Steve Kampfer

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Pastrnak’s tape job makes for incredibly unique stick

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BOSTON — Marc Savard knows plenty about taping hockey sticks. The former NHLer shows viewers the different ways players tape their sticks on his YouTube channel. There is one player in the league whose tape job drives Savard crazy.

“The blade is scary,” Savard said about David Pastrnak‘s unique tape job during a Feb. 2018 episode. “I don’t know how he plays with this and produces the way he does and is as successful as he is with this tape job.”

It’s a very simple look for Pastrnak: three stripes up top of the shaft of his 77-flex, BAUER Nexus 2N model and only three stripes of black tape on the blade. A completely different pattern than what most players use.

“When I was a kid you had to buy your own tape and it wasn’t cheap,” said Pastrnak in a promotional video for Bauer Hockey. “We’d always use less tape so you could have it for a long time. For some reason it brings me luck — the three stripes on the top and three stripes on the bottom.”

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Pastrnak said he’s not good with scissors, hence why he keeps tape away from the toe of the blade. The lack of coverage on his blade clearly doesn’t affect his on-ice production having recorded 132 goals and 284 points in 320 career NHL games.

In Pastrnak’s eyes, having so little tape on the blade makes him feel more comfortable handling and shooting the puck. Any more tape and he feels less control.

Pastrnak’s teammates find the way he tapes his sticks very unusual, and you won’t find them copying the 23-year-old forward’s style.

“Absolutely not. I cannot do that,” said defenseman Steve Kampfer. “I wouldn’t even attempt to. I’ll leave that for skill guys.”

“It’s pretty wild stuff there,” said forward Danton Heinen. “I haven’t see anybody do it like that. He’s obviously unbelievable with it, so it works for him. That’s awesome. It’s not something I’ll be doing.”

Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (stream here).

MORE: A look at Ryan O’Reilly unusual blade

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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.

Stanley Cup Final: Looking at Bruins’ potential defensive options for Game 5

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Monday’s Game 4 loss to the St. Louis Blues was already the second time in the Stanley Cup Final that the Boston Bruins have had to finish a game with only five healthy defenders.

And for the second time they were on the losing end of the decision thanks in part to their shorthanded lineup.

In Game 2, it was Matt Grzelcyk that was sidelined after he was on the receiving end of an illegal check that kept him out of Games 3 and 4 of the series, while also resulting in a one-game suspension for Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.

In Game 4 it was veteran Zdeno Chara exiting the game after he was hit in the face by a Brayden Schenn shot that deflected off of Chara’s own stick. Even though he returned to the bench wearing a full face-shield for the entire third period, he never took another shift and was unavailable the entire time.

The status of both players remains very much in doubt for Game 5 of the series on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC) when it shifts back to Boston. That could be a huge problem for the Bruins.

It is still possible that one — or both — could be available, but that is still a huge unknown at this point and there is still the possibility that neither could be in the lineup. That is the potential doomsday scenario for the Bruins.

If there is one thing that can be said about this Bruins team it’s that they have done a remarkable job overcoming injuries all season, and it might be one of the most impressive aspects of their regular season record and run to the Stanley Cup Final. They have spent a significant portion of the season playing without some of their best players (often at the same time) and still managed to finish with one of the league’s best records. When everyone (or at least most of their lineup) is healthy they have looked like a powerhouse team that can be nearly impossible to beat.

They just haven’t always had that luxury, and when they haven’t they have at times looked vulnerable.

Especially when the injuries come on their blue line.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

If Chara and Grzelcyk are unable to go that would mean the Bruins would be without two of their top-five defenders from the regular season in terms of ice-time.

That is a situation they found themselves in for 26 games during the regular season where at least two of Chara, Grzcelcyk, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, or Brandon Carlo (their top-five defenders in ice-time) were out of the lineup. For one seven-game stretch in late November they were actually without three of them. While they remained competitive throughout all of that, they were pretty close to a .500 team in those 26 games with a 13-10-3 record.

Pretty good considering the circumstances, but obviously not anywhere near as dominant as they were when everyone was healthy.

When all five are in the lineup, including playoffs, the Bruins are 25-10-4.

Here’s the good news, such as it is, for the Bruins if Chara and/or Grzelcyk miss any additional team: They still have their best and most important defenders in the lineup in McAvoy and Krug. Those are the players that really drive the Bruins’ defense at this point and can make the biggest impact. They are the best skaters, the best puck-movers, the best ones at jumping into the play and joining the rush, and the ones that can most impact the team’s transition game. Carlo, for whatever shortcomings he might have with the puck, is also still one of their better defensive players.

