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Evenly-matched Lightning, Bruins expect long, tough series

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Tampa Bay hasn’t played in a week, while Boston is coming off a hard-fought, seven-game playoff series.

Neither the Lightning nor the less-rested Bruins expect that to mean anything when their second-round playoff series begins Saturday.

A single point separated the Atlantic Division rivals in the standings after the race for the top seed in Eastern Conference came down to the final night of the regular season, and there’s every reason to believe this best-of-seven matchup will be just as tight.

“Obviously, these were the top two teams in the division, and it was a close call until the last game on who was going to finish first and second,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said.

“It’s going to be a tough matchup. They are great team, so are we,” the Norris Trophy finalist said. “It’s going to come down to the small detail in the game. We have the skill and depth up front to score goals, but we have to keep the puck out of our net.”

Boston won three of four meetings between the teams the regular season.

The Bruins won their opening round playoff series against Toronto in seven games. Tampa Bay, led by Nikita Kucherov‘s 10 points (five goals, five assists) eliminated New Jersey in five games after going 0-3-1 against the Devils.

“I think you learn that the regular season means nothing,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We know how they play. Very competitive group, very well structured, especially that top line. … We’re expecting a very tight series against a very good hockey team.”

The Bruins are bracing for a tough test, too.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “They were a top team all year. They compete very hard, have a ton of skill, and they have a lot of depth.”

THEY ALL COUNT

The Lightning earned home-ice advantage for the series by finishing one point ahead of Boston in the standings. In fact, it all came down to the final night of the season, when the Bruins were playing Florida in a makeup game for a Jan. 4 game postponed by a snowstorm.

The Panthers won 4-2, leaving Boston with 112 points to 113 for Tampa Bay.

“We’re not going to allow one game to define us, yet we understand the meaning,” coach Bruce Cassidy said then. “We let one get away, an opportunity lost to have home-ice advantage, and we’ll see if that haunts us down the road. I think it’s too early to tell that right now.”

NOT THE FIRST TIME

The Lightning and Bruins are facing each other in the postseason for only the second time. The other meeting was in the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, won by Boston in seven games.

FALLING IN LINE

In the four playoff games the Bruins won against Toronto, the trio of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand had a combined 30 points. In the three games they lost, they were held completely scoreless.

“They’re our most important line,” defenseman Torey Krug said after they tallied three goals with four assists in Game 7. “They’re the best line in the NHL, and when they’re going it’s hard to stop.”

TONGUE LASHING

Marchand will do whatever it takes to get under the skin of his opponents, and in the first round that meant skating up to Toronto forward Leo Komarov and appearing to lick his face. (In November, he appeared to kiss Komarov on the cheek.)

“I thought he wanted to cuddle. I just wanted to get close to him,” Marchand explained after the playoff game. “He keeps trying to get close to me. I don’t know if he’s got a thing for me or what. He’s cute.”

Several news organizations reported this week that the NHL sent a message to Marchand to knock it off, but he said he has received no such message. “This is false,” he tweeted in response to a Boston Globe story that picked up on the original report, from Sportsnet.

I KINDA LIKE HIM

Lightning coach Jon Cooper was asked how he views Marchand.

“To be honest, what I have seen of him, what goes on out on the ice, he’s a competitive you know what and I love that. I think some of the greatest comments you can give a player is I hate that kid but I do wish he was on my team,” Cooper said.

“I was fortunate enough during the All-Star game to meet him … and off the ice to spend a little time. It actually was disappointing, I was hoping he was going to be an idiot. I was hoping I wasn’t going to like him,” Cooper added. “But he was unreal, and it’s amazing that a guy who is that kind and nice and outgoing and friendly is the same guy who jumps on the ice. You have to respect that about him. And when that kids jumps on the ice, he comes to play.”

AP Sports Writer Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed to this report.

More AP hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

PHT Second Round Preview: 10 things to know about Bruins vs. Lightning

NBC
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The second-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs has some absolutely massive matchups.

The top two-teams regular season teams in the NHL — the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets — are meeting in the Western Conference.

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals, with their superstars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, are meeting in the Eastern Conference.

Then there is also the other Eastern Conference matchup that will feature the third-and fourth-best regular season teams when the Boston Bruins meet the Tampa Bay Lightning, starting Saturday at 3 p.m. ET.

