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Bruins getting all of their top players back at just the right time

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One of the most incredible parts of the Boston Bruins’ return to the top of the Eastern Conference standings this season is the fact they have been able to do it while dealing with so many significant injuries.

The list of man-games lost is an impressive one.

Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have both missed 18 games.

Brad Marchand — sometimes due to injury and sometimes due to suspension — has missed 14. Charlie McAvoy has missed 19.

Zdeno Chara has missed nine.

David Backes has missed 25.

Torey Krug has missed six.

• Trade deadline acquisition Rick Nash has missed the past eight games.

Brandon Carlo is now sidelined indefinitely after a nasty looking leg injury over the weekend. At times several of those players have been sidelined at the same time.

Through it all the Bruins enter Monday’s huge game in Tampa Bay (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN) with a two-point lead over the Lightning (as well as still having a game in hand) for the top spot in the Eastern Conference and still have a small chance at potentially winning the Presidents’ Trophy.

Now they are starting to get healthy just in time for the playoffs.

The Bruins spent the past couple of weeks playing without Bergeron, Chara and McAvoy, their top-two defenseman and one of the league’s best two-way centers. With Bergeron returning a little more than a week ago, and after Chara returned to the lineup on Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers, coach Bruce Cassidy announced on Tuesday morning that McAvoy will be returning on Tuesday night against the Lightning.

[Related: Bruins, Lightning battle for top spot in Atlantic Division on NBCSN]

Let’s start with the return of the top-two defensemen: How big is it to have those two back in the lineup together? Not only are they the Bruins’ top-two leaders in ice-time this season, they have spent a significant amount of that time (nearly 800 minutes of 5-on-5 play) on the ice together.

During those 800 minutes the Bruins have controlled more than 55 percent of the total shot attempts and outscored their opponents by a 38-21 margin.

And it’s not necessarily the veteran (Chara) that has been driving that success.

When McAvoy is on the ice without Chara, the Bruins are still controlling 56 percent of the shot attempts and still outscoring their opponents by a 15-7 margin. In other words, McAvoy, in his first full season as an NHL blue-liner, has not only been a top-pairing player on one of two or three best teams in the league, he has been a difference-maker for that team.

But it’s more than just the two of them.

When the Bruins have all five of Bergeron, Marchand, Krejci, Chara, and McAvoy in the lineup (something they have only had in 25 games this season) they own a 17-5-3 record, which would be good enough for a 121-point pace over an 82-game season.

Three of those losses, including two of the regulation losses, came without Tuukka Rask in net.

It is a scary team when their top players are all in the lineup. And right now, all of them are healthy at just the right time. That has to be a terrifying thought for the rest of the Eastern Conference.

They may soon be getting even more help. Along with the return of McAvoy on Tuesday, Cassidy also announced that Nash started skating again back in Boston as he continues his recovery from what the team has called an upper-body injury. If he is able to return at any point in the playoffs that is another top-six winger being added to the mix.

Before Tuesday Nash had not skated since March 19.

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

The returns of Chara and McAvoy, as well as the word that Nash is back on the ice is all great news for a Bruins team that has not only overtaken a slumping Lightning team for the top spot in the Division and Conference, but has a chance to continue to build on that lead.

Even with all of that there are still some minor injuries to deal with at the moment.

Carlo remains sidelined indefinitely and it does not sound like his return is imminent. They will also be without Tommy Wingels on Thursday night while Sean Kuraly and Riley Nash are also sidelined. But as long as the Bruins have their big guys all in the lineup (which they now do) they are going to be absolute force to deal with.

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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.

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins, Lightning battle in Atlantic Division matchup

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Tuesday, as the Tampa Bay Lightning will host the Boston Bruins at 7:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

This one is big.

The Boston Bruins travel to Florida to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in a game that could have two very interesting outcomes.

The Bruins (110 points) sit atop the Atlantic Division, two points ahead of the Lightning (108 points). Both teams have clinched, of course, but the division title is the prize here. The Bruins surge over the past couple of months saw them finally dethrone the Lightning from the summit, a spot the latter had held since October.

A win for Boston would likely clinch them the division title, barring them losing their final three in regulation and Tampa winning out. It’s possible, of course, but unlikely given the rate the Bruins are amassing points.

The Bruins lost defenseman Brandon Carlo and forward Riley Nash indefinitely over the weekend and will get Charlie McAvoy back for Tuesday’s game. The rookie d-man has been out since March 3 with an MCL sprain. Defenseman Zdeno Chara returned to action on Sunday after missing nine games.

The Bruin lost a 4-3 overtime decision on Sunday to the Philadelphia Flyers after battling back from 3-1 down in the third period, including a game-tying goal from Patrice Bergeron with 3.8 seconds left in regulation.

“This team, it’s fun to play together,” said Torey Krug. “We have each other’s backs and it doesn’t matter the time or the score, we just keep battling. That’s a great point. There’s things throughout the game we could have done better…thought we created a lot and they took advantage of their chances when they got them. It’s good to get the point and we’ll move onto Tampa now.”

[The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Superstar forward Steven Stamkos is questionable for Tuesday’s game after he left a 4-1 loss against the Nashville Predators in the second period with a lower-body injury.

From an entirely objective point of view, everything gets far more interesting if Tampa wins in regulation, even with the Bruins holding a game in-hand.

“It’s probably going to have a big determination of who comes first,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said on Monday. “Let’s be honest, we win the game and we’re right back at it. They win the game and they’ve probably got it. In the big scope of things, it’s game 80 but it’s a big game 80.”

Both teams would be sitting on 110 points with Tampa edging out Boston in ROWs by a 47-46 margin if the Lightning win inside three periods.

