Bruins vs. Blue Jackets: PHT 2019 Stanley Cup Playoff preview

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For the first time in franchise history the Columbus Blue Jackets will get to see what life is like in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

After pulling off a stunning upset in Round 1, where they not only beat the NHL’s best team, but completely dominated them, the Blue Jackets get to see if they can shock the world once again when they take on the Boston Bruins.

The big thing to watch early in this series will be whether or not the lengthy, week-long layoff for the Blue Jackets will be something that helps or hurts them against a Bruins team that is coming off of a grueling seven-game series against the Toronto Maple Leafs where they had to win back-to-back games to fight off elimination.

From a big picture outlook the Bruins are the superior team on paper and based on their overall regular season performance, but the same thing was said about the Lightning in the previous round, and we all saw how that turned out.

Going back to March 24 the Blue Jackets are 11-1-0 in their past 12 games, with that only loss coming at the hands of the Bruins, a 6-2 defeat on April 2.

The two teams met three times during the regular season with each team winning once in a blowout, and the Bruins taking the extra game in a 2-1 overtime decision on March 16.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Schedule

Surging Players

Boston: It should be no surprise that the three-headed monster of of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak is leading the way offensively for the Bruins. They have been doing it for years, and they did it again in Round 1 against the Maple Leafs. What is really helping is they are getting a lot of contributions from players outside of that group. Charlie Coyle, one of the Bruins’ trade deadline acquisitions, scored three goals in Round 1, Brandon Carlo didn’t record a point but was outstanding at times defensively, and their Game 7 offense came from a lot of their unsung depth players. The Bruins are a team with superstars at the top of the lineup (all playing exceptionally well) and has found some depth to go with the. That is a dangerous combination.

Columbus: Instead of dealing away their pending free agents, the Blue Jackets went all in at the trade deadline with Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid, and Keith Kinkaid, and it not only helped produce the first postseason series win in franchise history, it helped them pull off one of the biggest Round 1 upsets ever. Duchene was one of the driving forces behind that four-game sweep of the Lightning, recording seven points in the four games. Artemi Panarin was also an impact player throughout the opening round, while young players Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand started to make a name for themselves.

Struggling Players

Boston: Marcus Johansson had what could probably described as an “up-and-down” series for the Bruins. He scored a huge goal in Game 7, but it was his only point in the five games he played while he also finished as a team-worst minus-4 in the series. Jake DeBrusk also had a quiet round, but that was mostly due to poor shooting luck (only one goal on 20 shots) than anything that he was or was not doing.

Columbus: When you sweep the best team in the NHL in four games there probably are not many players on your roster that are struggling, and even if there are, you haven’t had enough time to figure out who they are. Still, the Blue Jackets would probably like to see a little bit more from Dzingel and Brandon Dubinsky in Round 2, as both were held off the scoresheet entirely in their first four games.

Goaltending

Boston: Bruins fans always seem to be waiting for an opportunity to criticize Tuukka Rask and make him the scapegoat for whenever the team falls short in the playoffs. While his regular season performance wasn’t consistently great, and there is reason to believe he is not the same goalie he was four or five years ago, he is still a very capable starter that has the potential to steal a game or two, and perhaps even an entire series should it come to that. He was outstanding in the first round with a .928 save percentage and was at his best in Games 6 and 7 when the Bruins needed him most.

Columbus: This was always going to be the big question for the Blue Jackets. For as good as Sergei Bobrovsky has been throughout his career he has been one of the least productive goalies in the NHL come playoff time, consistently melting down at the worst possible time. He did a lot of work in Round 1 to quiet the doubters in helping to shut down one of the greatest offenses the NHL has ever seen. The Blue Jackets dominated the series so much that they didn’t even need Bobrovsky to be great, and he still finished with a .932 save percentage in what has been — by far — the best postseason performance of his career.

Special Teams

Boston: The Bruins’ power play can be a game-changer for them. It was among the best in the NHL during the regular season, and then absolutely dominated the Maple Leafs in Round 1 by scoring seven power play goals in the seven games (and they didn’t even get a power play in Game 7). And it wasn’t just any one player during the damage. They received power play goals from six different players in the first round (only Bergeron scored more than one) while eight different players recorded at least one point on the power play. The only flaw the unit has — and it is a big flaw — is that it is sometimes vulnerable to shorthanded goals against, giving up 15 during the regular season and another one in Round 1. The Bruins’ PK unit, on the other hand, is a tough group to figure out. With Bergeron, Marchand, and the defense they have behind them it should be a good group, at least based on the talent they have at their disposal. But they were only middle of the pack during the regular season and were just “okay” against the Maple Leafs, though they did kill have six in a row to end the series, including all five in Games 6 and 7 when facing elimination.