This series will have five of the top-30 point per game players in the league from the regular season. It will have top-line defensemen in veterans Victor Hedman and Zdeno Chara, and young stars in Charlie McAvoy and Mikhail Sergachev. It will have a Vezina Trophy finalist in Andrei Vasilveskiy and a former Vezina Trophy winner in Tuukka Rask.

The Bruins ended up winning the season series by taking three out of the four games and needed to get through a seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first-round to get here.

The Lightning won the Atlantic Division and earned the top-spot in the Eastern Conference then easily dispatched the New Jersey Devils in five games.

It should be a great series that has the potential to go the distance. Here are the 10 key things you need to know about it.

Schedule

Surging Players

Bruins: When you look at the young talent on the Bruins’ roster it’s kind of crazy to think back to the 2015 draft when they had three consecutive picks in the middle of the first-round and look at the players they didn’t take with those picks and who went right after them. Kyle Connor. Mathew Barzal. Broek Boeser. At the time, the Bruins’ selections were criticized and left a lot of draft observers a little underwhelmed. The jury is still out on two of their selections, but nobody should be questioning the Jake DeBrusk (No. 14 overall) given what he has done this season. After scoring 16 goals and adding 27 assists in his debut season with the Bruins, he has been sensational for them in the playoffs with five goals and two assists in their first-round win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, including two goals in their Game 7 win.

Lightning:  How could it be anybody other than Nikita Kucherov? After finishing as the second-leading scorer in the NHL during the regular season he had an absolutely monster first-round performance against the New Jersey Devils, finishing with five goals and five assists in the five-game series. He recorded at least one point in each game and had three games with multiple points. He has been one of the best playoff performers in the NHL during his career to this point.

Struggling Players

Bruins: It would not be the playoffs if it did not feature Rick Nash doing a lot of things except actually scoring goals and recording points. He is the king of being so close in these situations. He had one goal and one assist in the first-round against Toronto and probably should have had more. He might need more in the second round if the Bruins are going to keep winning. As always, it is not that he is a total non-factor in these games. He is getting shots, chances … he just can not score. At all. We go through this every postseason like clockwork. It is truly remarkable.

Lightning: A surprising stat from the first-round from the Lightning side of things is that they scored 18 goals in their five games against the New Jersey Devils and Victor Hedman did not factor into one of them. Zero goals. Zero assists. Only once this season did he go more than four games without recording a point (he had a seven-game pointless streak very early in the season). He still played shutdown defense, but it is his offensive production to go along with that shutdown play defensively that makes him one of the league’s elite player. He probably will not be held off the scoreboard much longer.

Goaltending

Bruins: It seems that no matter what he does Tuukka Rask is always going to be under an intense microscope in Boston. Overall his career postseason numbers are outstanding. He has taken the team to the Stanley Cup Final once before. But he has also had some objectively bad games in big situations. Game 7 against Toronto gave everybody something to argue about because he did enough to get the win but also finished with ugly individual numbers. He managed only an .891 save percentage in the series. That sort of performance may not get the job done against Tampa Bay. He needs to be better, and he has a rather lengthy track record in his career to suggest that he can be.

Lightning: Andrei Vasilveskiy earned himself a top-three spot in the Vezina Trophy voting this season for leading the league in wins, shutouts, and finishing with a .920 save percentage. He seemed to cool down the stretch a bit — perhaps a little fatigue setting in due to a heavy workload and his first year as a full-time starter? — but he really came back strong in the first-round of the playoffs, posting a .941 save percentage against the Devils. The competition gets a little tougher in the second round against a Bruins team that has more than one real threat to score.

Special Teams

Bruins: The Bruins had some of the best special teams in the NHL during the regular season, finishing in the top-five in both power play and penalty kill. The power play was dominant in the first-round against Toronto, converting on eight of its 23 chances. The penalty kill struggled a bit going 11-for-15 against the Maple Leafs, though that is probably too small of a sampling to get overly concerned.

Lightning: Like the Bruins, the Lightning had a dominant power play during the regular season, finishing with the third-best unit in the league. Also like the Bruins that unit was great in the first round, and it wasn’t just the usual suspects finding the back of the net. Alex Killorn and Yanni Gourde combined to score four of their five power play goals against the Devils. The key matchup in this series will be the Lightning’s penalty kill — one of the worst in the league during the regular season — against Boston’s power play.

