Noel Acciari

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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.

Bruins vs. Blues: Three keys to Game 7 of Stanley Cup Final

There’s good news and bad news for hockey fans.

On one hand, you get to witness Game 7 in the Stanley Cup Final between the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins. On the other hand, this is going to be the final meaningful game until October. So make sure you enjoy tonight’s game, because the off-season begins tomorrow.

Everything either team has done before now is absolutely meaningless if they don’t come away with a win tonight. The Blues and Bruins will have to put together their best effort if they’re going to win it all at TD Garden tonight.

What specific things do these two teams have to do to win? Let’s take a look.

• Depth players have to chip in

It would be shocking to see a wide-open Game 7 tonight. Expect to see both teams play a physical, tight-checking game, because every mistake will be magnified. That means that the star forwards on either team may not have much room to operate throughout the game. So, it might be up to some of the depth players on either side to decide the result tonight.

By now, you may have heard that Boston has 19 different scorers in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. The depth that they’ve displayed since the start of the postseason has been second-to-none. Can they squeeze a little more production out of Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom or Noel Acciari?

The Blues have had a strong fourth line of their own, and they’ll be getting Ivan Barbashev back after he was suspended for Game 6. Barbashev, Oskar Sundqvist and Alex Steen have been really good on the fourth line for the Blues, who have also received depth contributions from guys like Sammy Blais and Zach Sanford throughout this series.

• Game-6 Binnington can’t make another appearance 

Obviously, both teams need to make sure that their goalies don’t cost them the game, but the Blues have to make sure Jordan Binnington turns in a better performance than he did in Game 6 on Sunday night. Binnington has found a way to bounce back a number of times since taking over as the team’s starting netminder, so there’s no real reason to doubt him heading into the biggest game in franchise history.

As for Tuukka Rask, it would be shocking to see him drop the ball tonight. He’s clearly the front-runner for the Conn Smythe Trophy right now, and he’s come up huge whenever the Bruins have needed a big result. Down 3-2 in the first round against the Toronto Maple Leafs, he was there in Game 6 and 7. Down 2-1 to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the second round, he was there, again. Rask has been in the zone all postseason and expecting anything else in Game 7 would be silly, right?

• Walk that fine line

It’s no secret that both teams need to play with a physical edge to be successful. They’re both loaded with skill, but that extra grit is what has carried them this far. That should continue to be the case on Wednesday night, especially for a Blues team that likes to keep the game simple when they’re on the road.

Here’s the issue: you have to be able to play that physical style without taking penalties. Neither team can afford to spend much time playing shorthanded in Game 7. It’s just too risky of a proposition. Yes, both teams have been able to generate goals or scoring chances while shorthanded at different points of the series, but they can’t take that gamble with everything on the line. Basically, unless it’s a puck-over-glass penalty or something that prevents a goal from happening, you can’t afford to sit in the box tonight.

So play with an edge. Just make sure you don’t force the officials to call a penalty.

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.

Bruins’ ‘Perfection Line’ far from perfect lately

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They’ve been dubbed ‘The Perfection Line,’ but lately, in reality, they’ve been far from it.

Patrice Bergeron, with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak flanking, have been one of the talking points of the playoffs, especially heading into the Stanley Cup Final. In the first three rounds, the line combined for 46 points, at times taking games into their respective hands and conjuring up a win.

They earned the moniker, surely. But perfection has evaded them as of late.

Through five games, they’ve combined for nine points — four, if you take away a lopsided 7-2 win in Game 3. In pivotal games such as Games 4 and 5, they combined for just two assists.

It’s a slump the Bruins can ill-afford at the moment. Their top unit on the power play is manned by the same three players, and that power play is 0-for-5 in their past two games after going 6-for-14 in the first three.

Last I checked, perfection isn’t spelled s-l-u-m-p.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy addressed the rut during the off-day on Saturday.

The line’s production dried up both Round 2 and 3, at times, and Cassidy believes that they can work themselves out of it again, particularly Marchand.

“We asked him to attack a little more,” Cassidy said. “What happens with Brad is if the puck’s not going in, he wants to make plays for Pasta, because Pasta can score, Berg, they’re all 30-goal scorers, so [Brad] defers a little bit.

“We tried to get him out of that mindset and just play. If the pass is there, obviously make it, but don’t be afraid to shoot. You saw it the other night, he rang one off the post, had one cross screen and nice blocker save, [Sean] Kuraly almost got the rebound, so there was some stuff going on there for him. I thought Pastrnak was closer than that, had a block on a wraparound, so he’s getting inside. That encourages me. So I feel they’re close, but St. Louis is tough. It’s tough to get inside, they defend well, goaltender’s playing well. So it’s a good battle right now.”

If there’s a good omen here, it’s that the first time Boston faced elimination in these playoffs, perfection was, indeed, the deciding factor.

The Bruins found themselves trailing the Toronto Maple Leafs 3-2 in their Round 1 series. With their backs up against the wall, Marchand exploded for two goals and an assist, Pastrnak assisted twice and Bergeron added a helper of his own for a six-point night for the line and a win that forced a Game 7.

