Brandon Carlo

Stanley Cup Buzzer: O’Reilly makes difference for Blues

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  • The Bruins were hanging in there, managing a 2-2 tie through the first 40 minutes of Game 4, even though the Blues were carrying much of the play. Ryan O'Reilly had a big night, however, scoring two goals (including the game-winner) as St. Louis dug deep to tie the series 2-2.

St. Louis Blues 4, Boston Bruins 2 (Series tied 2-2; Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday [stream here])

While Zdeno Chara‘s mouth injury was more about an extremely painful and unlucky bounce as anything else, Chara’s far from the only player who probably feels worse for wear after Game 4. This was a physical contest, with the Blues finding a way to assert themselves with an aggressive, swarming forecheck. Overall, St. Louis was credited with 44 hits. Yet, for all the attention paid to brawn, don’t forget finesse. The Blues’ top players came up bigger than the Bruins’ first line on Monday, and that played a big role in sending this series back to Boston as a best-of-three.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Three Stars

1. Ryan O’Reilly

ROR scored the opening goal of Game 4 just 43 seconds in, then generated the game-winner by jumping on a rebound in the third period.

After going without a point in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, O’Reilly now has a three-game point streak going, as he had an assist in each of Game 2 and 3 before generating those crucial two goals in Game 4. O’Reilly provided a dogged effort overall, firing five SOG as he factored into the Blues’ high-effort win.

The St. Louis crowd was loud all night, but it didn’t hurt that O’Reilly ranked among those who gave fans plenty to cheer about.

2. Alex Pietrangelo

Pietrangelo’s two assists were primary ones, and you didn’t have to squint hard to catch his contributions.

First, Pietrangelo made a nice move to gain a little extra time and space (not to mention get the Bruins at least a bit more off balance) to create a rebound for Vladimir Tarasenko‘s goal. Then, on Pietrangelo’s second assist, he fired a hard shot that Tuukka Rask couldn’t handle too well, with O’Reilly firing home the loose puck for the game-winner.

Pietrangelo finished Game 4 with five SOG, a +3 rating, and a robust 29:37 TOI. This continues to be a star-affirming playoff push for Pietrangelo.

3. Brayden Schenn

Rask absolutely deserves some consideration for three star status, although as strong as he was in Game 4, he’d also likely wonder if he could have avoided allowing such fat rebounds on the two goals Pietrangelo assisted on.

Schenn deserves some credit for his all-around play, and to me, takes a slight advantage. (Third star goes to the winner?)

Schenn scored a goal and an assist in Game 4, which should leave Wayne Gretzky happy. Schenn did more than just score, too, as he went 12-6 on faceoffs and delivered five hits. When the Blues’ top scorers are hot, St. Louis is very tough to beat, and that was certainly the case on Monday.

Factoids

  • This was the Blues’ first-ever home win in a Stanley Cup Final.
  • Jordan Binnington now has 14 wins (one behind the record for a rookie goalie), and improved to 7-2 after losses. Sportsnet notes the larger trend of Binnington bouncing back, which extends to the regular season.
  • Brandon Carlo is one of just four players to score their first playoff goal as a shorthanded tally in a Stanley Cup Final. This is mentioned mainly because one of the other players was named Bucko McDonald, who did so in 1936. Also on the list were Serge Savard (1968) and Bob Turner (1962) … but only one on the list was named Bucko.
  • Tarasenko scored his 11th goal of this run, moving him up some historic ranks as far as Blues snipers go.
  • St. Louis Blues history shares an odd one: the Blues are 4-0 in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs when they’ve allowed a shorthanded goal.
  • Sportsnet also notes that Patrice Bergeron now is at 103 career playoff points, breaking a tie with Phil Esposito for second all-time in Bruins history. Ray Bourque is far ahead for first place with a whopping 161 points.

MORE ON GAME 4

How to watch Game 5

Game 5 airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Thursday (stream here).

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.

Grzelcyk’s absence would be significant for Bruins

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Matt Grzelcyk isn’t one of the household names on the Boston Bruins’ defense, but do not let that take away from just how important he has become for the team.

That importance was on display for much of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night when he wasn’t available following a hit from St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist is facing a suspension for the hit, while the Bruins announced on Thursday that Grzelcyk is listed as “day-to-day” as he enters the concussion protocol.

He is also not making the trip to St. Louis with the team on Thursday, leaving his status for Games 3 and 4 of the series very much in doubt.

This would be a problem for the Bruins.

First, Grzelyck has developed into one of the more underrated players on the Bruins’ roster due to his ability to skate and move the puck. He may not be one of their big-minute players or one of their top point producers, but he is excellent when it comes to starting the rush out of the defensive zone and breaking down the opposing forecheck, an area where St. Louis feasted in Game 2, and especially after Grzelcyk exited the game.

“Losing the 15 to 16 minutes of [Grzelcyk’s] time, he’s a good puck mover and a guy that can break down a forecheck when he’s on,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy following the Game 2 loss.

“The forecheck was a strength of theirs tonight and a weakness of ours — breaking pucks out. [Grzelcyk] is good at the big escape and the big clean pass to get our forwards moving. We lost some of that element.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just to get a sense for how good Grzelcyk is at helping the Bruins move the puck and transition to the offensive zone, there is not a defender on the team that starts a higher percentage of their shifts in the defensive zone. Despite those tough assignments he is still one of their best defenders when it comes to shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and high-danger scoring chance differential. In other words, they are still creating more offense than their opponents when he is on the ice even though he is consistently being put into defensive situations, furthest away from the attacking net.

“He’s been fantastic,” said Brandon Carlo, one of Grzelcyk’s many defense partners in the playoffs.