We already looked at the depth issues associated with Grzelyck’s absence before Game 3, and taking Chara out of the mix only adds to them even if he is no longer one of their most impactful players.

Chara is one of the best defenders of his generation, but at age 42 he is a shell of his former dominant self. He can still be useful, he can he still be strong on the penalty kill, and he is still a huge presence (quite literally) on and off the ice. But he is no longer one of the players driving the bus for this team. The fact the Bruins will still have the players that are doing that is going to help as Bruce Cassidy can still lean on them.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be issues.

For one, none of the potential options are better than Chara and Grzelcyk. If they were, they would already be playing, and anytime you get down to the seventh or eighth defenders on your depth chart you are starting to get into a tough spot.

One option that Cassidy talked about on Tuesday is potentially using seven defenders in Game 5.

“Well, the back end could have a domino effect,” said Cassidy when asked about potential lineup decisions. “Again, speculation, I hate doing this, but if we are out two D, [Grzelcyk and Chara], we might have to play seven defensemen. Putting guys in that haven’t played a ton. Maybe you’ve got to look at how does this best work out to use a guy situationally, take Z’s PK minutes, if the other guys match up, which of course would be reaching into an area that a young kid hasn’t played in the Playoffs at all. You have to be careful there. Forwards, I think we can manage. We’ve used different guys, double-shifted throughout the year. So that part doesn’t worry me as much as how is it going to affect the young kid coming out of the lineup. We’ve plugged a D in, it’s worked well for us so far. That’s the other option. I don’t think we’ll go any other route. We’ve gone this far. Those are our options right now. That’s dictated by health right now.”

With veteran John Moore playing Games 3 and 4 he would obviously be a candidate to remain in the lineup if one of Grzlecyk or Chara can not go. If they are both out, and the Bruins opt to go with seven defenders, their remaining options would include veteran Steve Kampfer and rookies Jeremy Lauzon, Urho Vaakanainen, and Jakub Zboril. None of the rookies have ever played in a single playoff game and have just 20 regular season games between them.

Throwing one of them right into a Stanley Cup Final game would be a massive jump, especially since none of them have played an NHL game of any kind anytime recently.

The idea of seven defenders is a tough one because it can create a lot of problems.

On one hand when you are already deep into your depth chart and short on players it doesn’t seem to make a ton sense to play MORE of your defenders that aren’t good enough to crack your regular lineup. It also shortens your forward lineup and takes out a player that is probably better and more useful than the extra defender you are putting in the lineup (which forward do you want to scratch if you are the Bruins? Nobody deserves it).

But doing so could give Cassidy and his coaching staff the option to limit who plays in what situations, putting them into positions where they can succeed and don’t risk having their flaws as exposed (like penalty kill situations, for example, or defensive zone starts against the Blues’ top line).

In the end it is a potentially difficult situation for the Bruins to navigate, and one that could significantly impact the outcome of the series.

If neither one can go none of their options are particularly good ones. Their best hope is that both are, somehow, healthy enough to play.

Game 5 of Blues-Bruins is Thursday night at 8 p.m. ET on NBC from TD Garden in Boston

MORE BLUES-BRUINS:
Bruins confident they can overcome injuries 
Chara’s status for Game 5 unknown
Chara bloodied after taking puck to face

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.

Blues’ Sundqvist suspended one game for boarding Grzelcyk

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When the 2019 Stanley Cup Final shifts to St. Louis for Game 3 on Saturday night the host Blues will be without center Oskar Sundqvist.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced on Thursday night that Sundqvist has been suspended one game for boarding Boston Bruins defender Matt Grzelcyk in the first period of the Blues’ 3-2 overtime win in Game 2.

Sundqvist was only assessed a two-minute minor penalty during the game, while Grzelcyk did not return.

His status for Games 3 and 4 of the series remains unknown at this point as he is currently in the concussion protocol and listed as being “day-to-day” by the Bruins. He did not accompany the team on its trip to St. Louis on Thursday.

Here is another look at the play as well as the NHL’s explanation for the suspension.

It has been a breakout season for Sundqvist as he has emerged as a strong depth player for the Blues. After finishing the regular season with 14 goals and 31 total points, he has made a sizable impact in the playoffs with a handful of big goals and a strong defensive presence. Through the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final he has four goals and nine total points.

If Grzelcyk is unable to go — something that seems likely —  for the Bruins as a result of the injury it is going to be a significant loss for their blue line as he has become one of their best puck-moving defenders. If he can not play he will be replaced by either John Moore or Steve Kampfer in the lineup.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

Related: Grzelcyk’s absence could be significant for Bruins

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.