Columbus: It’s not always about how many goals you score, but when you score them. That was the case for the Blue Jackets’ power play that was one of the worst in the NHL during the regular season, but went off in Round 1 by scoring on five of its 10 attempts against the Lightning. Nobody should reasonably expect them to continue clicking at 50 percent into Round 2, but if they can find a couple of goals on the man-advantage and continue their excellent penalty kill that could be a huge difference in the series — especially if they can keep staying out of the box. Columbus was tied for best PK unit in the league during the regular season and then followed that up by taking just six minor penalties in the four games against Tampa Bay. Their PK will probably get more use in Round 2, and they are going to be challenged by a Bruins power play that is not only good, but is white-hot right now.

X-Factor for Bruins

After scoring 27 goals in only 68 games during the regular season Jake DeBrusk had a mostly quiet series against the Maple Leafs, but he still showed some signs (like the fact he had 20 shots on goal) that he could be on the verge of breaking out in a big way at some point very, very soon. If he does that would give the Bruins just one more weapon that Columbus has to contend with and try to slow down. In his first two years in the league he has already shown that he can be a legit top-six forward and could be a huge X-factor in Round 2 for the Bruins.

X-Factor for Blue Jackets 

Alexandre Texier was a late addition to the Blue Jackets’ roster, and the 19-year-old has already made a sizable impact. He has only played in six NHL games (two at the end of the regular season, all four playoff games to this point) and has already scored three goals and an assist. That includes his two goals in the Blue Jackets’ series-clinching win over the Lightning where he opened the scoring with an early power play goal.

Prediction

Bruins in 6. The Blue Jackets are not going to be an easy out, and even though they entered the playoffs as the No. 8 seed the roster they have now is very different from the one they had for most of the regular season. And all of the new additions seem to have found their place in the lineup. They are legit. But so are the Bruins, and they not only have a trio of stars at the top of their lineup that are probably superior to Columbus’ top players, but they have also found some depth to complement them.

PHT’s Round 2 previews
Round 2 schedule, TV info

Questions for the final eight teams
PHT Roundtable

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.

Bergeron, O’Reilly, Stone are the 2019 Selke Trophy finalists

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It’s awards season! The NHL has begun to roll out the nominees for the 2018-19 awards beginning with the Selke Trophy, which is awarded “to the forward who best excels in the defensive aspects of the game.”

The nominees, who are voted for by members of the Professional Hockey Writers Association at the conclusion of the regular season, are Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins, Ryan O'Reilly of the St. Louis Blues, and Mark Stone of the Vegas Golden Knights.

The trophy was first  presented in 1977 by the NHL Board of Governors in honor of Frank J. Selke, one of the architects of Montreal and Toronto Stanley Cup winning teams.

The winner will be announced on June 19 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN) at the 2019 NHL Awards in Las Vegas.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Case For Patrice Bergeron: The four-time winner of the trophy, Bergeron finished the regular season with 32 goals and 79 points. He was eighth overall in face-off win percentage (56.6%), the 10th straight season he’s had a success rate in the dot of at least 56%. He also posted a 56.77% Corsi rating, the eighth consecutive season he’s reached at least the 55% mark in the category. This is his eighth straight year as a finalist and one more win will see him pass Bob Gainey for most Selke wins ever.

The Case For Ryan O’Reilly: Leading the Blues with 77 points, including 23 goals, O’Reilly enjoyed his first season with in St. Louis. He was once again strong in the face-off circle with a 56.9% success rate, posted a 53.44 Corsi %, his best since the 2013 NHL season, and had a 2.82 Corsi relative percentage. The Blues had a 93.39% on-ice save percentage when O’Reilly was out there at even strength and his 42.53 expected goals against percentage led the team’s forwards.

The Case For Mark Stone: A win here for the Golden Knights forward would bring a bit of history. The last Selke winner who wasn’t a center was Jere Lehtinen, who took home the award in 2002-03 while a member of the Dallas Stars. Stone was one of two players to have over 100 takeaways (122) this season, leading the NHL in that category. He posted a 52.99% Corsi rating and was third among all forwards with at least 800 5-on-5 minutes with an 8.16 Corsi relative percentage.

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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.

Maple Leafs take Game 1 against Bruins on the road

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The Maple Leafs limped into the playoffs with a 4-7-3 record to round out the season and rob any chance of Game 1 of their long anticipated series against Boston being played in Toronto. In the end though, it didn’t matter. After working through some late season injuries, the Maple Leafs had all hands on deck and combined they delivered a 4-1 victory over Boston.

While this game certainly wasn’t a blowout by any stretch of the imagination, it was close to the ideal scenario for the Maple Leafs. Most importantly, goaltender Frederik Andersen was great. There were some concerns about fatigue with him late in the season and he didn’t look good in the 2018 series against Boston, but this game would have been very different if he was just okay.

The only time Andersen was beat Thursday night was on a superb power-play goal from Brad Marchand to Patrice Bergeron. That marker gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead and had the potential to set the tone, but Mitchell Marner changed the story.

Marner evened the contest before the first period ended and provided the turning point when he got on a breakaway while the Maple Leafs were shorthanded. He drew a penalty shot that led to Toronto’s game-winning goal.

That narrow 2-1 edge stuck for most of the second period until William Nylander provided Toronto with some much needed breathing room, thanks in part to a laser pass from Nazem Kadri.

