The Wraparound: Bruins’ top line ‘wants to be better’

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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.

If the Boston Bruins are going to play themselves back into their first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they’re going to need their top players to step their game up in Game 4 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN; Live stream). The trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have consistently been matched up against Toronto’s top line of John Tavares, Mitch Marner and Zach Hyman. In Game 3, Tavares’ guys clearly got the better of the matchup.

“(Assistant coach Jay Pandolfo) meets with these guys probably every three weeks to 10, 12 games,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, per the Boston Herald. “They like to go over some stuff. They want to get better. They’re real coachable. I think sometimes Bergy has to reel his wingers in and get them back on the same page because things will start to go well or at times not well, which was probably (Monday). We just want to get them back on the same page. I think they like structure, they crave it and that adds to their creativity. This isn’t some five-alarm fire meeting with them. It’s a simple revisiting of basics.”

It’s not like those three have been totally invisible. Bergeron scored in the first two games of the series and Marchand picked up three points in the first two contests, but Pastrnak has just one helper in three contests. Cassidy has tried everything to get Pastrnak going, including sending him on the ice with different lines when his team has an offensive zone start after an icing. But Pastrnak hasn’t really rewarded his team with any production.

The Bruins can’t afford to go back home trailing 3-1 in this series. They have to dig deep and find a way to bully the Maple Leafs into making mental errors. Toronto won more of the 50/50 puck battles in Game 3, and that can’t happen again tonight.

The other issue the Bruins are facing is that Auston Matthews seems to have woken up from his playoff slumber. Even if the Bergeron line steps up their game, they can only match up against one line at a time. But if the top line can find their offensive touch, it would help alleviate a lot of the pressure on the other three lines.

“We’ve found ways pretty much all year and it comes down to that,” Bergeron said. “You’ll face adversity and that’s just the way it is. That’s what hockey is all about, and you have to thrive on it.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TODAY’S SCHEDULE

Game 4: Predators at Stars, 8 p.m. ET (Predators lead 2-1): This series has been as tight as can be, as one of the games has gone to overtime and all three have been decided by one goal. The Stars fell behind 2-0 in Game 3, but found a way to battle back. They can’t afford to chase the game again if they’re going to be successful. Going back to Nashville while facing elimination probably isn’t a good idea for Dallas. This is a must-win for the Stars. (USA Network, Live stream)

Game 4: Flames at Colorado, 10 p.m. ET (Avalanche lead 2-1): Can the Flames stay out of the penalty box? They opened Game 3 by giving the Avs a full two-minute five-on-3 power play, and Nathan MacKinnon made them pay for it. Calgary could also use some production from Johnny Gaudreau, who has just one assist and a minus-2 rating in the first three games of the series. (NBCSN, Live stream)

THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE
Game 4: Capitals at Hurricanes, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 5: Blues at Jets, 8:30 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Game 5: Golden Knights at Sharks, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

PHT’s 2019 Stanley Cup playoff previews
Capitals vs Hurricanes
Bruins vs. Maple Leafs

Predators vs. Stars
Blues vs. Jets
Flames vs. Avalanche
Sharks vs. Golden Knights

Power Rankings: Why your team won’t win the Stanley Cup
• 
Roundtable: Goaltending issues, challenging the Lightning
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Round 1 schedule, TV info

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.

Matthews makes difference as Maple Leafs beat Bruins in Game 3

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There’s still a long way to go before Round 1 is settled between the Bruins and Maple Leafs, but Toronto left with more than a 2-1 series after a 3-2 win in Game 3. They had to leave with extra confidence.

Auston Matthews absorbed heavy criticism as he was unable to generate a single point through the first two contests in Boston, but he had a strong Game 3, scoring his first goal and first assist of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Maple Leafs also showed that they can hang onto a lead. They entered the third period with a 3-2 lead, and were able to protect that against a Bruins team that can be quite dangerous. As a bonus, they showed that they can at least slow the deadly line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, as that trio was unable to generate a single point on Monday.

Matthews had the biggest night, but maybe Mitch Marner‘s moments were the most symbolic. Pastrnak was pressing to get a final chance in the final seconds of Game 3, yet Marner blocked not one, but two shots to ice the win (and he’ll probably need to ice the spots that were wounded by those attempts). Finesse is clearly the Maple Leafs’ game, but they showed grit in Game 3.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

After a generally even first period ended 0-0, the two teams combined for five goals during a hectic second. Both power plays produced (two of Toronto’s three goals in the second period; one of Boston’s two), and, again, Matthews was able to make his presence felt.

