Karson Kuhlman

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Crosby leaves preseason finale with apparent foot injury

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PITTSBURGH — Sidney Crosby left the Pittsburgh Penguins’ preseason finale against Buffalo in the first period Saturday after taking a shot off his skate.

Hit by a shot from Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella, Crosby played on 6:42 before leaving. Pittsburgh forward Bryan Rust left the game after he was hit in the hand in the third period.

”They both got hit with shots,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. ”They are being evaluated now. We will probably have more definitive answers tomorrow morning.”

The Sabres won the game 3-2 in a shootout, with Casey Mittelstadt scoring in the sixth round.

Tage Thompson also scored for Buffalo in the shootout. Thompson’s goal in the second round drew Buffalo even, after Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang opened the round by scoring on a wrist shot. Letang was the only Penguin to score in the shootout.

Buffalo’s Linus Ullmark made 34 saves, and Marco Scandella and Zemgus Girgensons scored for the Sabres. Patric Hornqvist and Bryan Rust scored for the Penguins, and Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The two teams will open the regular season Thursday in Buffalo.

PHT Morning Skate: Laine apologizes to Little; Can Isles keep having success?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• Bruins forward Karson Kuhlman will get an opportunity to break camp as a second-line winger. (Boston Globe)

Shea Weber still has a desire to improve every day. (Montreal Gazette)

• The Dream Gap Tour is trying to find a way to build a sustainable women’s hockey league. (TSN)

• Who will serve as the Washington Capitals’ backup goalie this season? (NBC Sports Washington)

• The Tampa Bay Lightning have more openings on their roster than ever before, according to head coach Jon Cooper. (Tampa Times)

• Can the Islanders sustain what they did last year under head coach Barry Trotz? (Light House Hockey)

• Will the Panthers make the playoffs this season? The Rat Trick makes five predictions for Florida’s 2019-20 season. (The Rat Trick)

• Sabres defenseman Matt Gilmour took a different path to get to the NHL. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Alex Nylander has produced during the preseason, but will that be enough to get him a spot on the Hawks roster? (NBC Sports Chicago)

Klim Kostin may finally be ready to make the jump to the NHL with the Blues. (St. Louis Game-Time)

Patrik Laine apologized to Bryan Little for the comments he made to a Finnish reporter. (NHL.com)

• Speaking of Little, he deserves to play with better players. (Jets Nation)

• 2019 first-round pick Thomas Harley has been impressing during Dallas Stars training camp. (Defending Big D)

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.

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.

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.

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.