Sean Kuraly

Stanley Cup Final: Kuraly breaking through for Bruins

3 Comments

If you handed out an MVP trophy for the best player of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final (rather than the full postseason, with the Conn Smythe), then Sean Kuraly would be the unlikely frontrunner for the Boston Bruins.

Kuraly’s been crucial in the Bruins taking a 2-1 series lead through the first three games against the St. Louis Blues, scoring two goals (both of Boston’s game-winners) and two assists.

Even for those of us who targeted Kuraly as a potential surprise breakthrough candidate really didn’t see this coming.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

In a way, Kuraly’s getting all the bounces he wasn’t enjoying during most of this postseason, all at once. His two goals during the past three games came on just five shots on goal, good for a 40 shooting percentage. Kuraly’s 3-0 goal from Game 3 qualifies as a head’s up play, but there was also some luck involved in catching Jordan Binnington by surprise with such a quick release (and maybe partial screen?), not to mention the luck of surviving the offside review.

But, again, there’s an argument that Kuraly has been “due.”

Through the first 13 games of his postseason run – Kuraly missed some time due to hand surgery – Kuraly fired 38 shots on goal, matching Blues forwards Ryan O'Reilly, Oskar Sundqvist, and Brayden Schenn, who generated that many in 19 games (and more average ice time, most glaringly for ROR and Schenn). Even if you chalk up some of that shot volume to quantity over quality, Kuraly had been unlucky, only scoring two goals and five points, giving him just a 5.3 shooting percentage.

Delightfully, the deeper you dig into Kuraly’s stats, the more it looks like the Bruins unearthed another gem.

Any scoring from Kuraly should be considered gravy, because he’s really been asked to do a lot of the dirty work for the Bruins.

So far during the postseason, Kuraly’s begun an absurd 89 percent of his even-strength shifts in the defensive zone. (According to Natural Stat Trick, he’s had 48 defensive zone starts, 68 in the neutral zone, and just seven in the offensive zone.)

Considering his heavy workload, it’s impressive that Kuraly’s largely broken even in the possession game, and the Bruins have actually generated more high-danger chances for (35) than against (32) at even-strength with Kuraly on the ice.

That’s … pretty remarkable, especially for a nominal “fourth-liner.”

One of Kuraly’s defining skills is his speed. As The Point noted heading into his postseason debut, Kuraly uses his skating to be an absolute beast in transition, which is likely part of the reason that Bruce Cassidy loves deploying him in such heavy defensive assignments.

Cassidy also singled out Kuraly as a player who deserved more recognition in April:

Game 1 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final likely ranks as the high point for Kuraly, along with his linemates Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari.

Not only did Kuraly score a gritty game-winning goal and set up Connor Clifton with a tremendous pass, but that trio drew the occasional assignment against the Blues’ top line of Vladimir Tarasenko, Brayden Schenn, and Jaden Schwartz. It says a lot about Kuraly’s line – and Cassidy’s confidence in that line – that they got that opportunity, and didn’t just earn a draw, but occasionally actually won the matchup against Tarasenko’s group.

Looking forward, it’s tough to tell if Kuraly might be a more regular scorer.

The 26-year-old managed eight goals and 21 points in 71 regular-season games, managing a solid 134 SOG considering his modest TOI average of 13:46 per game, but his shooting percentage was low at six percent. Kuraly’s career shooting percentage is even lower at 5 percent, and the sample size isn’t tiny at 154 games. It’s fair to wonder if Kuraly may be lacking a bit as a shooter.

Of course, opportunity plays into the discussion.

Kuraly saw his ice time climb significantly once January rolled around, a lot like Sundqvist with the Blues, he’s seen a prominent role during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Kuraly’s averaging 15:37 TOI per game, fifth-most among Bruins forwards, ahead of Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, and Danton Heinen.

The Bruins probably aren’t sweating the question of whether Kuraly can ascend in the lineup, or if he’ll merely remain a really, really good depth player.

That’s because Kuraly has the contract that figures to give Boston a competitive advantage. Via Cap Friendly, Kuraly’s cap hit comes in at a measly $1.275 million, and it runs through 2020-21, with no sign of performance bonuses.

Boston’s shown an uncanny knack for supplementing top players like Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron with smart late first-rounders like David Pastrnak, and hidden gems such as undrafted Torey Krug. By getting Kuraly in the Martin Jones trade, and locking him up to an extremely cheap contract, the Bruins seem to have struck it rich again with Kuraly.

