Tuukka Rask

Bruins seek balance between enjoying rest, staying sharp ahead of Cup Final

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When the puck drops next Monday for Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final (8 p.m. ET; NBC), the Boston Bruins will have had 11 days of rest.

Following their seven-game Round 1 series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins have only needed nine games to reach their third Cup Final since 2011. All that rest will certainly bode well for a team with an average age of 27.3 and seven players north of 30 years old. 

But will it be too much time off?

The Bruins and Tuukka Rask have won seven in a row and played dominant hockey over the last two rounds. They would love to maintain that level of sharpness, but that will be difficult to do so with a week and a half between games. Bruce Cassidy gave his players Friday and Saturday off following their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final, but it’s since been back to business as they await to find out their Cup Final opponent.

“We have a plan on how we’re going to go through this week, balancing practices with days off,” Cassidy said on Sunday. “We are going to meet with the veteran guys who’ve been through it. We talked about scrimmaging. Will we do it at night? Prepare like a game or have it in the morning? We’ll talk to people outside the organization.”

Some of those outside people include the New England Patriots, who know a thing or two about winning championships after dealing with lots of downtime between games.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Zdeno Chara, who missed Game 4 due, was back at practice on Monday with “no issues,” per Cassidy. While he keeps himself in great shape, his 41-year-old bones certainly have welcomed the extended time off. Cassidy said the injury that forced him to sit wasn’t serious, which was a relief for a Bruins team that has relied on him to play over 22 minutes a night this postseason.

A nine-day break between Rounds 1 and 2 allowed John Tortorella to organize a full scrimmage for his Columbus Blue Jackets players after they earned the time off by sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning. That could be an option for the Bruins to not lose their edge.

“In the short term, it’s really beneficial for our group,” Cassidy said. “We’ve been pedal to the metal here, mentally and physically, for a while. I do believe in the short term it will help us a lot. Then it’s incumbent upon us to simulate the best we can with what’s going to be required going forward.”

One player the Bruins desperately need to maintain his sharpness is Tuukka Rask, who’s posted a .945 even strength save percentage and two shutouts in 17 games this spring. They longest he’s gone between starts this season was from Jan. 19 to Jan. 31 after suffering a concussion against the New York Rangers. His recovery time was aided by the fact that the Bruins had their bye week right after the injury occurred, so the 31-year-old goaltender only missed one game.

The Conn Smythe frontrunner has been locked in this postseason and playing at a level that is reminiscent of the Bruins’ 2013 run to the Cup Final.

“When he was concussed, I think he missed quite a bit of time then came back and played well,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “He’s in a really good place, a really good place mentally and physically and his routines. He’s gone out game days. In the past, he hasn’t. He’s gone out for specific reasons. I think he’ll continue to do those things. It’s just the game, to get into the flow of the game and speed of the game you can’t ever simulate, so there will be challenges, certainly. Tuukka is in a really good place, and I expect him to return there.”

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info

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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.

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.

Sweep gives surging Bruins a break before Stanley Cup Final

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The Boston Bruins have earned a break before their biggest series in a few years.

Their sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference final has afforded them a few extra days to rest up before their third Stanley Cup Final appearance in nine years.

So they can sit back, let their bumps and bruises heal – especially the ones that kept 42-year-old captain Zdeno Chara out of the series-clincher – and watch the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues beat each other up a few more times.

”I think as you get older, you appreciate it even more, and you realize how hard it is to get to this point and advance and be thankful and stay in the moment,” forward Patrice Bergeron said. ”But then it’s back to work, and there’s a lot of work in front of us.”

They won’t spend the break worrying about losing the momentum of their longest postseason winning streak in nearly half a century. No team that has swept its opponent from these playoffs has won its next series – a list that includes Columbus, the New York Islanders and these very Hurricanes.

The Bruins polished off their sweep on Thursday night, beating Carolina 4-0 in Game 4 for their seventh straight postseason victory – their longest streak in the playoffs since they reeled off nine straight wins in 1972.

Now, after seven wins in 15 nights, they have the luxury of taking a deep breath before they play for the Cup yet again.

A handful of veterans in this group – including Chara, Bergeron, goalie Tuukka Rask and forward Brad Marchand – won it in 2011 and lost to Chicago at this stage two years later.

”We’ve basically kind of grew up together,” Bergeron said. ”It’s been a fun ride to be a part with these guys as the core group. The leaders have been through a lot, I guess, ups and downs, and … you realize how hard it is to get to this point, so you’ve got to be thankful for that.”

The Bruins found a way to sidestep the run of first-round upsets that knocked both division winners, Tampa Bay and Washington, out early, though they needed seven games to get past Toronto.

They found their stride in their second-round series with Columbus, advancing in six games after winning the final three.

And once they got rolling, Carolina was powerless to stop them.

Boston was the quicker, stronger and tougher team – and it helped that they the best goalie. With Rask stopping 109 of the 114 shots he faced in the series, the Bruins trailed in only one game – the first one. After a pair of bang-bang power-play goals in the third period of that one, Carolina never led again. The Bruins scored 10 consecutive goals during a stretch that spanned the first two games.

Boston’s best-in-the-playoffs power-play unit went 7 of 15 in the series with at least one goal in every game, including two in the series clincher. Rask has closed two straight series with shutouts and continued to look the part of a leading Conn Smythe Trophy candidate.

”I don’t think the break will hurt him, other than you lose some of your sharpness of game intensity,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”I just see Tuukka not only as a goalie but as a person, as a really zoned-in guy right now. Really even-keeled. I don’t see why that would change in a week. … I assume he’ll come out of it very well. He’s played a lot of hockey, too. The break will do him some good.”