Given who the Blues have played the Bergeron line as of late, it appears Boston is going to need another one of those Herculean efforts on Sunday to send the series back to Boston for the 17th Game 7 in Stanley Cup Final history — and first, ironically, since Boston won it all in 2011.

“I do believe they were better, closer to scoring than they have been,” Cassidy said. “And I’ve said it: listen, we want them to score, but we’ve gotten production all playoffs from different players. It’s why we’re still playing. That’s the mindset tomorrow. Your best players need to be your best players, but if they defend well and we have a good defensive game, you know, we’re in it, I feel someone will step up. Probably them, because they usually do.

“But same token, we don’t want to put so much pressure on them they get outside their overall game, their defensive game, because they’re a good line all-around and we don’t want them to lose that.”

For what it’s worth, Boston pushed the pace with 39 shots in Game 5, 13 of which came from Bergeron’s line, and got very unlucky when Noel Acciari was slew-footed, leading to David Perron‘s 2-0 goal that would be all the difference in a 2-1 St. Louis win.

Give that line another 13 shots and the story could be vastly different. The Bruins will be hoping that’s the case.

Blues-Bruins Game 6 is Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC and the NBC Sports app.

MORE BLUES – BRUINS COVERAGE:
Bruins vs. Blues: Three keys to Game 6 of Stanley Cup Final
Blues looking to seize opportunity, close out storybook season
• Pucks tell the story of Blues’ rollercoaster season
• Bruins’ Chara was more than just brave in Game 5
• Chara, Dunn join jaw-dropping club of playing through pain
• Bruins, Blues in familiar places heading into Game 6


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

Lineup shuffling benefits Blues in Stanley Cup Final

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ST. LOUIS (AP) — Had Oskar Sundqvist not gotten suspended and Robert Thomas ruled out with a nagging injury, Zach Sanford might never have gotten a chance to show his stuff on hockey’s biggest stage.

If Vince Dunn not taken a puck to the mouth during the last round, Robert Bortuzzo might not have had the chance to score a key goal in the Stanley Cup Final.

This is the magic of the St. Louis Blues in the playoffs and even more specifically their series against the Boston Bruins. They’ve dressed a lottery ball machine amount of lineup combinations this postseason and because of suspensions and injuries in the final will have their sixth different lineup in six games.

Instead of interrupting continuity that’s usually paramount in the playoffs, the Blues’ game of musical jerseys with players in and out of the lineup has given them a variety of looks for the Bruins to contend with and contributed to St. Louis being on the verge of winning the Stanley Cup.

”You never want to see guys get suspended or go down with an injury,” forward Patrick Maroon said Saturday. ”But Zach Sanford, Sammy Blais and Robby Fabbri have done a really good job filling in. Thomas was playing until he went out. They’ve been here all year, and they know what it takes to win.”

Maroon is one of only 12 skaters plus goaltender Jordan Binnington to play in all 24 of St. Louis’ playoff games so far. That number will dip to 11 with Ivan Barbashev suspended and the very real possibility Thomas is ready to return after missing the past four games with what’s believed to be a hand/wrist injury.

Injury attrition can take its toll this time of year, something the San Jose Sharks found out when the Blues eliminated them without Erik Karlsson, Joe Pavelski and Tomas Hertl. The Blues have kept on chugging through the injuries and gotten impressive performances from players shuffling in and out of the lineup like Bortuzzo or returning off a long layoff like Sanford and Fabbri.

Barbashev isn’t available for Game 6, and coach Craig Berube said other decisions will be made closer to puck drop. Top-line forward Vladimir Tarasenko and bottom-six grinder Alex Steen are expected to play after missing practice for maintenance, but there are other questions about who’s in and out and St. Louis won’t have much of a drop-off either way.

”We have good depth, which is very important on the back end and up front,” Berube said. ”A guy like Sanford coming in and doing a good job for us after being out for some time, and Sammy Blais, just different guys. It’s really important.”

Sanford has had some significant jump in his legs the past three games after sitting out six weeks as a healthy scratch. Dunn showed little rust from missing almost three weeks before getting back in for Game 4.

And there has been no pouting from guys like Bortuzzo and fellow defenseman Joel Edmundson trading places on the ice and in the press box.

”There’s been different circumstances for different things,” Bortuzzo said. ”You’re going to get in there and you’re going to be excited to play. You’re going to be refreshed regardless of what’s going on.”

The Blues had already done a strong job in the first three rounds of wearing down opponents as series dragged on, and they’re in the process of doing the same to Boston. They play the same style, but the Bruins never seeing the same St. Louis team twice in a playoff series that usually breeds familiarity and contempt makes it even more difficult to prepare.

Boston could dress its same lineup from Game 5 because forward Noel Acciari is expected to play after leaving in the third period Thursday and Marcus Johansson had no lingering effects from the hit on him Barbashev was suspended for.

While the Bruins promoted Johansson to their top power-play unit to get that unit going, the Blues have to adjust without Barbashev, who’s a key penalty killer.

”He’s physical for us,” forward Brayden Schenn said. ”He does a good job on the PK, scoring some goals. We can’t worry about him being out. You’ve got to worry about someone else stepping up, stepping in and filling his role.

