Brad Marchand

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Rask an early Conn Smythe favorite; Should all goals be reviewable?

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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 16

• Following the Blues’ loss in Game 3 after a missed hand pass call, Benjamin Hochman argues that all goals and the plays leading up to them should be reviewable. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• The reaction from the Sharks and Blues to the call was naturally different. Joe Thornton took issue with an earlier decision not to call a delay of game penalty on David Perron in the second period. (CSN Bay Area)

Tuukka Rask is looking like a Conn Smythe favorite:

• Derek Boogaard’s mother is fighting to keep the memory of her son alive. Derek passed away eight years ago due to accidental overdose of alcohol and oxycodone. (The Hockey News)

• Charles Glenn, 64, has been singing the national anthems at St. Louis Blues’ games for 19 years, including nearly eight years since he was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. It’s been getting increasingly difficult and he decided back in January that this would be his last season, but thanks to the Blues’ turnaround and postseason success, he’s got to extend his final run for longer than anticipated. (ESPN)

Brad Marchand seems to have succeeded in getting in Justin Williams‘ head. (CSN Boston)

• The Bruins’ fourth line played a major role in their Game 3 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes. (WEEI)

• After winning the No. 2 pick in the draft lottery, would it make sense for the Rangers to prioritize pursuing Erik Karlsson over Artemi Panarin, should both of them end up as unrestricted free agents? (Blue Seat Blogs)

• The Sharks are partnering with local tattoo shops to offer free Sharks tattoos during each Western Conference road game. (NBC Sports Bay Area)

• Although his playing days are long over, Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour is still dedicated to his own personal fitness to the point that Sebastian Aho thinks their bench boss can “outlift everyone in the whole league.” (USA Today)

• There are connecting threads between the underdog stories of the St. Louis Blues and Carolina Hurricanes. (Sports Illustrated)

• Islanders assistant Lane Lambert could end up as a head coach for the 2019-20 campaign. At a minimum, the Anaheim Ducks have offered him an interview. (Anaheim Calling)

• A look at 10 potential buyout candidates. (Sportsnet)

Andreas Johnsson isn’t one of the Maple Leafs’ bigger names, but he played a valuable role for the squad in 2018-19. (EP Rinkside)

• It seemed like Ralph Krueger might be done with the NHL in a coaching capacity, but talking with Sabres GM Jason Botterill and the talent on Buffalo’s roster convinced him to become their new head coach. (Buffalo News)

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Bruins gadfly Marchand staying out of trouble (sometimes)

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BOSTON (AP) — There’s a dust-up in the corner, the referee raises his arm to signal a penalty, and Brad Marchand is right in the middle of it.

Only this time, he’s trying to keep the peace.

The face-licking, stick-stomping Bruins forward moved quickly to pull rookie Connor Clifton away before he could retaliate for an illegal hit by Carolina’s Jordan Staal. Instead of matching minors, Boston wound up with a power play that led to the tying goal, and the Bruins went on to beat the Hurricanes 5-2 in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals.

”He’s turning over a new leaf, eh?” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said with a smile after the Bruins moved three wins from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2013.

A 5-foot-9 gadfly nicknamed ”The Little Ball of Hate,” Marchand is a two-time All-Star who helped Boston lift the Cup as a rookie in 2011 and scored 100 points this season for the first time. He leads all players with 15 points this postseason.

But his antics have angered other teams and sometimes overshadowed his skills.

During last year’s postseason, he developed a tendency to lick opponents’ faces; the NHL told him to knock it off. This year, even Cassidy has praised him for the maturity that has kept that behavior to a minimum; Marchand was caught stomping on Blue Jackets’ forward Cam Atkinson‘s stick before a faceoff.

Later in the series, he sucker-punched Columbus’ Scott Harrington from behind. More important for the Bruins, after going scoreless in the first three games of the East semifinals, Marchand had a goal and three assists over the next two to help them rally from a 2-1 deficit and win the series in six.

”Listen, he’s been in these big games,” Cassidy said. ”He’s a Stanley Cup champion. So he understands maybe a little more than meets the eye sometimes.”

Perhaps nobody understands better than Marchand what was going through Clifton’s mind when he saw Staal hit Wagner from behind in the conference finals opener on Thursday night. Clifton gave Staal a cross-check and grabbed him around the back of the head.

But, before things could go any further, Marchand was pulling him away.

”When someone gets hit like that, you stand up for him,” Marchand told WEEI.com.

As for playing peacemaker, Marchand said: ”You know, it’s not often I’m in that position. But, obviously, it was an important power play and we scored on it, so he did a great job of getting in there but staying disciplined.”