If he keeps scoring, even better, but the Bruins will gladly take the version of Kuraly who was quietly winning tough matches for them.

Game 4 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final airs on NBC at 8 p.m. ET on Monday (stream here).

BREAKING DOWN BLUES-BRUINS GAME 3:
Bruins blast Blues, take 2-1 lead in Stanley Cup Final
Blues special teams continue to be sour note 
Berube keeping the faith in Binnington after rough Game 3

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.

Should Bruins’ 3-0 goal have counted in Game 3?

7 Comments

The St. Louis Blues enter the first intermission with a miserable feeling, and not just because the score is 3-0 in favor of the Boston Bruins.

There was a tough call on Sean Kuraly‘s 3-0 goal, as the Blues opted for an offside review revolving around whether or not Joakim Nordstrom was offside as he battled for the puck with Joel Edmundson.

Either way, it’s not the greatest goal for Jordan Binnington to allow, as The Athletic’s Jeremy Rutherford also notes.

As is often the case with these goal review situations, it was all very close, to the point that people went with the old standby of looking at replays frame by frame, “Zapruder film”-style. Ultimately, the league ruled that Kuraly’s goal was a good goal, explaining that Edmundson handled the puck. Here’s how the league worded the ruling:

After reviewing all available replays and consulting with the Linesmen, the Situation Room confirmed that St. Louis defenseman Joel Edmundson passed the puck back into his own defending zone prior to the goal. The decision was made in accordance with Rule 83.1 which states, in part, “If a player legally carries or passes the puck back into his own defending zone while a player of the opposing team is in such defending zone, the off-side shall be ignored and play permitted to continue.”

This ruling serves as a double whammy for the Blues, as the goal stands, while the failed review also gives the Bruins a power play opportunity.

It came in the dying seconds of the first period, so the Bruins had close to a full power play opportunity to begin the second period, and David Pastrnak scored to make it 4-0. Brutal stretch for the Blues.

If the Blues are going to get back into Game 3, they’ll need things to go a lot better than they have through the first 23 minutes or so. This contest is currently airing on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

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.

Bruins’ fourth line continuing to shine during Stanley Cup run

2 Comments

BOSTON — It was an eighth straight win for the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final Monday night, and it was another game where the fourth line contributed heavily.

The Bruins’ “Perfection Line” of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak received deserved attention entering the series against the St. Louis Blues, but Boston is three wins away from another title because of their depth. From that depth has come the production from Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom, who make up two-thirds of the fourth line in the absence of injured Chris Wagner, who’s been replaced by Noel Acciari.

“It’s unbelievable,” said forward Marcus Johansson after Game 1. “And I think everyone says this, but one of the strengths of this team is that we have four lines that can produce at any given time and on any given night. What a better time to do it than tonight. It’s not just that they scored the goals, they led the group to taking the game over and playing more physical, and that’s what led us to winning this game.”

Monday night it was Kuraly, who was acquired in the Martin Jones trade in 2015, who broke the 2-2 tie 5:21 into the third period to give the Bruins the lead for the first time. Kuraly also had the primary assist on Connor Clifton‘s tying goal 1:16 after Vladimir Tarasenko gave the Blues a 2-0 lead early in the second period.

The goal was another big moment for the 26-year-old Kuraly, who has a knack for this kind of stuff. According to the NHL, nine of his 21 career goals have either tied the game (3) or ended up as the winner.

The production of the fourth line brings back memories of 2011 and the famed “Merlot Line” of Shawn Thornton, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell. Named after the color of their practice jerseys, the trio combined for 29 goals and 62 points during the regular season and another four goals and 11 points during their run to the Cup that spring.

“That line was huge for us the one year and even in playoffs came in and scored some big goals and [provided us] some momentum that we needed at times during games,” said Patrice Bergeron. “It’s a fair comparison when you look at Sean and his line, what they’ve been able to do for us night in, night out, and stepping up in big moments. They’ve been doing it since the start of the year and they just keep showing up for us.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The trio, which had included Wagner before he broke his hand in the Eastern Conference Final, has produced regularly, with Kuraly leading the way with three goals and seven points. The line can do it all. They skate well, forecheck well, move the puck well, and their teammates continually say they wouldn’t be playing at this point of the season without them.

“I wouldn’t want to play against that line nor any other line on our team,” said Clifton.

The fourth line has been shining all postseason and now that that’s continuing as the spotlight gets brighter and brighter, their teammates are happy to share in the attention.