Grzelcyk’s absence would be significant for Bruins

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Matt Grzelcyk isn’t one of the household names on the Boston Bruins’ defense, but do not let that take away from just how important he has become for the team.

That importance was on display for much of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night when he wasn’t available following a hit from St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist is facing a suspension for the hit, while the Bruins announced on Thursday that Grzelcyk is listed as “day-to-day” as he enters the concussion protocol.

He is also not making the trip to St. Louis with the team on Thursday, leaving his status for Games 3 and 4 of the series very much in doubt.

This would be a problem for the Bruins.

First, Grzelyck has developed into one of the more underrated players on the Bruins’ roster due to his ability to skate and move the puck. He may not be one of their big-minute players or one of their top point producers, but he is excellent when it comes to starting the rush out of the defensive zone and breaking down the opposing forecheck, an area where St. Louis feasted in Game 2, and especially after Grzelcyk exited the game.

“Losing the 15 to 16 minutes of [Grzelcyk’s] time, he’s a good puck mover and a guy that can break down a forecheck when he’s on,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy following the Game 2 loss.

“The forecheck was a strength of theirs tonight and a weakness of ours — breaking pucks out. [Grzelcyk] is good at the big escape and the big clean pass to get our forwards moving. We lost some of that element.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just to get a sense for how good Grzelcyk is at helping the Bruins move the puck and transition to the offensive zone, there is not a defender on the team that starts a higher percentage of their shifts in the defensive zone. Despite those tough assignments he is still one of their best defenders when it comes to shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and high-danger scoring chance differential. In other words, they are still creating more offense than their opponents when he is on the ice even though he is consistently being put into defensive situations, furthest away from the attacking net.

“He’s been fantastic,” said Brandon Carlo, one of Grzelcyk’s many defense partners in the playoffs.

“Obviously he’s gotten some pucks in the net here in the playoffs and brought that offensive presence. Have lot of respect for the way he plays. He’s very responsible offensively. I’ve had the opportunity to be played with him at times, and it makes the game a lot easier for his partner, just with the way he sees the ice and moves the puck.”

If he is not available the Bruins not only have to replace his spot (with either John Moore or Steve Kampfer) but there is also the potential trickle down impact that comes with him not being there. The Bruins have rolled their three defense pairings fairly evenly throughout the playoffs, and losing Grzelcyk’s minutes could put more pressure on some of the other blue liners that aren’t quite as effective as he is when it comes to moving the puck.

Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug are impact players and make plays in all three zones, but there is a pretty sharp drop-off on the rest of the defense when it comes to that aspect of the game. If either Moore or Kampfer were better than Grzelcyk, they would be playing over him, so there is obviously going to be some sort of a drop when it comes to his replacement. Zdeno Chara isn’t quite what he was years ago, and while Carlo is a strong defensive player he has some limitations when it comes to making plays with the puck on his stick.

The positive news for the Bruins is that dealing with injuries to significant players is not a new thing for them over the past two years. Just about all of their best players have missed an extended period of time (often times together) and they have still managed to keep winning games. It is a testament to the depth they have assembled and the job that Cassidy and his staff have done behind the bench.

But this isn’t some random stretch in the middle of November. This is the Stanley Cup Final where there is little margin for error, you are playing a great team every night, and that opposing coaching staff is doing far more intense scouting and game-planning that is designed to exploit whatever weakness you have.

If Grzelcyk is forced to miss time, that could prove to be a significant weakness that the Blues might be able to exploit.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
Blues’ Sundqvist facing hearing for Grzelcyk hit
Sundqvist only gets minor penalty for hit

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.

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at New York Rangers

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 NHL season continues with Wednesday Night Rivalry as the New York Rangers play host to the Boston Bruins at 8 p.m. ET.

[Click here for the Live Stream]

Projected Lineups and starting goalies

Boston Bruins
Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak
Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRyan Spooner
Danton HeinenRiley NashDavid Backes
Tim SchallerSean Kuraly – Austin Czarnik

Zdeno CharaCharlie McAvoy
Torey KrugBrandon Carlo
Matt GrzelcykAdam McQuaid

Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

[NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Rangers heading in opposite directions]

New York Rangers
Rick NashMika ZibanejadMats Zuccarello
J.T. MillerDavid DesharnaisVinni Lettieri
Michael GrabnerKevin HayesJesper Fast
Cody McLeod – Peter HollandPaul Carey

Ryan McDonaghTony DeAngelo
Brady SkjeiNick Holden
Brendan SmithSteve Kampfer

Starting goalie: Henrik Lundqvist