Frederik Andersen continues to be a rock in net for Toronto, while Tuukka Rask was able to shake off this hard collision during the second period. Concussion spotters never took a look at Rask, even though he seemed dazed, but if Rask was limited afterward, it was tough to tell.

One promising sign for Boston is that, while the top line was nullified, the Bruins are getting decent production from supporting cast members. Charlie Coyle is starting to get the bounces he wasn’t receiving after being traded to Boston, as he scored his second goal of the postseason, while David Krejci nabbed his first goal of Round 1 on Monday. If Matthews’ top line can occasionally get the edge against Bergeron & Co., then players like Coyle and Krejci needed to step up.

After a tough Game 2 loss, the Maple Leafs regain their series lead to 2-1, and get a chance to take a stranglehold over Round 1 if they can win in Toronto on Wednesday.

Maple Leafs – Bruins Game 4 from Scotiabank Arena takes place Wednesday night at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Live stream)

More: Series preview

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.

Youth is being served early in Stanley Cup playoffs

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For all the value of postseason experience, youth is off to a nice start in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Teenage defenseman Miro Heiskanen built on his stellar rookie season in his playoff debut with Dallas, 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov tried to carry Carolina back from a big deficit, early 20-somethings Mitch Marner and William Nylander continue to be among Toronto’s best players and young Matthew Tkachuk did his part to finally win a playoff game with the Calgary Flames.

The NHL is getting younger and more skilled, and youth is being served in a big way early in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They may not get the attention like Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine or Toronto’s Auston Matthews, but Heiskanen and Svechnikov turned in two of the more impressive playoff performances in recent history for players before their 20th birthdays.

”Some people, it’s hard and some people it’s pretty easy, and those are the people it looks like it’s pretty easy,” Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen said of Svechnikov and fellow Finn Heiskanen. ”They don’t stress too much. They just go out and play and have some fun.”

Svechnikov became the youngest player in 22 years to score twice in a playoff game and the third teen to put up two goals in NHL postseason history after Pierre Turgeon in 1988, Eddie Olczyk in 1985 and Don Gallinger in 1943. The 2018 second overall pick will try to help Carolina even its first-round series against Washington in Game 2 Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

”There’s not pressure on him,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. ”Just go do it. Go enjoy it. Go have fun. That’s what this time of year is about, and we’re going to need even more from him if we’re going to advance.”

The Stars won in Nashville thanks in large part to Heiskanen’s goal and assist in Game 1 . At 19 years, 266 days old, he became the youngest defenseman in franchise history to score in the playoffs and the fifth teenage rookie defenseman with two points in his postseason debut.

”My 19-year-old year, when it was April, I was drinking beers in my frat basement,” Dallas defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. ”What he is doing is just incredible. It’s so special. He is so good, it is just such a pleasure to watch him play and to be on his team. He’s such an asset. He’s going to do this for 20 years and I can’t wait to watch him.”

Coach Jim Montgomery would love to see Heiskanen and 22-year-old rookie Roope Hintz play like this for several more weeks. Game 2 in Nashville is Saturday (6 p.m. ET, CNBC).

In Boston, the Bruins have to be better in Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, NBC) on Saturday after losing the series opener on home ice. Marner was a big part of that with his two-goal game, including being just the fifth player to score a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot in the playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

”He’s an elite player in the league at a young age,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”Years ago I remember (people saying about Wayne) Gretzky, ‘Why doesn’t anybody hit that guy?’ Well, it’s not that easy.”

It’s not easy to hit or stop Nylander, either. The 22-year-old Swede scored for the second consecutive game and appears to have solved his late-season dry spell.

”It’s good for me,” Nylander said. ”I’ve been thinking just to hit the net and get it on it.”

In Calgary, Tkachuk’s two goals a series-opening victory against the Colorado Avalanche snapped his six-game goal drought, though the 21-year-old’s agitating ways stuck as much as his scoring. Teammate Andrew Mangiapane, 23, also scored in his playoff debut and the West’s top seed is off and running with Game 2 Saturday night in Calgary (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

”Now all of those guys have got their first game out of the way, they should get some confidence,” coach Bill Peters said. ”We’ll get better as the series goes along.”