That has been key to the Blues’ run the past two months, in large part because of injuries and Berube shaking things up with coach’s decisions for performance. The suspensions of Sundqvist and now Barbashev forced Berube’s hand even more, but it hasn’t led the Blues to abandon their bruising approach.

”If that was a thing, then we’d have slowed down on our physical game and that’s not us,” Carl Gunnarsson said. ”I think we’ve just got to keep on going, just going to keep it clean and keep doing what we’re doing.”

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

2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs’ most controversial calls

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The Boston Bruins and their fans were upset about officials not calling a penalty on Tyler Bozak before the Blues’ eventual game-winner in Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, but if misery loves company, than they shouldn’t feel alone.

In fact, the Bruins’ opponents in St. Louis had already been on both sides of some of the most pivotal, polarizing calls of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs before Game 5.

Let’s run down some of the biggest controversies of this postseason, starting with Thursday’s non-call. As a note: not every call was necessarily wrong, and this isn’t a comprehensive list, so feel free to air officiating grievances (or grievances about officiating grievances) in the comments.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Missed trip

Should it be considered a trip, a slew-foot, or no penalty at all? Well, as you can see in the video above this post’s headline, it sure seemed like Tyler Bozak thought he was going to the penalty box – just ask Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy – for taking down Noel Acciari.

At that point, the Blues were up 1-0, but moments after that non-call, Ryan O'Reilly found David Perron for what would eventually stand as the game-winning goal.

If the call was made, it would have still been 1-0 rather than 2-0 for the Blues, and the Bruins would have headed to the power play. It’s also worth noting that a) the Bruins seemed discombobulated by that turn of events and b) Acciari was taken out of the play, effectively making it a 5-on-4 situation, so that turn of events also heightened the Blues’ chances of scoring that goal.

The hand pass

It doesn’t get much more pivotal than a blown call in overtime, at least if that call leads to a deciding goal.

Consider this maybe the high point of the trilogy of moments that went the Sharks’ way during their playoff run, as Timo Meier got away with a hand pass before Erik Karlsson scored the OT game-winner in Game 3 of the 2019 Western Conference Final against the Blues.

The Blues took the high road following that controversy, and eventually won their series against the Sharks, while top officials noted that the play was not reviewable. Could that be one of those moments that changes the goal review process in 2019-20? We shall see.

Blues score with Bishop down

File this one under the tougher judgment calls.

It all happened pretty quickly, as Ben Bishop went down after a hard shot to the collarbone area from Colton Parayko. Moments later – but arguably with more than enough time for officials to blow the play dead if they chose to – Jaden Schwartz scored a big goal that helped St. Louis force a Game 7 against the Dallas Stars in what would turn out to be an extremely close Round 2 series.

The Gabriel Landeskog incident

It seemed like the Colorado Avalanche tied Game 7 of their Round 2 series against the Sharks, until they didn’t.

Instead, the Sharks reversed Colin Wilson‘s would-be tying goal thanks to an offside review. To Landeskog’s credit, the Avalanche captain took the blame, rather than throwing officials under the bus.

Should that play have been offside? Was there even some room to look at it as too many men on the ice? It was a strange situation, either way, and another moment that worked out for San Jose, as the Sharks ultimately eliminated Colorado.

Major problem

The Golden Knights were up 3-0 against the Sharks in Game 7 of Round 1, and then Cody Eakin was whistled for a major penalty after his check (and a bump from Paul Stastny) led to a terrifying, bloody fall for Joe Pavelski.

The Sharks stunningly scored four goals during that five-minute major, and while Vegas showed scrappiness in sending that Game 7 to overtime, San Jose eventually prevailed. It’s true that the Golden Knights’ penalty kill was preposterously porous during that four-goal barrage, but Vegas was fuming after the loss, with Jonathan Marchessault comparing the perceived officiating mistake to the infamous blown pass interference call that went against the New Orleans Saints.

Most would agree that Eakin deserved to be penalized, while the debate revolves around it being a major and game misconduct. The human element of the situation cannot be ignored, as officials saw a scary scene where Pavelski was bleeding, and it happened in front of a San Jose crowd.

This is another play that might have a ripple effect. Will the NHL decide to make major penalties (or discussions of major penalties) subject to video review?

***

It’s crucial to mention that it must be difficult to officiate any sport, let alone one as fast-paced as hockey. For every call you miss or make, there’s someone behind the scenes complaining about too many or too few calls. After all, Bruce Cassidy believes that Craig Berube’s complaints about officials changed the “narrative” of the Stanley Cup Final.

Getting these calls correct, all the time, is a prime example of “Easier said than done.”

Still, for fans and teams who feel slighted, these moments will reverberate, at least if their runs don’t end with a Stanley Cup victory.

Are there any moments that stand out to you, beyond the five splashy ones above? If you want to dig up old gripes about Wayne Gretzky high-sticking Doug Gilmour, have at it. Replaying those major, split-second decisions is half the fun/agony of being a hockey fan, right?

Game 6 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC; 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.