Boston ended up out shooting Toronto 21-14 in the second period alone, but the Maple Leafs scored the only two goals in that frame. That 3-1 lead would stick until John Tavares finished Boston off with an empty netter.

The Maple Leafs now have something they never possessed in the 2018 series against the Bruins: The lead. In 2018, the Bruins won the first two games in Boston and while Toronto battled back to force a Game 7, the Maple Leafs never possessed the series lead. Now we’ll see if Toronto can build on its early success or if Boston will come right back in Game 2. Certainly, Boston is too good of a team to be dismissed after just one loss.

Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Saturday night at 8:00 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.

Marner’s shorthanded penalty shot goal puts Leafs ahead vs. Bruins in Game 1

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Boston got out to a 1-0 lead over Toronto when Brad Marchand found Patrice Bergeron on a power-play goal midway through the first period, so when the Maple Leafs took another penalty in the second, you could just feel the dread emanating from Toronto fans. Things would turn out very differently this time though.

Mitchell Marner, who already evened the score at 1-1 late in the first period, got on a shorthanded breakaway that drew a penalty shot. With the rest of the Bruins now forced to watch, Marner outmaneuvered Tuukka Rask to score the shorthanded goal and give the Maple Leafs a 2-1 edge.

Toronto succeeded in killing the rest of the penalty after that. Toronto went on to earn a 4-1 victory in Game 1, with Marner’s goal going down as the turning point.

This also pads out Marner’s already impressive resume. He had two goals and nine points in seven games in last year’s series with Boston and was the Maple Leafs’ leading scorer in the regular season with 94 points.

Re-signing him off his entry-level contract will be the Maple Leafs’ biggest task this summer. First though, they have more immediate concerns.

Maple Leafs-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Saturday night at 8:00 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.

Wednesday Night Hockey: Bruins’ Bergeron a model of consistency

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with the Wednesday Night Hockey matchup between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

On Tuesday night, Patrice Bergeron played his 1,000th game for the Boston Bruins. How did he celebrate? Well, he managed to find the back of the net twice in a 3-1 win over the New York Islanders.

“Did you really expect anything else? You know like that guy, he just steps up in every situation and you know he’s going to have a big game on a milestone night like tonight,” teammate Brad Marchand said after the game. “It was great to see. He’s one of the top players in the game for a reason. He steps up in big moments and did that again tonight.”

Now in his 15th season, the 33-year-old is as good as he’s ever been. He continues to be a positive example and a leader for his teammates. Bergeron doesn’t only dominate in the offensive zone but he’s been one of the better two-way forwards in the game for a decade.

Since the 2011-12 season, Bergeron has taken home the Selke Trophy four times in seven years. Former Montreal Canadiens forward Bob Gainey is the only other player since 1977-78 to take home that award four times (he did it in four consecutive years).

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

He’s managed to accumulate 780 points in his career, he helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011, when he put up 20 points in 23 postseason contests, and he’s won everything there is to win at the international scene with Team Canada (he won gold at the World Championships in 2004 and 2005, and he won Olympic Gold in 2010 and 2014).

As impressive as his career has been, it could have easily not unfolded this way. Bergeron suffered a career-threatening injury after posting back-to-back 70-point seasons (the only two of his career). In October of 2007, Flyers defenseman Randy Jones levelled Bergeron into the boards. Bergeron was knocked unconscious and was taken off the ice on a stretcher. He suffered a broken nose on the play and a grade-three concussion. That could have been it. He played in just 10 games during that season. But thankfully, he managed to make a full comeback.

Since coming back from that injury, he’s found a way to one of the more consistent forwards in the game. If we put the lockout-shortened season aside, he’s picked up at least 19 goals and 52 points in every year since 2009-10. That’s remarkable. How much longer can he keep this up?

“I don’t even know myself,” the Bruins forward said when asked how long he’ll keep playing. “This is all I’ve been doing my whole life and that’s all I’ve been dreaming of, so it would be hard for me to sit here and (say how long I want to play). Right now I’m trying to enjoy the ride and see what happens. With kids and a family now it definitely puts things into perspective and you want to be with them and spend time with them, but that being said, I also love the game.”

He has three years remaining on a contract that pays him $6.875 million per season. He’ll be 36 years old when that deal expires, so there’s a chance that he could sign another contract. Even if his offensive production dries up in the next three years, his hockey IQ is high enough that he could continue playing in a depth role. But that’s still far away.

For now, Bergeron continues to be one of the few go-to forwards on his team’s roster. Despite missing 16 games, he’s still third on the team in scoring with 46 points in 37 games. His 1.24 points-per-game are tops on the Bruins.

If Boston is going to make another run at a Stanley Cup, it’s clear that Bergeron will have to be a big part of it.

Pre-game coverage starts at 7 p.m. ET on NHL Live, hosted by Liam McHugh alongside analysts Mike Milbury, Keith Jones and NHL insider Bob McKenzie. Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst) and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Madison Square Garden in New York.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.