kane enters this game coming off back-to-back three-point games (hat trick on Thursday, 2G-1A on Saturday), and he’s averaging 1.25 points/game this season. That’s the secnd-most productive rate of his career, behind his MVP-winning season in 2015-16 (1.29 ppg). Strome has 13 points in 17 games with Chicago, including three straight multi-point games entering the Winter Classic.

The Bruins have kept themselves afloat in the first half of the season despite a rash of injuries to top players. It appeared that the team would have a fully healthy lineup for the first time all year coming out of the Christmas break, but Charlie McAvoy suffered a lower-body injury in the final game before the break, and has missed both games since. Brad Marchand also missed Saturday’s game, but he will play Tuesday afternoon. McAvoy will not.

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 1 P.M. ET – NBC]

What: Boston Bruins at Chicago Blackhawks
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
When: Tuesday, Jan. 1, 1 p.m. ET
TV: NBC
Live stream: You can watch the Blackhawks-Bruins stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BRUINS
Brad Marchand – Patrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak
Jake DeBruskDavid Krejci – Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson
Danton HeinenSean KuralyChris Wagner
Joakim NordstromColby CaveNoel Acciari / Ryan Donato

Zdeno CharaBrandon Carlo
Torey KrugJohn Moore
Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Tuukka Rask

BLACKHAWKS
Brandon SaadJonathan ToewsDominik Kahun
Artem Anisimov – Dylan Strome – Patrick Kane
Alex DeBrincatDavid KampfDylan Sikura
John HaydenMarcus KrugerBrendan Perlini

Duncan KeithErik Gustafsson
Gustav ForslingBrent Seabrook
Carl DahlstromConnor Murphy

Starting goalie: Cam Ward

Mike Tirico will host the network’s Winter Classic pre-game coverage alongside the NHL Live studio team of host Kathryn Tappen, and analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick. Six-time Emmy Award-winner and La Fontaine, Ind., native Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick, U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk, and ‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst Pierre McGuire will have the call from Notre Dame Stadium.

Brutal NHL injury news, including for Bruins’ Bergeron

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The bad hockey news just keeps pouring in lately … well, unless you’re Ken Hitchcock, Craig Berube, Willie Desjardins, Jeremy Colliton, and Joel Quenneville’s accountant.

It’s not just about coaches getting fired, either. We’ve experienced a rough couple of weeks of injuries around the NHL, and Tuesday’s updates didn’t exactly add much sunshine to the mix.

To review, on Nov. 15, PHT rattled off a troubling list including Sidney Crosby, Andrei Vasilevskiy, P.K. Subban, Zdeno Chara, Viktor Arvidsson, and various Capitals. About a week before that, it was noted that John Klingberg ranked among some NHL players who are still recovering from ailments.

The hits just keep coming for a dark November.

  • Bruins fans should scold those among them who whimpered: “Can it get any worse?” The injury demons (let’s not credit them as gods, honestly) replied: “Hold my pitchfork.”

Bruins star Patrice Bergeron is no stranger to dealing with injuries that sound downright frightening, from early career-threatening struggles with concussions to dealing with a concussion and a hole in his lung.

Add another ailment to the list, as the Bruins announced that Bergeron will be re-evaluated in about four weeks after suffering a “a rib and sternoclavicular injury” on Friday. The perennial Selke candidate appeared to suffer that injury during a collision with dark horse Selke candidate Radek Faksa of the Dallas Stars:

If you’re like me, you probably blinked at your screen a few times at “sternoclavicular,” wondered if it’s just the word sternum + clavicle, and then had that confirmed after some Googling. That sure is more specific than just calling it an “upper-body injury,” eh, Bruins?

Hockey players often beat these diagnoses, yet it’s worth repeating that Bergeron will be re-evaluated in four weeks, so this could possibly linger even longer than that.

Bergeron’s just about certain to move to IR, joining Chara, who is also expected to miss at least four weeks with his knee injury.

The Bruins are less big and more bruised these days, as their defense is ravaged by injuries beyond Chara, with Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and John Moore all considered day-to-day.

Boston has shown a pretty good knack for fighting through injuries, as Bergeron missed his fair share of time last season. That said, the B’s are pretty top-heavy these days, so losing big names is discouraging.

Also discouraging: the Atlantic Division looks ferocious right now; the Bruins are ranked fifth in the division with 25 points. While they have a halfway decent lead for the East’s second wild card spot (three points ahead of the Islanders, though New York has a game in hand), that could evaporate during this depleted month.