INJURY WATCH

Even in the hockey-speak of upper- and lower-body injuries, playoff time brings an extra cloud of secrecy. Seemingly everyone is day-to-day or a game-time decision.

That’s the case for Carolina defenseman Calvin de Haan, who practiced Friday after missing the past six games with an upper-body injury. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said he hopes de Haan can play ”at some point” and added defenseman Jaccob Slavin was fine after getting a day off for playing a lot of minutes Thursday night.

Boston forward Jake DeBrusk is questionable with the injury that knocked him out of Game 1 against the Maple Leafs. Cassidy said if DeBrusk can’t play, veteran David Backes will go into the lineup.

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville and Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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

Deep playoff push could mean big money for these Islanders

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Greed can sometimes be a good motivator in sports. So, for all we know, the lure of new contracts might just drive the New York Islanders during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Players in contract years made a significant impact in the Islanders’ 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Robin Lehner carried over momentum from his outstanding regular season, making 41 saves. Jordan Eberle shook off bad memories of a rough postseason past with the Oilers to generate a goal and an assist. Brock Nelson had a goal, too.

As Game 2 nears on Friday (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN; Livestream), consider these players with extra motivation … including some who can’t even sign extensions yet.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

UFAs with much to gain or lose

Lehner, 27, expiring $1.5M cap hit: You won’t see a better example of a player taking full advantage of a “prove it” contract, and Lehner may only add to his earning power if he can nullify the Penguins’ firepower during Round 1.

Eberle, 28, expiring $6M cap hit: After scoring 25 goals and 59 points during his first Islanders season in 2017-18, Eberle’s numbers dropped quite a bit to 19 goals and 37 points in 78 games. Those are acceptable, but not impressive stats, maybe slightly influenced by playing in a very defensive-minded system. Few players can gain or lose as much money as Eberle might during this postseason, as a hot 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs might make a suitor (or the Islanders) forget about a so-so regular season.

Anders Lee, 28, expiring $3.75M cap hit: When Lee was a surprising name on top snipers lists, many attributed his success to merely playing with John Tavares. That criticism lost steam in 2018-19, as Lee scored 28 goals and 51 points. He’ll get a raise starting next season, it’s just a matter of by how much.

Brock Nelson, 27, expiring $4.25M cap hit: Nelson has generated 20+ goals in four of his last five seasons, and generated 19 during the one he fell short (in 2017-18). His 25 goals this past season fell just short of tying a career-high, while Nelson did indeed set a new career-best mark with 53 points, ranking third on team scoring. Both Nelson and Lee are big forwards who can score, so they can drum up some serious interest if the Islanders balk at their asking prices.

Valtteri Filppula, 35, expiring $2.75M cap hit: Filppula’s been a picky shooter for a long time, yet even by his standards, 2018-19 season was a one where he made his shots count. His 17 goals came with a 21.8 shooting percentage, so that puck luck and his age make Filppula a buyer beware. Another great value signing for the Isles this season, though.

Technically not as pressing, yet …

Mathew Barzal, 21, rookie contract ends after 2019-20: For obvious core players of Barzal’s ilk, you really have two contract years, as the Islanders could theoretically sign Barzal to an extension as early as July — if he wants to. Barzal probably would at least like to wait a while and see how much money RFA forwards such as Mitch Marner, Patrik Laine, and Brayden Point rake in, so he may be more prone to let it ride.

Still, with the heartbreak the Islanders went through with John Tavares, maybe they’d push a little more for an early extension? It would be a big PR win, and there’s always the chance that Barzal would value the peace of mind of getting that out of the way.

A strong postseason would give him yet another strong talking point to ask for big dollars, whenever the two sides really hammer out a deal. Barzal’s off to a strong start, after all.

[Barzal already showed the poise of a veteran in Game 1]

Thomas Greiss, 33, $3.33M cap hit through 2019-20: No offense to Greiss, but the Islanders would prefer not to see him in net anytime soon.

Yet an offensive explosion from the Penguins, or an injury to Lehner could very well force Greiss into action. While he has term next season, Greiss has to be thinking about his future, at least to some extent.

After all, his chances of getting another contract changed dramatically over the last year. In 2017-18, Greiss suffered alongside Jaroslav Halak on an Islanders team that allowed the most goals in the NHL. One year later, Greiss posted nearly identical numbers to Lehner as the two combined to allow the fewest goals in the NHL.

