Matt Grzelcyk

Pastrnak shines again as Bruins win sixth in a row: 3 takeaways

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The Boston Bruins just keep on rolling.

Thanks to another huge game from David Pastrnak and a perfect day from their penalty kill, the Bruins were able to overcome a two-goal deficit against the New York Rangers to earn a 3-2 overtime win, extending their current winning streak to six games and improving their overall record to 18-3-5 on the season.

They are also on a 10-game point streak (7-0-3) dating back to Nov. 10 and are 10-0-4 on home ice this season. They have not lost a home game in regulation since Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues. Their next four games are all at home.

Let’s take a quick look at three big developments that stood out from the Bruins’ win, which also snapped what had been a three-game winning streak for the Rangers.

1. Special teams was the difference. There were two big turning points in this game where the Rangers had a chance to take control. The first came in the second period when they were leading 2-0 and were set to go a two-man advantage after Sean Kuraly and Matt Grzelcyk were both sent to the box.

Not only did the Rangers fail to capitalize and extend their lead, they were unable to even record a single shot on goal during the 5-on-3 situation.

As if that was not bad enough, the Rangers were fortunate enough to get a four-minute power play with seven minutes to play in regulation — in a tie game — when Par Lindholm was assessed a double-minor for high-sticking Brendan Smith. The Rangers again failed to score, wrapping up an 0-for-6 day on the power play, and did not record a shot on goal until there was less than a minute to go on the power play. They struggled to gain entry into the offensive zone, they struggled to get anything set up, and they just looked completely overmatched against the Bruins’ PK unit all day long.

2. David Pastrnak put on another show. He added to his league-leading goal total on Friday by scoring his 24th goal of the season (in his 26th game) to tie the game in the third period, then set up David Krejci‘s game-winning goal in overtime with an incredible play that saw him dangle his way through the Rangers’ defense then find his wide open teammate for the winner.

3. The Bruins seem to have avoided another significant injury. Already playing without their No. 1 center, Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins briefly lost another key part of their dominant top line on Friday when Brad Marchand briefly exited the game in the third period. Marchand appeared to be struck by Jacob Trouba‘s elbow in the second period and, following the intermission, was removed from the game. Marchand angrily went down the tunnel to the team’s locker room where he would remain for the first half of the third period. It was during that time that Pastrnak, playing on a makeshift line alongside Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, scored to tie the game. Marchand was eventually able to return to the game and finish it in his normal spot alongside Pastrnak.

Related: Can anyone catch Pastrnak in goal scoring race?

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 Power Rankings: Win or lose the Conn Smythe should belong to Rask

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This much should be obvious: If the Boston Bruins win Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream) starting goalie Tuukka Rask is going to be the winner of the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff MVP.

If that situation plays out, it is simply going to be his award.

Brad Marchand has been great. Patrice Bergeron has been outstanding. Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy have carried the defense. Charlie Coyle has turned out to be a huge trade deadline pickup. All of them would be a worthy contender (or winner) in any other season. But for as good as they have all been none of them have played a bigger role in the Bruins’ postseason success than Rask, and he has done it from the very beginning of the playoffs with a consistency and level of dominance that should have erased any doubts his harshest critics may have ever had about him as a big-game goalie.

He is the biggest reason the Bruins have reached this point and the single biggest reason the St. Louis Blues have not already won their first Stanley Cup.

His performance this postseason is as good as we have ever seen from a goalie, highlighted by a .939 save percentage that ranks among the NHL’s all-time best.

He is just the fifth different goalie in NHL history to play in at least 20 playoff games and have a save percentage higher than .935, and he is the only goalie that has done it twice.

In his 23 appearances this season he has recorded a save percentage below .912 just five times. He has had zero games with a save percentage below .900. Just for context on that, every other goalie this postseason has had at least one such, while 15 different goalies had at least two.

His Stanley Cup Final counterpart, St. Louis’ Jordan Binnington, has had eight such games.

His save percentages by series have been .928, .948, .956, and .924.

No matter the metric, whether it is in any one individual game or the postseason as a whole, he has been sensational.

So sensational that the Conn Smythe Trophy should probably be his whether the Bruins win Game 7 or not.