Fancy Stats

Bruins: The Bruins were a dominant 5-on-5 team during the season when it came to possession and shot metrics, finishing the regular season as a 53.2 percent Corsi team (second best in the league) and then came back in the first-round and just absolutely crushed the Maple Leafs in those categories. Goaltending made the series the close. Little better play from Tuukka Rask or a little worse play from Frederick Andersen in his wins turns that series into a laugher.

Lightning: Similar story for the Lightning when it comes to their ability to control the puck and the shot shares. Their Corsi mark was seventh best in the league during the regular season and they were all over the Devils in that area in the first-round. With Vasilevskiy playing great for the Lightning and neither Devils goalie able to consistently withstand the Lightning attack the series was over quickly.

Injuries

Bruins: The big one here for the Bruins is the same one that it has been for a while. Defenseman Brandon Carlos, a 20-minute per night player, has been sidelined since the end of the regular season with an ankle injury that is going to cost him the rest of the season. Patrice Bergeron may not be entirely 100 percent after missing Game 4 in the opening round with an upper-body injury but he did return for the rest of it and had three points (one goal, two assists) in the Game 7 win.

Lightning: The Lightning are entering this series pretty healthy, at least when it comes to injuries that could potentially keep someone out of the lineup.

X-Factor For Bruins

Charlie McAvoy had a magnificent rookie season for the Bruins, stepping right into the lineup and immediately becoming a top-pairing, impact defenseman when he was healthy. For as good as his regular season, he had some struggles in the opening round, recording just a single assist in the seven games. He wasn’t necessarily *bad* in the first round against Toronto, but he also wasn’t the same player he was during the regular season. In other words, he has shown that he has another level he can get to. If he gets back there in the second round, look out.

X-Factor For Lightning

Ryan McDonagh was the headliner in their latest big trade with the New York Rangers, but when it is all said and done we might be remembering that deal as the J.T. Miller trade. Miller was kind of the forgotten player in that deal but he has been incredible since coming over to the Lightning, scoring 10 goals and adding eight assists in 19 regular season games then contributing four points in the five-game series against the Devils. He is a pretty consistent 20-25 goal, 50-55 point forward. Just another offensive weapon up front for a team that is already loaded with them.

Prediction

Bruins in 6. This obviously has the makings of a six-or seven-game series. They are two of the best teams in the league, they have loads of talent — both veteran and young — all over their lineups, they both have goalies that are capable of stealing games, and they are just evenly matched from top-to-bottom. The Bruins took the season series winning three out of the four games and I think that continues in this series. Have liked the Bruins team all season and they have been my pick to come out of the East for a while now. Sticking with them.

More:
NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs: Second round schedule, TV info
NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub
10 things to know about Golden Knights vs. Sharks
• 10 things to know about Penguins vs. Capitals
• 10 things to know about Predators vs. Jets

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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.

Bruins will way to Game 7 win against Maple Leafs

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Once again, the Boston Bruins finished a Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, riding an overpowering third period. In the case of Wednesday’s game, the end result was a 7-4 win for the Bruins.

The 2018 edition featured some similarities to the Bruins’ 5-4 win back in 2013.

  • A Maple Leafs team headed for the summer shaking their heads and with some serious soul-searching to do.
  • The heartache that comes with the Leafs giving up leads. Toronto was up 1-0, 2-1, and 4-3. This wasn’t a collapse of the “It was 4-1” variety, but the Maple Leafs squandered multiple leads nonetheless.

  • The Bruins simply ran away with things in the third period. Boston went from being down 4-3 to winning 7-4. That domination included the Bruins keeping the Maple Leafs from registering a shot on goal through the first eight minutes of the final frame.

In the case of this latest Game 7, there were times when it seemed like the last shot on goal might be the winner.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Really, it was a nightmare game for both goalies. Frederik Andersen‘s Game 7 heartache is no longer limited to his time with the Anaheim Ducks, as he gave up six goals, including a few that are likely to haunt him during the off-season. The Lightning must be licking their chops at the prospect of exploiting what might be a fragile goalie in Tuukka Rask; the Bruins ended up on top in this one, yet Rask gave up four goals on 24 shots.

(Maybe a solid finish will help bolster his self-esteem? Rask stopped all eight Maple Leafs SOG in the third period after giving up those four goals on the first 18 shots he faced.)

