Torey Krug

Five reasons why Bruins are in Stanley Cup Final

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The Boston Bruins became the first team to punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final when they eliminated the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night. Unlike most other teams that go all the way, the Bruins’ journey seemed to get easier and easier as the playoffs wore on. But why have they had so much success this postseason?

The Bruins managed to eliminate the Toronto Maple Leafs in seven games in the first round, it took them six games to send the Columbus Blue Jackets packing in the second round, and they took care of business against Carolina fairly easily.

“Obviously still a long way [to go], a lot of work left in front of us, but I thought we’ve been focused, and that’s what you need,” Patrice Bergeron said after eliminating the Hurricanes, per NHL.com. “Everyone is contributing, everyone is a leader in this locker room, and at this time of the year, that’s what makes you advance.”

Bergeron, of course, is right. This team is focused and they’ve battled their way through three very different opponents. But let’s break down specific elements of their game that led to them being the first team in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
Tuukka Rask: The Bruins netminder has been terrific throughout this postseason. If the playoffs ended today, there’s no doubt that he’d be the favorite to land the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP. He owns a 12-5 record with a 1.84 goals-against-average and a .942 save percentage during these playoffs. Since dropping back-to-back games to the Blue Jackets early in the second round, Rask and the Bruins have rattled off seven consecutive wins.
“It means a lot. It’s so difficult to advance in the playoffs, let alone make it to the Final,” Rask said. “We need to really enjoy this but realize that we have lots of work to do. I mean, every year is a new year, different groups, you always think you have a chance, and I think the past few years we’ve really built something special here with a great group of guys. Really, just happy to be part of it.”
Rask is in a zone right now. No matter who their next opponent is, St. Louis or San Jose, rattling the Bruins netminder’s cage early on might be the key to winning it all.
Depth: How many different players have scored a goal for the Bruins this postseason? 19. Yes, 19! I’m not going to list them all, but you get the point. When you can get that kind of contribution from your entire lineup, you’re setting yourself up for success. Head coach Bruce Cassidy has an incredible first line that he can throw out there in any situation, but the lines that follow are also reliable. Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson, who were both acquired via trade, have fit in perfectly. No team can rival the Bruins in that department.
Special Teams: Cassidy’s team has won the special teams battle against each of their three opponents in the postseason. Their penalty kill is ranked fourth at 86.3 percent and it’s the best one among the three teams remaining in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. As for their power play, it’s been lethal. It’s currently clicking at 34 percent, which is impressive considering they’re the only team to be over 30 percent. By comparison, the Sharks are at 18 percent while the Blues are at 16.7 percent. Special teams will be key, again, in the Stanley Cup Final.
First Line: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak haven’t played together throughout this entire postseason, but they’ve been a critical part of Boston’s success. Heading into the Stanley Cup Final, they’ve accounted for 22 of their team’s 57 goals this postseason (38.6 percent). These three will continue to be a handful for their next opponent.
Top four defensemen: Charlie McAvoy is the Bruins’ best defender, but they found a way to win without him in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final. Still, He’s averaged over 24 minutes of ice time in the postseason and he’s picked up 7 points in 16 games along the way. Zdeno Chara, who missed Game 4 with an undisclosed injury, has also logged some important minutes on the penalty kill. The pairing of Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug has also come up big repeatedly for Boston during their run.

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 have evolved into one of NHL’s best under Cassidy

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On Feb. 4, 2017, the Boston Bruins were an organization that seemed to be stuck in mediocrity. They had narrowly missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, had won just 26 of their first 55 games that year, and were preparing to fire Claude Julien, a Stanley Cup winning coach and one of the most successful coaches the team had ever had.

While there were some signs that the 2016-17 team had performed better than its overall record under Julien (they were a good possession team but were getting sunk by sub-par goaltending) the team had just seemed to hit a wall where there was no way forward. It was not a particularly deep roster, the defense was full of question marks, and it just had the look of an organization that was teetering on the edge of needing a rebuild.

