Carl Gunnarsson

Top-five firsts of 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

The 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs have been full of outstanding moments, shocking upsets, incredible storylines, and great performances.

We have also seen our share of “firsts” for a handful of teams and individual players.

Among them: The St. Louis Blues winning their first ever Stanley Cup Final game (Game 2 in Boston) as they attempt to win their first ever championship.

Their run has also seen some unlikely heroes with defenders Robert Bortuzzo and Carl Gunnarsson scoring their first ever career postseason goals (both game-winners, including Gunnarsson’s Game 2 overtime winner against the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final).

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both goals make the list of top-five firsts in this year’s playoffs, alongside Cale Makar, Barry Trotz and the New York Islanders, and the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Check them all in the video above.

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.

After nature called, Carl Gunnarsson answered for Blues

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BOSTON — It’s a meeting between head coach and player that will go down in Stanley Cup Final lore, especially if the St. Louis Blues go on to win the series.

Nature was calling for Carl Gunnarsson and Craig Berube during the intermission before overtime of Game 2. The pair happened to need the bathroom at the same time, and while they took care of business, there was some brief, but impactful small talk.

Plain and simple, Gunnarsson told his head coach, “All I need is just one more chance.” Berube liked what he had heard.

Minutes earlier, the Blues defenseman nearly won Game 2, but his slap shot clanked off the post behind Tuukka Rask, whose body language showed he thought it was game over.

“I know I got it past him and I saw it sitting in the crease there, too,” Gunnarsson said after the Blues’ 3-2 overtime win to even the series. “I was hoping for someone to poke it in. Didn’t happen, but obviously very lucky to get it in the OT.”

He didn’t need to wait long to get his sought-after chance following the hit crossbar. Just 3:51 into the extra period, and as a delayed penalty was called on the Bruins, Gunnarsson fired home his first career playoff goal.

“He had his chances throughout the game,” said defenseman Joel Edmundson. “It’s a shot that all of us defensemen, we practice every pregame skate, so it was nice to see that go in and it couldn’t happen to a better guy.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Gunnarsson’s goal, which he described as the biggest of his life, capped off a turnaround performance for the Blues after they let Game 1 slip away following a strong opening 21 minutes. In Game 2 they controlled the pace in a 63-plus minute night as they dominated in shots (37-23) and again neutralized the Bruins’ top line. (They do need to work on the discipline, however, after giving the Bruins another five power play opportunities.)

“We weren’t happy with Game 1, I think we lost our game a little bit,” said forward Oskar Sundqvist. “We went into this game talking about playing our game. I think we did a pretty good job.”

The win was an historic one for the Blues. Entering Game 2, the franchise was 0-13 in Stanley Cup Finals games. That winless streak is now over, and they head home for Saturday’s Game 3 not facing an 0-2 mountain to climb.

“I guess that’s a little bonus,” Gunnarsson said of ending the Cup Final losing streak. “That’s pretty cool if you think about it that way. Pretty sure we’re not going to stop here.”

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

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 2:
Blues tie Stanley Cup Final by overpowering Bruins
Top line struggles, Grzelcyk injury stifle Bruins in Game 2
Blues, Bruins built without luxury of top pick

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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.

Stanley Cup Buzzer: Gunnarsson wins Game 2 for Blues

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  • The Bruins managed 1-0 and 2-1 leads in Game 2, but those advantages didn’t last very long against a tenacious Blues team. At some point pretty early on Wednesday, St. Louis really flipped the switch, and dominated long swaths of play. After a third-period rocket only found the post, Carl Gunnarsson scored the overtime game-winner, and now the series is tied.

St. Louis Blues 3, Boston Bruins 2 [OT] (Series tied 1-1; Game 3 airs at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN on Saturday [stream here])

What a difference a game makes. In Game 1, the Bruins were in control over much of the proceedings, even though the final scored ended up being close. This time, the roles were reversed, as Tuukka Rask held off quite a few Blues attempts to give the Bruins a chance to win Game 2, but the Blues ultimately prevailed. This was a nasty affair, and it sets the stage for even more drama when the series shifts to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Scary Moment

Matt Grzelcyk needed to go to hospital after receiving a hard Oskar Sundqvist hit. Further updates were not available.