Tampa’s remaining two games see them facing the lowly Buffalo Sabres and the Carolina Hurricanes, teams that are already eliminated from playoff contention. Boston ends the season with two dates against the Florida Panthers and another against the Ottawa Senators. The Florida games could have real meaning for the Panthers depending on how the New Jersey Devils fair going forward.

Last week’s meeting between both clubs included David Pastrnak fighting and Tuukka Rask starting a brawl. This is gonna be good.


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

Flyers survive Bruins third-period rally in 4-3 overtime win

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Give credit to the Boston Bruins — the word ‘quit’ isn’t one that computes with the Atlantic Division leaders — but the Philadelphia Flyers had no intentions of giving up either on Easter Sunday.

That isn’t to say they’d be blamed if they did. Game-tying goals with 3.8 seconds left in the third period can be deflating, to say the least.

But after Patrice Bergeron tied the game up with mere seconds left on the game clock, Claude Giroux, who had already scored in regulation, added another highlight-reel marker to his repertoire in a 4-3 overtime win for the Flyers — their 40th — on the NHL on NBC.

Giroux’s marker was his 29th, setting a new career-high in goals after previously setting a new career-high in points with 94 earlier in the game after his first goal.

Boston trailed 3-1 after Nolan Patrick scored on a breakaway 25 seconds into the third period, but found the strength to mount a comeback, finding it through David Pastrnak at 6:54 and then Bergeron’s 30th of the season at 19:56.

The Bruins, who played to a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers 24 hours earlier could have just rolled over for the rest of the period after Patrick’s goal, but found a way to eek out a point to extend their lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning (who play later on Sunday) to two points in the race for top spot in the Atlantic.

The win was big for the Flyers, who moved level with the Columbus Blue Jackets for third place in the Metropolitan Division on 94 points. Perhaps most importantly, the win moved Philly three points ahead of the New Jersey Devils who sit a spot behind the Flyers in the second wildcard in the Eastern Conference. New Jersey is set to play later on Sunday.

The Flyers took a 1-0 lead after a nasty save from Petr Mrazek, who finished with 35 saves in the contest, kept the games nil-nil in the first period.

After winning the ensuing faceoff, the Flyers produced a nice breakout and created an odd-man situation that was capped off by Giroux, who fired home the one-timer for his 28th of the season.

The goal also pushed the 30-year-old’s point streak to seven games.

The Flyers doubled their advantage on a spectacular goal that is sure to be in the running for goal of the season.

Travis Konecny picked up a loose puck just inside the Bruins zone, split both David Pastrnak and Adam McQuaid and then beat Patrice Bergeron before tucking the puck past Anton Khudobin.

Khudobin allowed four goals on 20 shots in the loss.

Boston moved to 110 points with the win, one back of the Nashville Predators in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy. Nashville can do Boston a favor with a win over the Lightning later on Sunday.


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

WATCH LIVE: Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers

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NBC’s coverage of the 2017-18 season continues on Sunday, as the Philadelphia Flyers will host the Boston Bruins at 12:30 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here.

[CLICK HERE TO WATCH AT 12:30 P.M. ET]

PROJECTED LINES

Bruins: 

Brad MarchandPatrice BergeronDavid Pastrnak

Jake DeBruskDavid KrejciRyan Donato

Danton HeinenTommy WingelsDavid Backes

Tim SchallerNoel AcciariBrian Gionta

Zdeno CharaNick Holden

Torey KrugAdam McQuaid

Matt GrzelcykKevan Miller

Starting goalie: Anton Khudobin

 [The 2018 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs begin April 11 on the networks of NBC]

Flyers: 

Claude GirouxSean CouturierTravis Konecny

Oskar LindblomNolan PatrickJakub Voracek

Jordan WealValtteri FilppulaWayne Simmonds

Jori LehteraScott LaughtonMatt Read

Ivan ProvorovShayne Gostisbehere

Travis SanheimAndrew MacDonald

Brandon ManningRadko Gudas

Starting goalie: Petr Mrazek

Bruins’ Brandon Carlo stretchered off ice following awkward fall

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The Boston Bruins, having been crushed at times by injuries over the past couple of months, entered Saturday’s game against the Florida Panthers without their top two defensemen in Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy.

They lost another late in the third period of their 5-1 win when Brandon Carlo had to be taken off the ice on a stretcher following a fall along the boards.

While attempting to make a play on the puck, Carlo’s left leg gets twisted and bent in a rather awkward manner.

You can see the play here, but be warned before hitting play that it is kind of ugly.

With Chara and McAvoy still sidelined, Carlo was seeing an increased role in the Bruins’ lineup and was second among the team’s defensemen in ice-time on Saturday before leaving the game.

The Bruins have dealt with a ton of injuries throughout the season, and especially lately with Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, Rick Nash, Jake DeBrusk, Chara and McAvoy all missing time over the past few weeks. DeBrusk returned to the lineup on Saturday and recorded three points (including two goals). Even with all of those injuries the Bruins have still been one of the best and most dominant teams in the league.

Their win on Saturday afternoon moved them back into first place in the Atlantic Division — and back into the No. 1 spot in the Eastern Conference — ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Back in mid-November the Bruins went through a stretch where they lost five out of six games (including four in a row) to fall to 6-7-4 on the season. Including Saturday’s win, they are 43-10-7 in the 50 games since. That would be a 127-point pace over an 82-game season.

As for the Panthers, Saturday’s loss is a huge one because they are starting to run out of games when it comes to making up that gap in the Eastern Conference Wild Card race. It also means that the Pittsburgh Penguins can clinch a playoff spot on Saturday night with a win over the Montreal Canadiens. A win by the New Jersey Devils over the New York Islanders would also give them a five-point cushion over the Panthers in the playoff race. The Panthers still have to play the Bruins two more times this season, as well as a game against the Nashville Predators. It is not going to be an easy run for them.

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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.