If Bruce Cassidy can guide the Bruins through this stretch relatively unscathed, then he deserves even more credit as an underrated NHL head coach.

Do note that the Panthers haven’t confirmed or denied that report just yet. Considering how nasty the injury looked, it’s no surprise that he’ll need surgery. Here’s hoping he can return to NHL action eventually as the same player – or close to his peak level – because he’s been an underrated gem for Florida for some time.

Speaking of Florida, it’s fair to wonder what the Panthers should do in response to this awful bit of news.

The Athletic’s George Richards brings up a good point (sub required) that the Panthers might want to call up Henrik Borgstrom, a promising former-first rounder (23rd overall in 2016). In all honesty, it was surprising that:

A) Borgstrom had such a short leash with Florida to begin with, as he only received four games of NHL action, only averaging 12:40 in ice time.

And B) that it would even take an injury for him to get another look. The 21-year-old’s been fantastic in the AHL, scoring 14 points in as many games.

There aren’t many silver linings to Florida losing Trocheck, but perhaps Borgstrom can pick up some of the slack?

The Stars should probably work on being more aggressive, yet losing Bishop might hit the brakes on such an idea. They’re currently averaging 29.8 shots on goal per game, the eighth-lowest mark in the NHL, while averaging about one more allowed per night.

  • The Capitals largely avoided injuries – for some unknown or at least unspoken reasons – under Barry Trotz. The bill seems to be coming now that Todd Reirden is in control.

Washington got Braden Holtby back in its thrilling win against Montreal on Monday, yet T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov are still banged-up. Add Brooks Orpik to that injured list, as the team announced that he’ll miss four-to-six weeks after undergoing “a successful outpatient arthroscopic surgical procedure on his right knee.”

Orpik, 38, appeared in 10 games so far in 2018-19, although he hasn’t suited up for the Capitals since Oct. 27. It’s a tough break for the veteran defenseman, although some might argue that he’s at the point in his career where losing him isn’t much of a deficit for Washington.

  • Canadiens defenseman Noah Juulsen is out indefinitely with a facial fracture after taking two pucks to the face against the Capitals on Monday. About the only good news there is that he won’t need surgery, according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

Chara’s month-long absence adds to Bruins’ blue line woes

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In a week where NHL injury news was seemingly non-stop, the Boston Bruins suffered another blow with the news that Zdeno Chara would be out indefinitely following a leg injury suffered Wednesday against the Colorado Avalanche. According to The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa, the captain is expected to miss the next 4-6 weeks.

The continued hits to the Bruins’ blue line saw them dress two players, Connor Clifton and Jakub Zboril, making their NHL debuts Friday during a 1-0 overtime loss to the Dallas Stars. Add in rookie Jeremy Lauzon and you had three defenseman on the ice with not even a combined 10 games of NHL experience. Along with Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Urho Vaakanainen, Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller and John Moore were also absent.

This is something that head coach Bruce Cassidy has never experienced.

“No. Not this many at the same time,” Cassidy on Friday. “Clearly when you lose guys through the course of the year, five or six, but not at the same time. It will be a challenge, no doubt.”

Lauzon (24:52 TOI) and Matt Grzelcyk (25:27) made up the top pairing with Chara and McAvoy sidelined.

(Let’s also not gloss over that while Patrice Bergeron got banged up against the Stars and returned, there’s still plenty of concern about his status.)

The good news is that the blue line injury list could see fewer faces on it real soon. Cassidy said that Miller could be back Wednesday against the Detroit Red Wings. Any of Carlo, McAvoy or Vaakanainen may also be able to return to the lineup that night. The Bruins have three full days off after Saturday’s meeting with the Arizona Coyotes; plenty of time to recoup and possibly piece back together their defense corps.

In the meantime, the Bruins will rely on some of their kids to help them get through this stretch. It’ll be quite a period of evaluation.

“It’s the National Hockey League, you can either play in it or you can’t. We’ll find out with some of these guys,” said Cassidy. “Sometimes this is the best way to find out, that’s the positive in it. The negative is we’ve got a lot of good players out of the lineup back there. “If they want to play here it’s a great opportunity to show what they can do right now. That’s the way I look at it. This is kind of their dream to get here. Well, here you are, have at it.”

UPDATE: The Bruins say Chara’s injury is to his left MCL and he’ll be re-evaluated in four weeks. Moore and Bergeron are leaving the road trip and heading back to Boston for evaluation.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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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.