Three Stars

1. Carl Gunnarsson

Obviously, Gunnarsson scored the overtime game-winner, which provided the first-ever Stanley Cup Final game win for the Blues (previously 0-for-13). That goal is also the first playoff tally of Gunnarsson’s NHL career. Gunnarsson nearly scored his first-ever goal in the third period, but that attempt clanged off the post.

Gunnarsson also generated a secondary assist on the Blues’ first goal of Game 2. The 32-year-old Swedish defenseman was the only player to have a multi-point night with that goal and assist. He generated a +2 rating, blocked a shot, and logged 18:18 TOI in Game 2.

It’s not shocking that Gunnarsson describes the OT-winner as easily the biggest of his career.

2. Vladimir Tarasenko

For fourth consecutive playoff game, Tarasenko scored a goal, giving him 10 so far during this run. He managed to get on the board with an impressive extra-effort backhander, and perhaps he could have scored another if he didn’t miss some time with what was either an injury or equipment issue during the second period?

Either way, Tarasenko remains red-hot, tilting the ice in the Blues’ favor alongside Jaden Schwartz. Tarasenko ended Game 2 with that goal, a +1 rating, four SOG, and three hits in just 15:50 TOI.

3. The goalies

If the Bruins won, Tuukka Rask would have been a no-brainer. He made a ton of tough saves against the Blues, who carried most of the play ever since the game was tied 2-2, and probably a bit before that. Rask is the biggest reason why Boston was able to push Game 2 beyond regulation.

Jordan Binnington wasn’t asked to do quite as much, yet he deserves credit for maintaining his considerable cool through these playoffs. A more easily rattled goalie might have folded after allowing two early goals, especially since they didn’t look so great. Instead, Binnington held down the fort from there on, which isn’t so easy when you remember how much firepower Boston has.

Overall, pretty good (to great) stuff from the goalies to keep this contest from being a gluttonous goal-fest.

Factoids

Game 3 info

Game 3 takes place in St. Louis. The contest airs at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN on Saturday [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.

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.

Maple Leafs’ biggest question: Who will follow Kessel out the door?

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When Phil Kessel was traded, Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan called it a “recognition” that “what we’ve been doing here, and the group that we’d assembled here, wasn’t getting the job done, and it wasn’t good enough.”

But for all that Kessel was criticized during his time in Toronto, he was only one piece of the core that “wasn’t good enough.” Hence, the trade speculation that continues to surround Dion Phaneuf, Joffrey Lupul, Tyler Bozak, and many others.

Basically, if you played for the Leafs last year and your name isn’t Morgan Rielly, if you’re still on the roster, you may not be for long.

Unfortunately for the Leafs, it’s not a great time to be dumping salaries. They had to eat part of Kessel’s contract to move him to Pittsburgh. They’d likely be asked to do the same in any swap involving Phaneuf, Bozak, or Lupul, the latter of whom may be untradeable, period.

And remember that a team can only retain the salaries of three players. Kessel is on the books through 2022. Carl Gunnarsson is on there (for a paltry $200,000) through next season.

In addition to the veterans, there’s the younger guys like Nazem Kadri, Jake Gardiner, and Jonathan Bernier. They still have to show management that they can be part of the long-term solution.

To illustrate, here’s what Mike Babcock said when Kadri re-signed for one year: “I expect him to be an elite player. He gets to come in and have a heck of a year and put the screws to us.”

Gauntlet: thrown down.

A youngish player like James van Riemsdyk isn’t safe either, even after leading the Leafs with 27 goals last season. The 26-year-old has three years left before he can become an unrestricted free agent. So, do the Leafs envision him re-signing? Because the way they’re talking, he’ll be closing on 30 when the team is ready to start contending.

“We are here to build a team that is capable of winning a Stanley Cup. There are no shortcuts to go around doing that,” said Shanahan.

“We’ve got to build this thing the right way, through the draft, with prospects. Sometimes that might take a little bit longer.”

In the meantime, expect the Leafs to be active on the trade front, as it’s out with old core and in with the new.

Related: Wings reportedly no longer interested in Phaneuf