It was at that point that Bruce Cassidy took over behind the bench for his first head coaching opportunity in the NHL since a mostly disappointing one-and-a-half year run with the Washington Capitals more than a decade earlier. All the Bruins have done since then is evolve into one of the NHL’s most dominant teams under Cassidy and enter Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday just one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It has been a pretty sensational run under Cassidy’s watch.

Since he was hired the Bruins are second in the NHL in points percentage (.670), goal-differential (plus-130), Corsi percentage (53.2 percent) and scoring chance percentage (53.4), and 10th in high-danger scoring chance percentage (52.2). They have made the playoffs every year he has been behind the bench and gone increasingly further each time. They are now just five wins away from a championship.

Obviously there is a lot of talent on this Boston team, especially at the top of the lineup where they have a collection of some the game’s best players, including the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

That will help any coach.

But what is perhaps most impressive about the Bruins’ success over the past two seasons is how many games Cassidy has been without some of those key players, and how often his team has just kept on winning.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season the group of Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, and Brandon Carlo has combined to miss 203 man-games. That is an average of more than 20 games *per player* over the two-year stretch.

That is not only a lot of games to miss due to injury (or, in some cases, suspension), it is a lot of games for pretty much all of the team’s best players. That does not even take into account the time starting goalie Tuukka Rask missed earlier this season.

The quick response to that sustained success, obviously, is “depth,” and how a lot of credit should be given to the front office for constructing a deep roster that can overcome that many significant injuries.

After all, McAvoy has been a game-changer on defense, Pastrnak has blossomed into a star, and while the Bruins may not have maximized the return on their three consecutive first-round picks in 2015 (they passed on Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor, just to name a few) they still have had a nice collection of young forwards emerge through the system, especially Jake DeBrusk.

While all of that is certainly true to a point, this is also a team whose depth was probably its biggest weakness and question mark until about two months ago.

Everyone knew their top line was the best in the NHL. Everyone knew their defense with McAvoy blossoming into a star and Krug producing the way he did was starting to turn around. But they were still a remarkably top-heavy team that did not get much in the way of offense outside of their top five or six players. And they spent a lot of time over the past two years, in the league’s toughest division at the top, and still managed to win a ton of hockey games.

[MORE: Bruins head to Stanley Cup Final after sweeping Hurricanes]

Maybe the depth was better than it was originally given credit for, and maybe the goaltending duo of Rask and Jaroslav Halak has helped to mask some flaws. But you also can not ignore the job Cassidy has done behind the bench and the success the team has had since he took over. In the two-and-a-half years prior to him (including during that very season) the Bruins’ points percentage was only 18th in the NHL, and while their possession and scoring chance numbers were still good, they were not as downright dominant as they have been under Cassidy.

It doesn’t matter who he has had in the lineup, who he has been without, or what run of injuries have been thrown his way his team has just simply gotten results. Even more important than the results is the way they are getting the results. They control the puck, they get the better of the scoring chances, and they just simply play like a championship level team.

It is a far jump from where they were just a little more than two years ago, and the turnaround started the day they made the switch behind the bench.

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.

The Playoff Buzzer: Bruins blast Hurricanes in Game 2

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  • Ouch. Look, every now and then, a game just gets away from you, even during the playoffs. It’s happened before for the Hurricanes, and Carolina found a way to win their Round 1 series against the Capitals, anyway. They’ll need to channel those emotions, as the Bruins absolutely stomped the Hurricanes in Game 2 on Sunday.

Bruins 6, Hurricanes 2 (Boston leads series 2-0; Game 3 on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN; stream here).

After running away with Game 1 thanks to a four-goal third period, the Bruins duplicated that success when it mattered during Game 2. Boston scored two goals in each of the three periods to take a 6-0 lead, coughing up those two late goals when the two teams were basically killing time. Granted, the Hurricanes probably felt some relief by scoring a couple goals against Tuukka Rask, including a blunder by Rask on the second tally. From special teams to even-strength play to goaltending, the Hurricanes have a ton of work to do as the scene changes to Carolina for Games 3 and 4.

