Eastern Conference Finals

Bruins head to Stanley Cup Final after sweeping Hurricanes

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The Boston Bruins will head back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2013 and for the third time in the past eight years after sweeping the Carolina Hurricanes in the Eastern Conference Final.

The Bruins once again rode impregnable goaltending, an unstoppable power play and the best trio in the NHL in Game 4 on Thursday night in Raleigh, ending the storm surge for good in a 4-0 win.

And so the Bruins, who struggled through the first few gears in the first half of the regular season before slamming it into sixth in the second half, will contend for their seventh Stanley Cup in their 95-year history.

Brad Marchand knew the stakes long before the puck was dropped in Thursday’s Game 4.

Despite being up 3-0 in the series, allowing the Hurricanes to pick up some windspeed could have made things a little bit more interesting. Few teams ever recover from such a deficit, but Marchand and the Bruins weren’t about to tempt fate.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Both teams battled to a nil-nil draw after 20 minutes — this, despite putting up a combined 24 shots. The Hurricanes even killed off a Bruins power play, if you can believe it.

That sight for sore eyes didn’t age well, however.

The Hurricanes took two penalties that could have been avoided — a too many men call and a goaltender interference infraction.

What happened in the resulting power plays for Boston sealed Carolina’s fate.

In the first instance in the second, Marchand provided an authoritative pass to David Pastrnak, who needed only to get his stick on the ice as the Bruins went up 1-0.

Their second session of the period had a similar yield. This time, Pastrnak was the set-up man and Patrice Bergeron was the beneficiary. Boston led 2-0.

The top trio came as advertised in this series, combining for 14 points:

  • Pastrnak: 1G, 3A
  • Bergeron: 3G, 2A
  • Marchand: 2G, 3A

Those three have combined for 22 of the Bruins 57 goals in some fashion in the playoffs now, better than one-third of their total offense.

A big reason for that, of course, has been Boston’s power-play prowess.

Boston went a stellar 7-for-15 in the series with the man-advantage. Carolina? Well, they were just 1-for-14 over the four games and were a paltry 5-for-52 in the playoffs. A power play operating at under 10 percent in the playoffs will only get you so far.

And then there’s Tuukka Rask.

A shutout in Game 4 put the icing on the cake for Boston’s No. 1.

It was Tuukka Time all of the time. Rask faced 114 shots in the series and stop 109 of them. Five goals allowed in four games, a .956 save percentage.

Unbeatable.

The obituary for the Hurricanes will hold a story of not being able to find their stride in the series.

They were thrown a lifeline prior to the game as Zdeno Chara was ruled out with an undisclosed injury, but it amounted to nothing tangible on the ice.

Still, these ‘Bunch of Jerks’ deserve a whole heck of a lot of credit for what they’ve accomplished.

Sure, they couldn’t beat a playoff-hardened team like the Bruins, but for a young squad whose window is only opening, to knock out the defending Stanley Cup champs and to sweep the New York Islanders is a massive step in the right direction.

Carolina is a good team that is only going to get better from this experience. They’ve found a coach that resonates in the room. They inspired their fanbase and, above all, have some solid talent on the ice.

MORE: Stanley Cup Final 2019 schedule, TV info


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Wraparound: Getting Mrazek back is Step 1 for Hurricanes

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Let’s not take anything away from Curtis McElhinney here.

He was sensational in his two starts to close out the New York Islanders in Round 2, and stopped 17-of-17 shots in Game 2 after coming in to relieve the injured Petr Mrazek.

But the Boston Bruins aren’t the Islanders, and the Carolina Hurricanes need their No. 1 in this series.

The good news is that it looks as if Mrazek is set to start Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream). As the above suggests, Mrazek hasn’t played since Game 2 when he left in the second period after sliding across his crease to make a save.

Before that, Mrazek set the tone in Game 1 in a 31-save shutout, his second of the postseason. The 27-year-old started the playoffs by throwing up two duds, but return with a vengeance in Game 3 against the Washington Capitals, posting an 18-save shutout. From there, his only other blemish came after giving up six in Game 5. From there, he allowed four goals in Games 6 and 7 to steer the Hurricanes past the defending Stanley Cup Champions.