“Obviously he’s gotten some pucks in the net here in the playoffs and brought that offensive presence. Have lot of respect for the way he plays. He’s very responsible offensively. I’ve had the opportunity to be played with him at times, and it makes the game a lot easier for his partner, just with the way he sees the ice and moves the puck.”

If he is not available the Bruins not only have to replace his spot (with either John Moore or Steve Kampfer) but there is also the potential trickle down impact that comes with him not being there. The Bruins have rolled their three defense pairings fairly evenly throughout the playoffs, and losing Grzelcyk’s minutes could put more pressure on some of the other blue liners that aren’t quite as effective as he is when it comes to moving the puck.

Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug are impact players and make plays in all three zones, but there is a pretty sharp drop-off on the rest of the defense when it comes to that aspect of the game. If either Moore or Kampfer were better than Grzelcyk, they would be playing over him, so there is obviously going to be some sort of a drop when it comes to his replacement. Zdeno Chara isn’t quite what he was years ago, and while Carlo is a strong defensive player he has some limitations when it comes to making plays with the puck on his stick.

The positive news for the Bruins is that dealing with injuries to significant players is not a new thing for them over the past two years. Just about all of their best players have missed an extended period of time (often times together) and they have still managed to keep winning games. It is a testament to the depth they have assembled and the job that Cassidy and his staff have done behind the bench.

But this isn’t some random stretch in the middle of November. This is the Stanley Cup Final where there is little margin for error, you are playing a great team every night, and that opposing coaching staff is doing far more intense scouting and game-planning that is designed to exploit whatever weakness you have.

If Grzelcyk is forced to miss time, that could prove to be a significant weakness that the Blues might be able to exploit.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
Blues’ Sundqvist facing hearing for Grzelcyk hit
Sundqvist only gets minor penalty for hit

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.

Top line struggles, Grzelcyk injury stifle Bruins in Game 2

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Boston was able to rally back to take Game 1, but the Bruins couldn’t quite match St. Louis Wednesday night. Tuukka Rask kept Boston in this one, but the Blues out shot them 37-23 and when the game went into overtime, St. Louis was dominate until Carl Gunnarsson scored at 3:51 to end the contest at 3-2.

A big issue for Boston was the top line. The goals the Bruins did get came from Joakim Nordstrom and Charlie Coyle while Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak were fairly quiet. The trio each went minus-one and Bergeron was uncharacteristically underwhelming on the draw, winning just 38% of his faceoffs.

Bergeron also logged just 16:16 minutes despite getting 3:52 minutes with the man advantage. To put that in perspective, this is just the second time in the 2019 playoffs that he’s gotten less than 18 minutes of ice time and his average in the playoffs going into this contest was 19:10 minutes. There’s some speculation that he might be dealing with a groin injury, which would be a big blow for Boston.

Marchand might not be 100% either. He may have hurt his hand during Thursday’s scrimmage. After that he missed Sunday’s practice for maintenance and left Monday’s skate before it was finished.

Of course it didn’t help that defenseman Matt Grzelcyk was injured in the first period when he was hit from behind by Oskar Sundqvist. Grzelcyk missed the remainder of the contest and went to the hospital for tests.

Without Grzelcyk, Brandon Carlo logged 22:58 minutes, Zdeno Chara got 25:45 minutes, Torey Krug received 26:00 minutes, and Charlie McAvoy was on the ice for 27:00 minutes. It’s admirable that they performed as well under the circumstances, but it had an effect on how this game went.

The silver lining is that the Bruins have a couple days rest now, which their blueline and star players likely need. Splitting the first two games at home is obviously the scenario they wanted to avoid, but there’s still plenty of time left in this series.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

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 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.

Penalties crush Hurricanes as Bruins storm back in Game 1

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The Carolina Hurricanes had their moments in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, but penalties ended up being their Achilles’ heel in a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins got on the board quickly thanks to Steven Kampfer, who was only in the game in the first place because Charlie McAvoy was serving a suspension. That lead was erased quickly though when Andrei Svechnikov‘s shot was deflected by Sebastian Aho just three seconds into a Hurricanes power play. Just like that, the score was 1-1 a mere 3:42 minutes into the contest.

Things calmed down after that until Greg McKegg charged hard into the net midway through the second period. Replays showed that he scored before colliding with Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask and the Bruins ultimately didn’t challenge the call, giving the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.

Carolina’s edge wouldn’t hold though and it was largely due to a lack of discipline. Micheal Ferland was charged with interface late in the third and while the Hurricanes killed off that penalty, they weren’t so fortunate in the third. First Jordan Staal boarded Chris Wagner just 49 seconds into the frame. There might have been coincidental minors there as rookie defenseman Connor Clifton took exception to what Staal did, but Brad Marchand pulled Clifton back before the situation escalated.

That certainly isn’t a role Marchand is known for, but that wasn’t his only contribution in the period. He helped set up Marcus Johansson‘s game-tying goal on the ensuing power-play. When Dougie Hamilton took a roughing penalty at 2:41 of the third to put the Hurricanes in the box yet again, Marchand got another power-play assist, this time feeding the puck to Patrice Bergeron.

That said, the player who deserves the most credit on the Bergeron goal is arguably Jake DeBrusk, who collected the puck on his knees and got up while making the pass to Marchand to get that sequence going.

Hamilton took yet another penalty at 5:29 of the third, just to make life a little harder for the Hurricanes, but at least Carolina killed off that one. From there, the Hurricanes could not battle back. Brandon Carlo got an empty netter at 17:47 and Chris Wagner got one by Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek at 17:58.

Carolina can look back at this game as a missed opportunity to take one early in Boston. The silver lining for the Hurricanes is that this series has only begun.

Hurricanes-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC

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.