If you want to summarize Game 7 in one video clip, Jake DeBrusk‘s second goal of the night (and eventual game-winner) could suffice. The Bruins simply demanded this win, showing off their skill and will while flabbergasting the overmatched Maple Leafs and a struggling Andersen:

Several players came up big on each side. DeBrusk scored those two goals and was quite the presence overall. Charlie McAvoy logged 26:43 of ice time with a +1 rating, while a blocked shot apparently didn’t really throw off Zdeno Chara, who managed a +2 rating and 28:38 TOI. Despite some warranted criticisms, David Krejci did manage to generate three assists, adding to a substantial playoff resume for his career. Patrick Marleau provided more than just a “veteran presence” for the Maple Leafs, scoring two goals during a zany first period.

Still, when it comes to the Maple Leafs, many will linger on those who fell short.

Andersen’s struggles were considerable, rounding out a remarkably hot-and-cold series overall. Auston Matthews failed to score a point despite firing four SOG, finishing the series with just a single goal and single assist. Jake Gardiner had an awful Game 7, suffering a -5 rating and absorbing some of the blame for multiple bad moments.

Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that Gardiner said “most” of the loss was on him and that the defenseman had tears in his eyes while asking questions.

“I didn’t show up,” Gardiner said.

The Bruins eliminated the Maple Leafs in an exhilarating fashion, carrying over an impressive regular season of puck-hogging play. They have plenty of room for improvement, something Jack Adams finalist Bruce Cassidy will surely emphasize as they turn their sights to a rested, versatile opponent in the Lightning.

If it’s anything like Bruins – Leafs, it should be thrilling … and maybe a goalie’s nightmare.

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 – Leafs Game 7 off to wild start, Reilly hit by puck

NBC
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You can forgive fans of the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs for hyperventilating right now, unless they’re merely staring blankly at their screens.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH THIS DECISIVE GAME LIVE.

Game 7 accelerated to 100 mph seemingly in mere seconds on Wednesday:

  • After a Sean Kuraly penalty, Patrick Marleau deflected a puck past Tuukka Rask to give Toronto a stunning 1-0 lead off of a power-play goal just 2:05 into the contest.
  • A delay of game infraction gave the Bruins a chance to tie things up on the power play, and they did just that as David Krejci and David Pastrnak set up Jake DeBrusk. That happened 4:47 into the game.
  • Less than two minutes later, Patrick Marleau scored again, giving Toronto a 2-1 edge that wouldn’t last.
  • The two teams combined for four goals through less than half of the first period, as Danton Heinen showed why he should be playing with the 2-2 goal with 11:50 remaining in the opening frame.
  • The Bruins took their first lead (3-2) of Game 7 with less than a minute left in the first period thanks to a goal by Patrice Bergeron.

Those were just the goals, too, as there were some close calls, making you wonder about the confidence of Rask and Frederik Andersen:

The two teams are also accruing some bumps and bruises, which must be to the Tampa Bay Lightning’s liking.

In the most dramatic instance, Brad Marchand ducked a high Zdeno Chara shot, leaving an unsuspecting Morgan Rielly to take a puck to the face. It’s a scary moment, although the good news is that Rielly was able to return for the beginning of the second period.

Yikes.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Chara also seemed stung by a blocked shot during the first period, as he took a puck to his ankle/foot area. He didn’t appear to miss any time, and it would be tough to imagine him not fighting through it during a Game 7, yet you wonder if the hulking defenseman’s mobility might be hindered after that.

The Bruins and Leafs already put on a show through 20 minutes. We’ll see who’s left standing to face the Bolts, whether this game ends in regulation or hits sudden death in a Game 7.

*Gulp*

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.

WATCH LIVE: Bruins, Maple Leafs battle in Game 7

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Game 7: Toronto Maple Leafs at Boston Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3)
NBCSN
Call: Mike Emrick, Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk
Series preview
Stream

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Heinen over Wingels right choice for Bruins in Game 7

Game 7, and the next career-defining moment for Tuukka Rask

• Maple Leafs hope playing ‘desperate’ hockey aids them again vs. Bruins

SECOND ROUND OPENING GAMES

Thursday, April 26
Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
San Jose Sharks at Vegas Golden Knights, 10 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Friday, April 27
Winnipeg Jets at Nashville Predators, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

Saturday, April 28
If Boston advances… Bruins at Tampa Bay Lightning, 3 p.m. ET (NBC)
If Toronto advances… Maple Leafs at Tampa  Bay Lightning, 8 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

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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.