The series is a lesson in how having a 1A and 1B scenario can really make a big difference.

Mrazek started just 40 games during the regular season (Tuukka Rask, who will line up across from him, started just 46).

What it also goes to show is that if Mrazek was to get injured again, Carolina has a 35-year-old ace up its sleeve with McElhinney, who won his first two playoff starts last round.

Given the Hurricanes have had five days off, and the Bruins just two, Mrazek may be called into action early in Game 1 on Thursday. That might be just what he needs to get himself situated once again.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

WEDNESDAY’S SCORES
Sharks 3, Avalanche 2 (San Jose wins 4-3)
The Buzzer has more on Wednesday’s action

MORE:
Conference Finals schedule, TV info
PHT roundtable
Hurricanes/Bruins series preview
PHT Conference Finals predictions


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

The Devils won’t be sweating either the Caps or Rangers

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Now that the New Jersey Devils have booked a date in the Eastern Conference finals, they’ll be waiting to see if they’ll be facing the top-seeded New York Rangers or eighth-seeded Washington Capitals. Fortunately for the Devils, they’ve done pretty well against both teams during the regular season.

NHL.com’s Brian Compton broke down how the Devils fared against both teams and, unsurprisingly, they fared a bit better against the Capitals.

The Devils experienced more success against the Capitals than the Rangers during the regular season. New Jersey went 3-1-0 (two of those wins came via the shootout), while taking three of six meetings from the Rangers.

Taking two shootout wins into account basically means those games were draws. With how the Capitals have played things tight to the vest in the playoffs, more close games would almost certainly be the norm should the Devils draw Washington. Taking half of their meetings against the Rangers is solid work against the conference’s top team.

The Devils probably aren’t rooting to see one team over the other but rather to have the series go seven games and multiple overtimes to maximize the amount of rest they get before the next round. Should the Capitals wind up taking the series, however, New Jersey will have home ice. Maybe they do have rooting interest after all.

Stamkos suffered shoulder injury during playoffs

Playoff beards. Avoiding conference championship trophies. Lying about injuries. Another of the oldest playoff traditions is when teams and players start disclosing injuries suffered throughout the playoffs. The latest to announce a playoff injury is Tampa Bay Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos. Apparently, he’d been dealing with a left shoulder problem for the conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals and the conference finals against the Boston Bruins.

From the Tampa Tribune:

Lightning sniper Steven Stamkos never did catch fire the way he or his team hoped he would during the playoffs. Now we know one of the reasons why. Though he denied it was a hindrance to him, Stamkos admitted Monday that he spent the playoffs playing through a nagging left shoulder injury.

“I was a little banged up in the Pittsburgh series, but you know, it wasn’t anything that I think really affected my play,” Stamkos said. “When the game started, you’re running on adrenalin and stuff and I felt pretty good for the most part. I feel like I got better and better as the playoffs went on.”

Despite suffering an injury in the first round, Stamkos still managed 6 goals and 7 assists in 18 games. Even though he had 45 goals this season and 91 points, there were those who thought he was a bit of a disappointment during the playoffs. Despite people openly questioning Stamkos’ play, he still was able to score two goals in the 4-game sweep against the Capitals and another two goals against the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. Four goals aren’t bad on their own—but it’s a little more impressive after finding out he was playing through a shoulder injury.

Then again, no one would have questioned his toughness after this:

The next step for Stamkos and the Lightning is to agree on a contract for next season. Obviously, the restricted free agent will command a serious payday after scoring 96 goals over the past two seasons. Tampa GM Steve Yzerman has made no secret that he plans on getting a deal done with Stamkos’ agent Don Meehan, but it’s anyone’s guess when that will come to fruition. In the meantime, Stamkos has proven that he’ll be able to play through (multiple) injuries when the games matter most. ‘

Not a bad start to the guy’s career, eh?