That one save

Game 2 was brutal for Petr Mrazek. It’s fair to wonder if Rod Brind’Amour should have replaced Mrazek for Curtis McElhinney heading into the third period, and it’s equally fair to ask if McElhinney should be the Game 3 starter. Yet, as bad as things were … at least Mrazek made this save.

Three Stars

1. Matt Grzelcyk

It could have been a short Game 2 for Grzelcyk, considering how hard that Micheal Ferland hit looked.

Instead, the blueliner enjoyed a standout afternoon, generating two of the Bruins’ first four goals (when the game was still reasonably competitive). That included the 1-0 icebreaker, an ugly-looking thing that Mrazek surely wishes he could have back.

Along with scoring two important goals, Grzelcyk logged 18:21 time on ice, delivered two hits, and blocked two shots. At this rate, people might not even feel anxious about misspelling his last name.

2. Charlie Coyle

Consider this the combined Charlie Coyle – Marcus Johansson entry.

Johansson’s work caught the eye in a more prominent way, as he did most of the work to make the 1-0 goal happen, and both of his points were primary assists.

Coyle deserves a mention, too, and he actually had one more point (three assists to Johansson’s two). It was a subtly effective all-around Game 2 for Coyle, as he enjoyed a +3 rating, went 12-3 on faceoffs, registered one hit, and one SOG in a modest 14:02 TOI.

The headlines (and amusing Dunkin’ Donuts commercials) go to Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak, but the Coyle – Johansson duo is really starting to click for Boston, allowing them to win games even when the top trio is being held in check. Carolina needs to find answers quickly, or the Bruins will go through them faster than Pastrnak polishes off a cold brew.

3. Torey Krug

With it being a relatively light day at the office for Tuukka Rask (two goals allowed on 23 shots, including a funky giveaway by Rask), it seems fairer to stick with skaters for the top three.

Krug had a strong Game 2, generating three assists. Two of Krug’s assists happened on Boston’s power-play goals, which occurred when the game was still on respectable street (the 4-0 stretch through the first 40 minutes).

Those three assists give Krug 11 points in 15 playoff games, tying Krug with Jaccob Slavin and Alex Pietrangelo for third place in scoring among defensemen. Krug is one point away from matching his career high of 12 postseason points, a mark he set during last year’s postseason.

Factoids

  • With Connor Clifton scoring his first career NHL goal, the Bruins have received at least one goal from 19 different players during their 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs run. That ties the Bruins’ franchise record for a single postseason, as Boston saw 19 players find the net in 1988.
  • As Capitals fans would like to forget, the Hurricanes have already come back from a 2-0 deficit, doing so in Round 1. They’re hoping to just be the third team to successfully fight back from 2-0 deficits during the same postseason. On the bright side, this parity-filled age is responsible for the two teams who’ve done it: the Bruins in 2011 and the Penguins in 2009.
  • The Bruins scoring 10 consecutive goals marks the fourth-best playoff run in team history. The best stretch was 18 consecutive goals, which they managed in 1969.

Monday’s game

Game 2: St. Louis Blues at San Jose Sharks (San Jose leads 1-0); 9 p.m. ET on NBCSN; 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 vs. Hurricanes: PHT 2019 Eastern Conference Final preview

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It’s easy to picture especially swaggery, Boston-sports-spoiled Bruins fans walking into the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a mantra: “Just get past the first two rounds.”

On paper, that seemed to be the most treacherous steps in a hopeful path to a championship. Get past the Maple Leafs in Round 1, and then you’d assume they’d need to cross their fingers against the mighty Lightning in Round 2. Oops.

The Bruins figure to be fairly strong favorites heading into their Eastern Conference Final matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes, but if this postseason reinforces any lesson, it’s that it’s dangerous to assume any hockey playoff series is a lock, one way or another.

After all, that mighty Tampa team tumbled against Columbus, who pushed Boston quite a bit in that six-game series. The Hurricanes also dispatched the defending champion Capitals in Round 1, then swept the sweepers in the Islanders.

