Joey Alfieri

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.

The Wraparound: Can Thornton keep rolling?

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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.

You’ve probably heard by now that Game 3 of the Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues ended in controversial fashion, so you can understand why some of the in-game stuff has been overshadowed over the last couple of days. One of those standout performances came from slumping center Joe Thornton. Can he keep it going in Game 4? (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream)

Thornton scored two goals in the game and he also added an assist on Logan Couture‘s game-tying goal late in regulation. Not bad for a guy who had just one point in his previous eight games.

“This guy’s one of the greatest players of all time,” head coach Pete DeBoer said after Game 3. “I know he wasn’t happy with his last game. And that’s the response you get from a Hall of Fame player. We wouldn’t have a chance to win without him. The character, the response, the leadership.”

The Sharks managed to get to the Western Conference Final by leaning on top players like Logan Couture, Timo Meier, Tomas Hertl, and Brent Burns, but getting added production from their third line could help propel them to the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.

DeBoer made a subtle change to Thornton’s line heading into Game 3, as he replaced Marcus Sorensen with Melker Karlsson. The line, which was made up of Thornton, Karlsson and Kevin Labanc controlled over 60 percent of the shot attempts when they were on the ice and they created two goals. They have had 60 percent of the scoring chances when they were on the ice (all stats via Natural Stat Trick).

Getting continued production from that line may allow the Sharks to get a stranglehold on this series.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

THURSDAY’S SCOREBOARD
Bruins 4, Hurricanes 0 (Bruins win series 4-0)
The Buzzer has more on Thursday’s action

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

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Brind’Amour’s flaw; How much will RFA defensemen make?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

Here’s the NBC Sports Stanley Cup playoff update for May 17

• There’s a Bruins fan in Montreal who is enjoying this spring run to the Stanley Cup Final. (Montreal Gazette)

• Now that Esa Lindell has helped set the market, what will the other top restricted free-agent defensemen make this summer? (The Hockey News)

Joel Armia is set to become a restricted free agent. How much is he worth to the Canadiens? (Habs Eyes on the Prize)

• The Capitals’ depth on the blue line will be tested because of potential changes over the summer. (Washington Post)

• The New Jersey Devils should target one of the top available free-agent defenders. (All About the Jersey)

• The Flyers have some important decisions to make when it comes to their own free agents. (Broad Street Hockey)

• Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind’Amour has one fatal flaw. (Cardiac Cane)

• Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas isn’t in an ideal spot heading into the 2019 NHL Draft. (Leafs Nation)

• The Florida Panthers need to land Sergei Bobrovsky this summer. (The Rat Trick)

• The Penguins need to find the next Robert Thomas in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. (Pensburgh)

• Coaching Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey helped Ralph Krueger get the Sabres job. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• The four teams that made it to the conference final proved that there’s no specific blue print to making it there. (Bleedin Blue)

• Winning the Calder Cup doesn’t guarantee the NHL’s team will have success. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Lindell earned his new contract with the Stars after a terrific 2018-19 season. (Blackout Dallas)

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.

Blue Jackets ink Bobrovsky’s potential successor

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The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed a goalie! No, it’s not Sergei Bobrovsky but it could be his eventual replacement.

On Wednesday morning, the team announced that they’ve inked Elvis Merzlikins to a one-year, one-way contract. The 25-year-old spent last season with Lugano in the Swiss League where he had a 22-18-0 record with a 2.44 goals-against-average and a .921 save percentage last season. He’s also a two-time winner of the Jacques Plante Trophy which is awarded to the top goaltender in the Swiss Leagues.

Merzlikins is currently representing Latvia at the 2019 World Hockey Championship.

This is actually Merzlikins’ second contract with Blue Jackets, as he signed a one-year, entry-level deal with the club back in March.

“Of course it was amazing (to sign),” he told the Blue Jackets’ website. “It’s the first part of a dream I’ve had since I was a kid that I realized, that I’ve reached.

“But it’s not like it’s that big a deal. A lot of guys can sign a contract. The main thing that I want to see is at what level I’m at, and prove to myself and especially to my mom — who made a huge sacrifice when I was a kid — to prove that I can stay in the best league in the world, not just show up there.”

There’s plenty of uncertainty surrounding the Blue Jackets’ crease heading into the summer. Franchise netminder Sergei Bobrovsky is currently scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st. If they can’t bring the Russian goalie back, there’s a chance Columbus will head into training camp without a clear number one goalie.

European skaters typically have to adjust to a heavier schedule once they come to the NHL, but that might not be as big of a problem for Merzlikins who played in 43 games during the Swiss League regular season, four more in the playoffs, and however many starts he gets at the Worlds. No one expects him to be a 60-plus game starter in 2019-20, but he could potentially handle a respectable workload if he had to.

We’re still a far cry from him being in contention for the starting job in Columbus, but Jarmo Kekalainen is starting to gather his options in case Bobrovsky leaves this summer.

As of right now, Merzlikins is the only goalie on the active roster that’s under contract for next season. Bobrovksy and Keith Kinkaid will both be unrestricted free agents while Joonas Korpisalo is set to become a restricted free agent.

This should be a fascinating summer for the Blue Jackets.

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.

The Wraparound: Sharks ‘need everyone’ to start chipping in

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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.

The Western Conference Final between the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues is tied at 1-1 heading into Game 3 tonight (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN). Despite not getting much production from their depth players, the Sharks found a way to split the first two games.

San Jose has scored eight goals in four games (six in Game 1, two in Game 2). Of those eight goals, seven have come from players on their top two lines. Here’s the breakdown: Logan Couture has scored half the goals, while Joe Pavelski and Timo Meier have also found the back of the net. Kevin Labanc is the only player in the bottom-six that has found a way to chip in through two games.

“In my opinion, that wasn’t anywhere near what we’re capable of, and I don’t think we’ve played up to our capabilities in a while now,” Couture said after Game 2. “… And it’s discouraging, it’s frustrating, because we’re going to need everyone here if we’re going to beat these guys, because they’re a very good hockey team.”

It’s difficult for any team to expect their fourth line to chip in regularly when it comes to offense. Barclay Goodrow, Joonas Donskoi and Melker Karlsson just don’t have it in them so whatever you get from them in almost like a bonus. Where they need more offensive production is from the third line which is made up of Joe Thornton, Marcus Sorensen and Labanc.

Thornton and Labanc have just one point in their last eight contests, and Sorensen has no points in his last seven outings. That likely won’t be enough to get by the Blues (unless Couture continues carrying the team on his back). It also wouldn’t hurt to get some offense from Evander Kane, who has two assists in his last seven contests.

“We didn’t have enough participants across the board,” head coach Pete DoBoer said when asked about his third line’s lack of production. “I thought Logan Couture was pretty good, a couple other guys. But it’s tough to win this time of year if you don’t have everybody going, and I thought they got contributions from everybody like we did [in Game 1]. So we’ve been here before, and we know how to handle this.”

Can they get going in Game 3?

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

TUESDAY’S SCOREBOARD
Bruins 2, Hurricanes 1

The Buzzer has more on Tuesday’s action

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• PHT roundtable
• Hurricanes/Bruins series preview
• PHT Conference Finals predictions

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.