It is not completely unheard of for a member of the losing team to win the Conn Smythe Trophy as it has happened five times in NHL history with Detroit’s Roger Crozier (1966), St. Louis’ Glenn Hall (1968), Philadelphia’s Reggie Leach (1976) and Ron Hextall (1987), and Anaheim’s Jean-Sebastien Giguere (2003) all doing it. It is obviously extremely difficult to do, but it can happen when all of the right circumstances are in place.

It usually involves a goalie (as four of the previous ones were) putting together an incredible postseason where they help carry their team for the entire postseason and then loses to a team that does not really have a clear favorite of their own. That would pretty much describe the Blues if they win Game 7. Their success is not related to any one great individual performance that has stood out above the pack. At any given time it has been one of Ryan O'Reilly, Vladimir Tarasenko, or Jaden Schwartz carrying the offense, but none of them have done it consistently throughout the playoffs. Their goalie, Binnington, has really only been okay with moments of brilliance surrounded by obvious flaws and some downright bad games.

If the Blues win history and all modern precedent suggests one of their players will end up winning the Conn Smythe, but if we are being objective about this the true MVP of the playoffs has been standing in Boston’s net all postseason. The outcome of Game 7 is not going to change that. Without him playing at the level he has played at the Bruins have not already been eliminated in this series, they may have very easily been eliminated in Round 1 (against the Toronto Maple Leafs) or in Round 2 (against the Columbus Blue Jackets).

In this week’s PHT Power Rankings we take one more look at the 2019 Conn Smythe race where Rask is rightfully at the top of the pack on a tier all his own. Everyone else is (or should be) fighting for second place.

To the rankings!

The favorite

1. Tuukka Rask, Boston Bruins. He has simply been the best and most impactful player on the ice in the playoffs and is probably the single biggest reason this series is still going on. His numbers are among the best we have ever seen from a goalie in a single playoff run and he has been so much better than everyone else that even if the Blues win Game 7 it should probably be his to take home. The chances of that actually happening are slim (there is plenty of precedent that says the series winner will get the MVP) but that doesn’t mean we can’t disagree.

[Related: Rask the rock steps up for Bruins in Game 6]

If the Blues win

2. Ryan O’Reilly, St. Louis Blues. He has probably done enough in this series to get the award if the Blues take Game 7. He may not have consistently been the team’s most productive player or top scorer in the playoffs, but he is still probably their best all-around player and for much of the Stanley Cup Final has beaten Boston’s Patrice Bergeron at his own game as a top-tier two-way center. It is supposed to be an award for the entire postseason, but recency bias takes over in the Stanley Cup Final and O’Reilly has been a monster for the Blues in the series with four goals and three assists. He goes into Game 7 on a three-game goal scoring streak.

3. Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues. He played better than his numbers illustrated earlier in the playoffs, then he went on a white-hot run at the absolute best time for the Blues starting with Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. As mentioned above the Blues do not have a clear-cut favorite at this point but the way Tarasenko put the offense on his back over the past month (six goals, five assists over the past 12 games) would make him a worthy candidate.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The long shots but still worth a mention

4. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins. We have had Marchand at the top of the rankings for much of the playoffs, mostly because he has been awesome and probably their best overall player not named Rask. But we are dropping him down a few spots here for two reasons. First, he has had a quiet series against the Blues and that will no doubt impact voters when it comes time to cast their ballots (whether it should or not). Second, and most importantly, if the Bruins win Game 7 it just seems impossible to believe that anyone other than Rask will be taking home the MVP. That does not take away from the postseason Marchand has had, just that he has probably become a distant second on his team in the playoff MVP race.

5. Torey Krug, Boston Bruins. The Bruins’ defense was shorthanded for much of the regular season due to injury and that trend has continued at times in the playoffs. Zdeno Chara missed a game earlier this postseason and has played the past two games with a (reported) broken jaw. Matt Grzlecyk has been sidelined since Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. Charlie McAvoy missed a game earlier in the playoffs due to suspension. While all of that has been happening Krug has been the one constant on the team’s blue line in the playoffs, appearing in every single game and putting up huge numbers offensively. He is the team’s third-leading scorer entering Game 7 with 18 points, including six in the Stanley Cup Final against the Blues.

6. Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues. If the Blues win he would be a nice sleeper choice because of what he did prior to the series. He has gone quiet against the Bruins, but his hot streak in previous played a huge role in helping the Blues to reach this point. 