“I think a lot of times you overlook those type of players or lines,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, “how big they play, especially during the season, they not necessarily get on the scoresheet, but they do so much for the team besides scoring. It’s great they’re getting recognition and a lot of credit because in the playoffs you have to rely on [those lines].”

Blues-Bruins Game 2 is Wednesday night at 8 p.m. ET from TD Garden on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE: Stanley Cup Buzzer: Kuraly, Bruins overwhelm Blues

————

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.

Bruins beat Blues to win Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

3 Comments

If the Boston Bruins were rusty in Game 1, then the St. Louis Blues better watch out during the rest of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.

Boston rallied from down 2-0 to win Game 1 by a score of 4-2, taking a 1-0 series lead against the Blues. As much as St. Louis must regret squandering a lead, the honest truth is that the Blues were probably lucky that the score was so close.

Perhaps that’s a silver lining for St. Louis, actually. Jordan Binnington and the Blues penalty kill was able to keep St. Louis in a game they were sometimes sorely outplayed in, so maybe the Blues can improve if they even out the overall level of play? They’ll need to do better one way or another, because the Bruins really flexed their muscles during most of Game 1.

This marks the fourth comeback win of this postseason for the Bruins, and the 31st overall for the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, serving as a reminder that few leads have been safe.

Early mistakes allow St. Louis to get ahead

The Blues managed to take a 2-0 lead in part by capitalizing on miscues by David Pastrnak, with Brayden Schenn scoring first and then Vladimir Tarasenko fattening their edge early in the second period. Pastrnak’s turnover to Schenn leading to the 2-0 tally was especially bad, as Pastrnak coughed up the puck behind his own red line. Instead of that leading to a meltdown by the Bruins, it instead seemed to light a fire under Boston.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Bruins impose their will

The Bruins scored twice during a dominant second period, ultimately generating an 18-3 shots on goal advantage and often finding opportunities from high-danger areas.

After killing off the first three Bruins power plays, an ill-advised Oskar Sundqvist cross-checking penalty proved to be one penalty too many, as Charlie McAvoy managed the 2-2 goal.

While Game 1 was up-and-down for the Bruins’ top line (again, particularly Pastrnak), Boston’s improving supporting cast really came through. Sean Kuraly made a fantastic pass to set up a key Connor Clifton goal to make it 2-1, then opened up the scoring in the third period with a tenacious goal to make it 3-2.

Things to watch

The Blues simply cannot take as many penalties going forward. It’s actually impressive that they limited Boston to a 1-for-5 success rate when you think of how dangerous the Bruins’ power play has been, but that McAvoy goal was pivotal.

[Blues need to stay out of the penalty box.]

It may be difficult to stay out of the box during the most passionate times during this series, too, as these two teams haven’t needed much time to make things nasty. If penalties are totally unavoidable, St. Louis at least needs to seek a better balance than allowing the Bruins five opportunities to just two like they managed during Game 1.

[More on the nastiness, as it’s clear David Backes is putting friendships on hold.]

***

If the pace of Monday’s Game 1 serves as a fair indication, the 2019 Stanley Cup Final could be an exciting, gnarly series for the ages. The Bruins are playing well enough that the Blues need to up their games if they want to avoid this being a short series, though.

Game 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final takes place on Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET. That contest airs on NBCSN (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.

If Bruins keep getting secondary scoring, look out

The Boston Bruins have long been considered a “one-line team,” and that’s not such a bad thing when that one line features Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak.

You’d think that the Bruins would have lost Game 7 against the Maple Leafs and Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, what with that one line essentially being held scoreless.*

Nope. The Bruins won both of those games, which leaves them with a 1-0 series lead against the Blue Jackets to begin Round 2.

[Read all about the Bruins’ 3-2 OT win here.]

* – Bergeron scored an empty-netter in Game 7, but it was a 5-1 goal that barely beat the buzzer and meant even less to the outcome of that decisive contest.

Consider some of the less-obvious players who’ve come through for the Bruins lately, and we’ll ponder how likely it is that they’ll be able to continue to contribute.

David Krejci

But first, an obvious player, as Krejci is a player whose play (73 points this season, tying a career-high) screams that the Bruins really haven’t only been a one-line team, in the first place. It’s probably true that Krejci isn’t quite the pivot who topped all playoff point producers in 2012-13 (26, seven more than anyone else) and 2010-11 (23), but he remains worthy of more attention than he gets on a team with justifiable spotlight-takers in Bergeron, Marchand, and Zdeno Chara.