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

The Playoff Buzzer: Bergeron, Rask help Bruins advance to Stanley Cup Final

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  • Tuukka Rask stopped all the pucks and Boston’s top line contributed all the goals as the Boston Bruins became the first to book their ticket into the Stanley Cup Final. Boston won 4-0, knocking out the Carolina Hurricanes in four straight. 

Bruins 4, Hurricanes 0 (Bruins win series 4-0)

They had to go at it without their captain, but the Bruins rallied around the absence of Zdeno Chara and put in one of their most complete performances of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to advance to their 20th Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins will contest for their seventh mug after sweeping the Hurricanes following a 4-0 win in Thursday’s Game 4 in Raleigh.

Tuukka Rask, who’s got one hand on the Conn Smythe Trophy, stopped all 24 shots he faced. The Bruins ‘Big Three’ did the rest. Patrice Bergeron scored twice and added an assist, David Pastrnak tallied once and added two helpers and Brad Marchand split it down the middle with a goal and an assist. A combined eight points from those three in Game 4, and a total of 14 between them in the series.

The Bruins now have some time to recover and get set for a meeting with either the San Jose Sharks or the St. Louis Blues. The Sharks currently lead the Western Conference Final 2-1, with Game 4 set for Friday night in St. Louis.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three stars

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins

The superlatives for Rask are running thin and there’s still a round to go in these playoffs. Rask has been on a mission in these playoffs, an unbeatable presence who is already in an opponent’s head before the puck drops.

Rask stopped 24 shots for the shutout on Thursday and stopped 109 of 114 in the series, good for a .956 save percentage. He’s one seven straight and 10 of Boston’s past 12 in the postseason.

He’ll win the Conn Smythe by a country mile if the Bruins are successful in the final round.

2. Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins

Bergeron scored twice and helped another get past Curtis McElhinney, giving the perennial Selke contender three goals and five points in the series.

Bergeron is one of the few players remaining on the Bruins that lifted Lord Stanley in 2011 and he appears dead-set on doing it once more.

He’s got eight goals and 13 points in 17 games and his line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak is too hot to handle at the moment.

3. David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins

Pastrnak was the quieter of the Big Three heading into Game 4. He had just one assist through the first three games but exploded for a goal and two helpers.

He redirected a stiff pass from Marchand in the second period, a goal that would eventually be marked as the game-winner. Pastrnak finished the series with four points.

Highlight of the night

A lesson regarding turnovers:

You never touch the trophy:

Factoids

The ‘NFL players doing things at hockey rinks’ moment of the night

Friday’s schedule

Game 4: San Jose Sharks vs. St. Louis Blues, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN; Live Stream). Sharks lead series 2-1


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

Bruins head to Stanley Cup Final after sweeping Hurricanes

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The Boston Bruins will head back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2013 and for the third time in the past eight years after sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Bruins once again rode impregnable goaltending, an unstoppable power play and the best trio in the NHL in Game 4 on Thursday night in Raleigh, ending the storm surge for good in a 4-0 win.

And so the Bruins, who struggled through the first few gears in the first half of the regular season before slamming it into sixth in the second half, will contend for their seventh Stanley Cup in their 95-year history.

Brad Marchand knew the stakes long before the puck was dropped in Thursday’s Game 4.

Despite being up 3-0 in the series, allowing the Hurricanes to pick up some windspeed could have made things a little bit more interesting. Few teams ever recover from such a deficit, but Marchand and the Bruins weren’t about to tempt fate.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both teams battled to a nil-nil draw after 20 minutes — this, despite putting up a combined 24 shots. The Hurricanes even killed off a Bruins power play, if you can believe it.

That sight for sore eyes didn’t age well, however.

The Hurricanes took two penalties that could have been avoided — a too many men call and a goaltender interference infraction.

What happened in the resulting power plays for Boston sealed Carolina’s fate.

In the first instance in the second, Marchand provided an authoritative pass to David Pastrnak, who needed only to get his stick on the ice as the Bruins went up 1-0.

Their second session of the period had a similar yield. This time, Pastrnak was the set-up man and Patrice Bergeron was the beneficiary. Boston led 2-0.

The top trio came as advertised in this series, combining for 14 points:

  • Pastrnak: 1G, 3A
  • Bergeron: 3G, 2A
  • Marchand: 2G, 3A

Those three have combined for 22 of the Bruins 57 goals in some fashion in the playoffs now, better than one-third of their total offense.

A big reason for that, of course, has been Boston’s power-play prowess.

Boston went a stellar 7-for-15 in the series with the man-advantage. Carolina? Well, they were just 1-for-14 over the four games and were a paltry 5-for-52 in the playoffs. A power play operating at under 10 percent in the playoffs will only get you so far.

And then there’s Tuukka Rask.

A shutout in Game 4 put the icing on the cake for Boston’s No. 1.

It was Tuukka Time all of the time. Rask faced 114 shots in the series and stop 109 of them. Five goals allowed in four games, a .956 save percentage.

Unbeatable.

The obituary for the Hurricanes will hold a story of not being able to find their stride in the series.

They were thrown a lifeline prior to the game as Zdeno Chara was ruled out with an undisclosed injury, but it amounted to nothing tangible on the ice.

Still, these ‘Bunch of Jerks’ deserve a whole heck of a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished.

Sure, they couldn’t beat a playoff-hardened team like the Bruins, but for a young squad whose window is only opening, to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champs and to sweep the New York Islanders is a massive step in the right direction.

Carolina is a good team that is only going to get better from this experience. They’ve found a coach that resonates in the room. They inspired their fanbase and, above all, have some solid talent on the ice.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info


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