Connor Clifton

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Stanley Cup Final: Blues make lineup change; Grzelcyk game-time decision

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It looks as if the St. Louis Blues and Boston Bruins will both be making some lineup changes for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream).

Let’s start with the significant news on the Boston side where the Bruins might have all of their top defenders in the lineup for the first time since the beginning of the series. After missing the past four games, Matt Grzelcyk has been cleared for action and is officially listed as a game-time decision. If he plays, and it seems extremely likely that he will, he would replace Connor Clifton.

Grzelcyk has been sidelined since early in Game 2 when he was on the receiving end of an illegal check from Oskar Sundqvist, resulting in a one-game suspension for the Blues’ forward.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It remains to be seen how much of an impact he can make since he hasn’t taken any contact since the injury, but the Bruins have definitely missed his ability to move the puck.

“I think your adrenaline will carry you through,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Wednesday.

“The one thing about Matt if he does go in after missing some games is he’s been skating with us. It’s not like he just jumped on the ice yesterday. He’s been participating, albeit non-contact, so there is a little bit of a different animal there. At this time of the year you’re not into a lot of contact in practice anyway so he’s just going to have to understand, because he did obviously live the first whatever it was, game and a half with St. Louis, he knows they are physical. He’s been there. He’s been watching. He knows he’s gotta get back in a hurry, make good decisions with it, take a hit to make a play if that’s what is required, which it usually is against this team. That’s the challenge in front of him. We’ve had discussions with him about it and he’ll be ready for it.”

Two of the three Bruins’ losses in this series came in games where they were forced to finish with five defenders due to injury with Grzelcyk exiting Game 2 and Zdeno Chara being forced to miss most of Game 4 after being hit in the face with a puck. While Chara has not missed any further game action, Grzelcyk’s absence has been significant.

“If he’s able to come back and help us tonight, he’s an incredible puck mover,” said Bruins defender Charlie McAvoy. “He’s just kind of had that fire in his eye for the playoffs. He’s been playing awesome for us, and we’ve missed him terribly since he’s been out. He just gives us that extra jolt when it comes to breaking out. He’s a gifted puck-mover. If he’s back to night, I think he’ll do his job and help us out even more.”

On the St. Louis side, forward Ivan Barbashev will be returning to the lineup after missing Game 6 due to a suspension for an illegal check to the head.

He will replace rookie forward Robert Thomas on the team’s fourth line next to Alex Steen and Sundqvist.

That is not the only change the Blues will be making.

Coach Craig Berube also said that Joel Edmundson will be drawing back into the lineup in place of Robert Bortuzzo.

Why the change? With Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko playing so many minutes on the right side Berube wants to go with four left-handed defenders in his lineup.

“With Parayko and Pietrangelo on the right side, they’re just eating so many minutes up; there’s not a lot of minutes over there,” said Berube. “So, we decided to go with the four lefties, and what he can bring, he can bring a lot. I mean, he’s got some real good upside, shoots the puck well, big guy, big body, physical player, but he does do some things well in the offensive zone, so I like his shot.”

Edmundson played sparingly over the first four games of the series, recording zero points and finishing as a minus-3 in his limited minutes. Bortuzzo scored a goal for the Blues in Game 2 of the series in Boston and also scored a game-winning goal in the Western Conference Final series against the San Jose Sharks.

Edmundson will skate on the Blues’ third defense pairing alongside Vince Dunn.

“I played in I think three Game 7s now so this is going to be my fourth. None of them compare to this one,” said Edmundson. “Obviously it’s going to be the biggest game of my life. But everyone’s excited.”

Edmundson said his first reaction upon finding out that he would be in the lineup was to text his parents, who were already planning on attending the game. One member of his family not attending the game? His brother, Jesse, who has apparently been bad luck throughout the series.

“They were coming,” said Edmundson when talking about his parent’s plans. “My brother (Jesse) stayed back because he thinks he’s bad luck. He’s been bad luck throughout the series, so he stayed back, he’s taking one for the team.”

Whatever it takes.

More Blues-Bruins Game 7
• Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys for Game 7
• The Wraparound: It is all on line for Blues-Bruins 
• Which Blues, Bruins player will get Stanley Cup handoff?
• Conn Smythe watch
• Stanley Cup roundtable discussion

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.

Stanley Cup Final: Blues have dominated even strength play

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If you are a St. Louis Blues fan you have plenty of reason for optimism heading into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night (8 p.m. ET, NBC; Live Stream).

Not only is your team just two wins away from its first ever championship, but it has shown a tendency all postseason to up its game the longer a series goes on (we looked at that trend here). What should make that even more encouraging for the Blues is that through the first four games they have already demonstrated an ability to carry the play for significant parts of this series and be the better team. Yes, a lot of that time came when the Bruins were shorthanded on the blue line and limited to just five defenders, but even before those injuries the Blues have simply been the superior team at even-strength so far.

Through the first four games the Blues have dominated the shot attempt and scoring chance numbers, owning more than a 55 percent share of the attempts in each category and hold slight edge on the scoreboard, outscoring the Bruins by a 10-8 margin when the sides are even.

The Blues have not only managed to control most of the even strength play, they have completely shut down the Bruins’ top two lines through the first four games.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

As the Boston Globe‘s Matt Porter pointed out on Thursday, the Bruins’ six 5-on-5 goals in this series have been scored by Sean Kurarly (two), Charlie Coyle (two), Joakim Nordstrom, and Connor Clifton, while no player on their top-two lines or top-two defense pairings other than Zdeno Chara has a point during 5-on-5 play.

Brad Marchand‘s goal in Game 1 came in an empty-net situation.

That is it for the Bruins at even-strength scoring through the first four games where the Blues’ top lines are still winning those head-to-head matchups.

Where the Bruins have managed to hang around in the series and take control is on special teams, where they have been — by far — the dominant team. The Bruins have already scored six power play goals (on only 16 attempts for a 37.1 percent success rate) and added a shorthanded goal on top of that.

The Blues meanwhile have managed just a single power play goal.

Put it all together and that means when the series has shifted into a special teams battle the Bruins are owning a 7-1 edge on the scoreboard. That is significant.

We put so much emphasis on even strength play because that is the situation we see most often in a random hockey game and where most goals get scored. But special teams goals still count, and if you have one team that is dominating that portion of the game the way the Bruins are it can completely swing a series. It is probably the biggest reason the Blues are not playing for a chance to actually clinch Stanley Cup on Thursday and why the Bruins still have a chance to take control for themselves. If the Blues are going to put themselves in a position to clinch the series in Game 6 (or even a Game 7) it is going to be a necessity for them to keep these games at even strength for as long as possible and play as disciplined a game as they did in Game 4 on Monday night. Their lack of discipline got them in trouble early in the series, and could hurt them again if the revert back to their early series ways.

They have proven through four games they can be the better team when things remain even on the ice, and even if you again go back to the amount of time the Bruins played down a defender in those situations you still have to consider that Chara and Matt Grzlecyk may not be 100 percent on Thursday even if they do play. That could still be an area the Blues exploit.

The Blues have every reason to be optimistic about the way they have played, because they have put themselves in a great position to pull this off.

If they can avoid turning these next couple of games into a special teams game, there is every reason to believe they can actually win it.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Game 5 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs Thursday on NBC at 8 p.m. ET (stream here).

MORE BLUES-BRUINS GAME 5:
• Bruins’ Chara to be game-time decision
• Report: Chara has broken jaw
• Blues vs. Bruins: Three keys to Game 5
• The Wraparound: Bruins need more, especially from second line
• Looking at Bruins’ potential defensive options

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.