The Bruins might end up needing even more from the supporting cast members below if Krejci needs to miss some time. NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports that Krejci is considered day-to-day, and it’s possible he got hurt here.

Even if Krejci plays, there’s the chance he wouldn’t be at full-strength, so these players may need to continue to step up as the series moves on to Game 2 on Saturday (8 p.m. ET; NBC; stream here).

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Charlie Coyle

The headline-grabber, naturally, is Coyle. He was already heating up during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but Game 1 was his masterpiece, as Coyle scored the goal that sent Game 1 to overtime, and then tapped home the 2-1 OT-winner.

If you ever want a snapshot of how dramatically luck can shift from terrible to incredibly friendly, you could do worse than to look at Coyle right after the trade deadline versus Playoff Coyle.

Through 21 regular-season games after being traded to Bruins: two goals, six points, a pitiful 4.8 shooting percentage on 42 SOG.

Through eight playoff games: five goals, six points, an absurd 35.7 shooting percentage on 14 SOG.

Obviously, the truth about Coyle is somewhere between the guy who couldn’t buy a bucket during the regular season with Boston, and the player who’s scored a goal on his last three shots on goal.

Coyle finished 2018-19 with 34 points, but he generally strikes as a 40-50 point player, and has shown a decent ceiling with a career-high of 56 points in 2016-17. You can’t really expect spectacular scoring from Coyle, but if this run really heightens his self-confidence, he could really give the Bruins a chance to win the depth battle, at least some nights. That’s not as spectacular as scoring OT goals, but in the likely event that the top line starts scoring again, it makes the Bruins frightening.

Marcus Johansson

Goal scorers are the guys who “hit the long ball” to a great passer’s Maddux, but you merely need to watch replays of the two Coyle goals to see that Marcus Johansson was just as instrumental in those tide-changing tallies.

It’s tough not to root for a player like Johansson. When he was traded from Washington to New Jersey, it seemed like the Capitals got cap-crunched, and the Devils were really building something. Unfortunately, thanks in large part to a bad hit by Johansson’s now-teammate Brad Marchand, Johansson suffered serious health issues, and really hasn’t been the same player.

The Bruins were smart to give Johansson a shot via a rental, though, and the B’s could really be onto something if he finds chemistry with Coyle. Johansson’s 30 points in the regular season are actually a lot more impressive when you consider that he was limited to 58 games played, and if he can stay healthy, the Swede could put together a stellar contract year (er, contract playoff run?).

Again, don’t expect Coyle and Johansson to do Game 1 things during the rest of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, yet the chemistry and confidence could start soaring at this rate.

(And, hey, Coyle’s contract ends after 2019-20, so really, they’re both more or less playing for their futures.)

Jake DeBrusk

As the Bruins’ frequent second-liner alongside Krejci, DeBrusk quietly put up 27 goals despite being limited to 68 games. He had some memorable moments during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and remains a strong contributor for Boston. In fact, if Krejci misses time, DeBrusk could show how much havoc he can create on his own.

Sean Kuraly/Noel Acciari/Joakim Nordstrom

OK, these guys weren’t exactly high-scorers during the regular season, and their contributions might not be super-dependable. Acciari’s goal on Sergei Bobrovsky to start the scoring in Game 1, and Kuraly’s big 3-1 goal against Frederik Andersen in Game 7 of Round 1 were both goals that the netminders really should have had. Still, if those guys can get the occasional goal and avoid being deep underwater on tougher nights, that could be big. (Some nights will be easier than others.)

Kuraly, in particular, shows a nice burst that can cause headaches for opponents, and his possession stats have been positive so far now that he’s managed to get healthy enough to appear in the playoffs.

***

Don’t let some hit-posts and other near-misses fool you; the Bruins are still going to lean heavily on their top trio, and barring health issues or a truly profound cold streak, they’ll likely deliver.

You need another players to pick up during the grind of the postseason, particularly against teams that are gameplanning to stop Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak. The Bruins have been getting needed contributions from their supporting cast, and while that luck is almost certain to eventually cool off, there’s a solid chance that Coyle and Johansson could be bigger contributions than they were during the regular season.

That makes the Bruins a scary postseason opponent, especially if Krejci’s issues are short-lived.

The Bruins hope to build on their 1-0 series lead against the Blue Jackets in Game 2 at TD Garden at 8 p.m. ET on Saturday (NBC; 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.