A prolonged Islanders run could plausibly require contributions from both of their goalies after outstanding regular seasons, and that could also drive up Greiss’ earning power. It’s tough to imagine Greiss getting an extension being that he’s already 33, but who knows?

***

Naturally, hockey players are motivated during any postseason, not just when they’re in contract years. Even so, it’s probably human nature to get that little extra push when your future is uncertain, and that thought could make the above Islanders even more exciting to watch than they already would be.

Islanders-Penguins Game 2 from Nassau Coliseum will be Friday night at 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN (Livestream)

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Dominant Game 1 efforts for Backstrom, Marner, and Smith

  • Mitch Marner did something that only a handful of players in NHL history have done in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ big Game 1 over the Boston Bruins
  • The Carolina Hurricanes put up a great fight against the defending Stanley Cup champions but had just one flaw they have to correct
  • An unlikely hero emerged for the Calgary Flames
  • Capitals defenseman John Carlson tied an NHL postseason record
  • Alex Ovechkin continued to climb another goal-scoring leaderboard

Maple Leafs 4, Bruins 1 (Maple Leafs  lead series 1-0)

The Maple Leafs are already off to a better start in their playoff rematch against the Boston Bruins, jumping out to an early 1-0 series lead thanks to a huge night from Mitch Marner and additional goals from William Nylander and John Tavares. They need their stars to shine, and on Thursday night they did.

Capitals 4, Hurricanes 2 (Capitals lead series 1-0)

The Hurricanes may have been the better team at even-strength and showed they have a chance in this series, but the Capitals’ power play (and penalty kill) was the difference as the defending Stanley Cup champions stole Game 1 away. If the Hurricanes can repeat this effort in Game 2 they stand a great chance to even the series, but they must find an answer for the Capitals’ power play to allow that to happen.

Flames 4, Avalanche 0 (Flames leads series 1-0)

The Calgary Flames’ superstars had a fairly quiet night and they still rolled to a 4-0 shutout win over the Colorado Avalanche. Mike Smith was outstanding in net and the Flames’ defense did a great job shutting down the Avalanche’s big-three, including Mikko Rantanen in his return to the lineup.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Mike Smith, Calgary Flames. All season, and especially leading up to the playoffs, the big question for the Calgary Flames was whether or not they had the goaltending to go on a deep Stanley Cup run. David Rittich is unproven and regressed down the stretch, while Smith had, for the most part, a brutal year. Playing in his first playoff game in seven years, Smith was the best player on the ice and for one night silenced the doubters.

2. Nicklas Backstrom, Washington Capitals. Backstrom was a beast for the Capitals in Game 1, scoring a pair of first period goals and then coming up with two huge blocked shots late in the third period to help the Capitals hold off a late Hurricanes rally. He is one of the best all-around centers in the NHL and showed why on Thursday.

3. Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs. Entering play on Thursday Marner had scored just three goals in his first 13 career playoff games. He scored two in the Maple Leafs’ Game 1 win and proved to be the team’s most dangerous player as they jumped out to an early series lead over the Bruins.

Highlights of the night

Not long after tying the game against the Bruins, Marner gave the Maple Leafs with the lead with what would prove to be the game-winning goal on a penalty shot and what a move it was! According to the NHL’s Public Relations department, this was just the fifth shorthanded penalty shot goal in NHL playoff history.

While Mike Smith was stopping everything, Andrew Mangiapane got the Flames on the board with this beautiful goal against Philipp Grubauer.

Factoids of the Night

John Carlson’s three first period assists tied an NHL postseason record for most assists in a period. [NHL PR]

Alex Ovechkin moved into 27th place on the NHL’s all-time postseason goal-scoring list [NHL PR]

Friday’s schedule

Columbus Blue Jackets at Tampa Bay Lightning, Game 2 (CBJ leads 1-0), 7 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Pittsburgh Penguins at New York Islanders, Game 2 (NYI leads 1-0), 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)
St. Louis Blues at Winnipeg Jets, Game 2 (StL leads 1-0), 9:30 p.m. ET, CNBC (Live Stream)
Vegas Golden Knights at San Jose Sharks, Game 2 (SJ leads 1-0), 10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN (Live Stream)

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.