Despite this Carolina group largely being new to this whole playoff thing, the Hurricanes have shown remarkable resilience in rolling with punches. While other teams might crumble at the loss of a starting goalie, Carolina just kept trucking along. Playing the underdogs against the Bruins likely won’t bother this bunch of jerks.

The Bruins hold home-ice advantage and household names, but these Hurricanes might just make a name for themselves during this series.

SCHEDULE
(All times ET, subject to change):

Thursday, May 9, 8 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Bruins | NBCSN
Sunday, May 12, 3 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Bruins | NBC
Tuesday, May 14, 8 p.m.: Bruins @ Hurricanes | NBCSN
Thursday, May 16, 8 p.m.: Bruins @ Hurricanes | NBCSN
*Saturday, May 18, 7:15 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Bruins | NBC
*Monday, May 20, 8 p.m.: Bruins @ Hurricanes | NBCSN
*Wednesday, May 22, 8 p.m.: Hurricanes @ Bruins | NBCSN

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

OFFENSE

During the regular season, the Bruins scored 259 goals, while the Hurricanes managed 245. The two teams have been neck-and-neck during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with Carolina averaging 3.09 goals per game, barely ahead of Boston’s 3.08.

There’s no getting around it, and the Hurricanes haven’t tried to ignore it; every team in the league figures to have fits with the Bruins’ big three of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. This trio’s mixture of defensive play, finishing ability, passing skills, and all-around hockey IQ is basically unmatched in the NHL right now. (If they have equals, the list is short.)

That said, that big three has been slowed down at times during the postseason, which is a credit to the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets. Unfortunately for opponents, the Bruins have seen improved support beyond that top line. A strong second line is led by David Krejci, Charlie Coyle is finding nice chemistry with Marcus Johansson on the third line, and Sean Kuraly‘s been able to pitch in some offense, too.

Don’t count out the Hurricanes’ group, though.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen have been very much a dynamic duo in their own right. Jordan Staal‘s defensive game has essentially always been there, and now he’s getting some bounces on offense. There’s plenty of help on the wings, especially if Nino Niederreiter can shrug off a cold streak, and if Andrei Svechnikov and Micheal Ferland can get reasonably healthy.

On paper, the Bruins have the high-end edge, while the Hurricanes’ offensive advantage likely comes in depth. It’s a testament to both teams that, frankly, even those gaps are probably pretty small.

ADVANTAGE: Bruins.

DEFENSE

Despite a staggering array of injuries at times during this postseason run, the Hurricanes have been able to control the puck more often than not thanks to their splendid group of defensemen.

Losing Trevor van Riemsdyk stings from a depth perspective, yet if any team can spread those minutes out, it’s likely Carolina. Jaccob Slavin‘s received some long-deserved mainstream attention for excellent play, but Dougie Hamilton and Justin Faulk have also been excellent during the Rounds 1 and 2. Calvin de Haan and Brett Pesce round out one of the more complete groups we’ve seen since the salary cap was instituted. This group can move the puck, create some offense, and do a solid job of limiting opportunities against. Don’t be surprised if there are long stretches where the Bruins’ forecheck is short-circuited by Carolina’s ability to transition the puck.

The Bruins’ blueline isn’t as versatile, but as a unit, they make life easier for Tuukka Rask, for the most part.

Torey Krug is an absolute weapon on the power play, and effective overall. Charlie McAvoy and Zdeno Chara enjoy an effective, symbiotic relationship when paired together. This is a solid group overall, even though Chara is understandably slowing down at age 42.

ADVANTAGE: Hurricanes, and not just when McAvoy is suspended for Game 1.

GOALTENDING

Both the Bruins and Hurricanes enjoy a luxury that few teams manage: a viable backup.

That proved especially important for Carolina, as Petr Mrazek missed the latter portion of Round 2 against the Islanders, making way for Curtis McElhinney. In a way, that seems quite fitting, as the two made things work in Carolina’s net, often by committee.