7. Charlie Coyle, Boston Bruins. After a slow start to his Bruins tenure after the trade from the Minnesota Wild Coyle ended up being everything the Bruins hoped he would be in the playoffs, adding a necessary secondary scoring boost to the lineup. Like Marchand and Krug (and anyone else on the Bruins) he has almost zero chance of taking the award away from Rask if the Bruins win, but he has still proven to be a huge addition that has helped drive the Bruins’ run.

MORE BLUES-BRUINS:
• Bruins push Stanley Cup Final to Game 7 by beating Blues
• Special teams an issue once again for Blues in Game 6 loss
• St. Louis newspaper gets roasted for ‘jinxing’ Blues before Game 6

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.

Bruins’ Chara was more than just brave in Game 5

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Making it to another Stanley Cup Final at age 42 already cemented Zdeno Chara‘s legacy as one of the all-time great Boston Bruins, but playing through Game 5 only added to his mystique.

(Remarkably, this wasn’t even the only time he’s bounced from a rather gruesome, bloody injury during this series alone.)

Merely suiting up as the Bruins went with seven defensemen and 11 forwards would have been enough for Chara to have a Willis Reed-style inspirational moment, and his courage was certainly noted by the fans in Boston:

Chara’s Game 5 differs from Willis Reed surprising the Knicks and Lakers in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals in two key ways. The one Chara is least happy about is that, while the Knicks won, his Bruins fell 2-1 to the Blues, who took a 3-2 series lead.

The other is that, while Reed’s return drew mythical status, his actual impact was overstated, as he merely sank two shots. Chara, meanwhile, put together the sort of performance that means he wasn’t just a token presence.

Chara logged 16:42 TOI in Game 5, including 1:21 on the penalty kill. During the nearly 17 minutes of game time, Chara delivered four hits, blocked three shots, fired two shots on goal, and earned a takeaway. Those aren’t exactly the stats of a passive observer.

Maybe more remarkably, Chara’s possession stats were strong; “The Big Z” was actually above 50 percent in stats like Corsi For for the first time since the Blue Jackets series in Round 2, according to Natural Stat Trick’s game logs.

Now, sure, you can nitpick if you’d like.

Chara did have a -1 rating in Game 5. It’s also fair to argue that his numbers, like those of other Bruins’ skaters, were likely inflated by how dominant Boston was at times on Thursday, and that the Blues never trailed.

But, overall, it’s impressive stuff.

It could be tough to top, too. On Friday, Bruce Cassidy noted that there might be some “residual” effects for the Bruins’ defense, so Chara’s status could still be something to watch. It’s also unclear if Matt Grzelcyk might be able to return for Game 6.

And even if Chara does play again in Game 6, it’s possible that he might not play as well as he did in Game 5. Sometimes, when it comes to athlete’s fighting through injuries – not just being hurt, but actual injuries – they’ll ride some adrenaline through a game, and then hit a wall as the grind continues.

So, this is all something to watch, yet that Game 5 performance just adds to the myth of Chara, even if the Bruins couldn’t manage a win.

Game 6 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final takes place at 8 p.m. ET on Sunday (NBC; stream here).

MORE BLUES – BRUINS COVERAGE

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.

Chara to play Game 5 vs. Blues; Bruins go with seven defensemen

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Zdeno Chara clearly is injured, but the captain is going to play through it to help the Boston Bruins in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues Thursday night (8 p.m. ET; NBC; live stream).

He reportedly suffered a broken jaw when Brayden Schenn‘s shot struck him in the face during Game 4 on Monday. He returned to the bench, but was forced to sit out for the third period. It seems that’s the extent of the time he’ll miss though. Not only is he going to dress for Game 5, but he’s one of Boston’s starters.

The fact that he’s willing to soldier through it is huge for Boston, which is already dealing with the absence of defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. He hasn’t played since being hit from behind by Oskar Sundqvist and while Grzelcyk was listed as a game-time decision on Thursday, he ultimately wasn’t out with his teammates for the pregame warmups. The silver lining there is that he did skate Thursday morning without the non-contact jersey he had previously donned.

Boston will also dress Steven Kampfer tonight, giving them seven defensemen. That might be a move to put a little less pressure on Chara and to that end, it will be interesting to see how much time each blueliner gets tonight.

To make room in the lineup, former Blues captain David Backes will not play for Boston against his old team. Backes has averaged just 9:44 minutes per game in the 2019 playoffs and was on the ice for 9:09 minutes in Game 4.

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.

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.