Marchand said he didn’t know how far Clifton was going to take it; he just wanted to make sure that he stopped.

”I would expect that. He’s a leader,” Clifton said. ”We had a power play and it was a bad hit, but he stopped me pretty fast.”

After keeping Clifton out of trouble, Marchand assisted on Marcus Johansson‘s goal during the Staal penalty that tied the score 2-2. He also set up Patrice Bergeron‘s power-play goal 28 seconds later that gave Boston the lead for good.

”Good for Brad,” Cassidy said. ”We’ve put an ‘A’ on his shirt at times this year for a reason, and I’m glad to see that he made that decision tonight with a younger guy.”

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said Friday that his team is aware of Marchand’s tendencies, but he didn’t spend any time figuring out ways to goad the Bruins forward into a dumb penalty.

”We know all the players in this league,” the coach said. ”Sometimes it’s better just to go and play the game and not be worried about what someone may or may not do.”

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

PHT Power Rankings: Conn Smythe favorites through Round 2

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With the Conference Finals underway it is time to take another look at the Conn Smythe race for the MVP of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The San Jose Sharks have probably been the team still standing that has had the most dominant individual performances, but the front-runner after the first two rounds just might be one of the NHL’s most hated players … unless he happens to play for your team.

Let’s take a look at the rankings.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

1. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. This postseason has given us the complete Brad Marchand experience. We have had the troll and pest antics (stepping on a stick blade and trying to break it; the interviews after Game 6 against Columbus) and the occasional dirty play (punching Scott Harrington in the back of the head then not regretting it). We have also had him show he is one of the best players in the NHL as demonstrated by the fact he enters the weekend leading the postseason in scoring 15 points in 14 games. His nine primary assists (all situations) are the most in the NHL, he has a game-winning goal, and is playing 20 minutes per night as a forward and one of Boston’s go-to players in every situation. You may not like the way he plays, but you can’t deny the fact he is one of best in the league and right now is very much in the running for the Conn Smythe.

2. Tomas Hertl, San Jose Sharks. A breakout regular season followed by what has been, to this point, a dominant postseason. Hertl enters the Western Conference Final tied for the league lead with nine goals this postseason, including four on the power play, two game-winners, and a shorthanded goal (which was also a game-winner to keep their season alive in Round 1).

3. Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks. It is a neck-and-neck race for the Sharks with Hertl and Couture carrying the load offensively. Couture has been as consistent a playoff performer as there is in the league over the past four years and has had a couple of massive games for the Sharks this postseason, including his Game 3 hat trick against the Colorado Avalanche in Round 2.

4. Jaccob Slavin, Carolina Hurricanes. Slavin is getting dangerously close to being that player that gets called underrated so many times that he can no longer be considered underrated. So let’s just stop calling him that and start calling him what he is: A legit top-pairing defender and a Conn Smythe candidate for the Hurricanes. He may not score a ton of goals, but the way he controls the game and shuts opposing forwards down puts him on a top level among the league’s defenders. He has always done that, and these playoffs are finally giving him a spotlight to shine in.

5. Brent Burns, San Jose Sharks. A finalist for the Norris Trophy and a contender for the Conn Smythe all in the same season. The only thing that might hurt his chances is that he has the two forwards listed ahead of him here on his team.

6. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. After scoring just 11 goals during the regular season Schwartz has gone on a tear in the playoffs with eight goals in the Blues’ first 13 games. Nobody else on the team has more than five. Even more impressive is that seven of his goals have come at even-strength (most in the playoffs) and he also has two-game winners.

7. Jordan Staal, Carolina Hurricanes. I think if you asked for a Conn Smythe forward from the Hurricanes the first instinct from most people would be to say Sebastian Aho, and he has certainly been outstanding. But Jordan Staal deserves some recognition for the job he has done this postseason not only scoring some absolutely massive goals for the Hurricanes, but also for his defensive play and ability to help them dominate the possession game. His contract and lack of gaudy offensive numbers for a No. 2 overall pick probably knocks him down a few pegs in the eyes of fans, but he is one heck of a two-way player.

8. Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis Blues. The wild thing about the Blues is they are an outstanding team. They have been playing like a Stanley Cup team for months now and have more than earned their spot in the Western Conference Final. But there isn’t really a truly dominant individual performance on this team right now. It’s just a solid, top-to-bottom team that is getting contributions from everyone. One performance that has stood out has been Pietrangelo’s on the blue line. He is providing offense, playing big minutes, and leading what has been a great defensive team all season.

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.