With Ben Bishop‘s Stars out, Tuukka Rask seems like the obvious choice for hottest goalie remaining in this postseason. Rask closed out Columbus with a masterful 39-save shutout, pushing his save percentage to a whopping .938 this postseason. He was the story of that Game 6 win, and really that series against the Blue Jackets, in general.

Losing Rask to an injury or slump would be brutal for Boston, yet Jaroslav Halak is a proven veteran who at times outplayed Rask during the 2018-19 regular season. Halak is arguably the second-best goalie in this series.

ADVANTAGE: Bruins. Goalies are a strange lot, though.

SPECIAL TEAMS

The Bruins have generated the best power play percentage (28.6) of these playoffs, and ranked third in the NHL at 25.9 percent during the regular season. The Hurricanes converted on a middling 17.8 percent of their chances during the regular season (12th-worst), and have struggled in the playoffs, only converting on 10.5 percent of their opportunities.

(I’ve screamed from many mountaintops about the Hurricanes needing to move Hamilton to the QB role of its first power play unit in exchange for Faulk. Ultimately, I realize that this is a one-way conversation, as Carolina seems resolute in sticking with what … hasn’t worked.)

The Hurricanes sported the more effective penalty kill (81.6 percent) during the regular season (Boston was at 79.9 percent), while the Bruins have had more success in the playoffs (83.8 percent to Carolina’s 75). Of course, as dangerous as Toronto’s PP talent can be, the Bruins had the advantage of not facing Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals’ man advantage, while Carolina did during seven games in Round 1.

ADVANTAGE: Bruins. The Hurricanes likely have an edge on penalty killing, but it’s incremental. Meanwhile, Boston’s power play may very well swing the series.

PREDICTION

BRUINS IN 7. The Hurricanes aren’t just some Cinderella story running on fumes. Instead, they’re a balanced team that can win battles in all three zones, and that defense gives Carolina a fighting chance against just about any opponent. That said, the Bruins have the big three, more trustworthy goaltending, and a power play that could buy them some precious breathing room. This should be a treat for hockey nerds and casual fans alike.

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

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.

Marchand, Bruins top Maple Leafs to force Game 7

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We will have at least one Game 7 in Round 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Boston Bruins were able to avoid elimination and pushed their series against the Toronto Maple Leafs to a decisive seventh game with a rock solid 4-2 win on Sunday afternoon.

Brad Marchand was the big offensive star for the Bruins, finishing with a pair of goals and an assist in the win.

His power play goal at the 11:23 mark of the first period came just two minutes after the Maple Leafs had scored to taken an early lead and proved to be a turning point in the game.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Torey Krug scored another power play goal just a few minutes later to give the Bruins the lead, and from that point on they dominated for much of the day.

At one point Toronto went more than nine minutes without registering a shot on goal and spent most of the second period stuck in its own zone defending a relentless Bruins forecheck that seemed to be winning every battle and dictating the pace of the game.

The Bruins were able to eventually pad their lead in the second period when Jake DeBrusk scored on a beautiful 2-on-2 rush with David Krejci to give them a two-goal advantage.

That goal would prove to be the game-winner as Auston Matthews was able to bring the Maple Leafs to within one mid-way through the third period, but they were never able to get the equalizer despite a flurry of chances late in the game.

Marchand added an empty-net goal, his second goal of the game, to secure the win.

While special teams played a huge role on Sunday (the Bruins scored two power play goals; the Maple Leafs’ power play was shut out) it would be oversimplifying it to say that was the only difference in the game. The reality is that Boston was superior team in all situations and was dominating Toronto from territorial standpoint all afternoon. After two periods the Maple Leafs were attempting only 32 percent of the even-strength shot attempts and rarely tested Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.

Had it not been for a handful of highlight reel saves by Maple Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen this game could have easily gotten out of hand in the Bruins’ favor.

Now the Maple Leafs find themselves in a situation where they have to head back to Boston to play a Game 7 for the second year in a row. If they are going to flip the script from a year ago, they are going to need a significantly better performance than the one they had on Sunday.

Game 7 of the Bruins-Maple Leafs series will take place on Tuesday night in Boston.

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.