Zdeno Chara

Bruins hope to have a healthy Chara for Stanley Cup Final

2 Comments

BOSTON (AP) — The Bruins were able to sweep Carolina in the Eastern Conference final without captain Zdeno Chara.

Now they’re hoping 10 days off before the start of the Stanley Cup Final will be enough time for the defenseman to return.

The title round begins May 27 when Boston will face San Jose or St. Louis, with that conference final 2-2. The Bruins completed their sweep Thursday with Chara out with an undisclosed injury.

”We have a lot of time to make the absolute right decision to give him the proper time to get over something that’s been nagging him,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said Saturday. ”And we’ll cross our fingers that will be the case. But we’re confident it will be.”

Sweeney stopped short of guaranteeing Chara’s return for Game 1.

”I’m not living in how or where Zee feels. I expect he’ll be fine,” Sweeney said. ”But I’m not going to sit here and make a proclamation in terms of promises. I do believe that time will be used effectively and he’ll be fine. But sometimes those are out of your control.”

Defenseman Kevan Miller and forward Chris Wagner are doubtful for Game 1 of the Final. Miller hasn’t played since April 4 because of a lower-body injury. Wagner injured his right arm blocking a shot in Game 3 against Carolina.

Bruins’ Chara misses warmup, ruled out of Game 4

Getty Images
4 Comments

The Boston Bruins will be without a big piece of their defensive corps for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN)

Zdeno Chara will miss the game with an undisclosed ailment, the Bruins said after the 42-year-old missed the pre-game warmup on Thursday.

Chara is listed as day-to-day, but no other information was given. John Moore is set to replace him.

Chara took the morning skate, which was reportedly optional. Whatever the injury may be, it leaves a big hole on the backend. Chara has been playing 20-plus minutes a night in these playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Chara hasn’t missed a playoff game since April 16, 2011, according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston — a streak of 98 games. The Bruins beat the Vancouver Canucks in seven games win to hoist the Stanley Cup that year.

The Bruins can sweep the Hurricanes from the playoffs with a win.

UPDATE: After the Bruins completed their sweep of the Hurricanes, head coach Bruce Cassidy said he believes Chara will be ready for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “We don’t believe it is serious,” he said.

MORE:
• Conference Finals schedule, TV info
• 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

Bruins have evolved into one of NHL’s best under Cassidy

Getty
4 Comments

On Feb. 4, 2017, the Boston Bruins were an organization that seemed to be stuck in mediocrity. They had narrowly missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, had won just 26 of their first 55 games that year, and were preparing to fire Claude Julien, a Stanley Cup winning coach and one of the most successful coaches the team had ever had.

While there were some signs that the 2016-17 team had performed better than its overall record under Julien (they were a good possession team but were getting sunk by sub-par goaltending) the team had just seemed to hit a wall where there was no way forward. It was not a particularly deep roster, the defense was full of question marks, and it just had the look of an organization that was teetering on the edge of needing a rebuild.

It was at that point that Bruce Cassidy took over behind the bench for his first head coaching opportunity in the NHL since a mostly disappointing one-and-a-half year run with the Washington Capitals more than a decade earlier. All the Bruins have done since then is evolve into one of the NHL’s most dominant teams under Cassidy and enter Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday just one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It has been a pretty sensational run under Cassidy’s watch.

Since he was hired the Bruins are second in the NHL in points percentage (.670), goal-differential (plus-130), Corsi percentage (53.2 percent) and scoring chance percentage (53.4), and 10th in high-danger scoring chance percentage (52.2). They have made the playoffs every year he has been behind the bench and gone increasingly further each time. They are now just five wins away from a championship.

Obviously there is a lot of talent on this Boston team, especially at the top of the lineup where they have a collection of some the game’s best players, including the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

That will help any coach.

But what is perhaps most impressive about the Bruins’ success over the past two seasons is how many games Cassidy has been without some of those key players, and how often his team has just kept on winning.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season the group of Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, and Brandon Carlo has combined to miss 203 man-games. That is an average of more than 20 games *per player* over the two-year stretch.

That is not only a lot of games to miss due to injury (or, in some cases, suspension), it is a lot of games for pretty much all of the team’s best players. That does not even take into account the time starting goalie Tuukka Rask missed earlier this season.

The quick response to that sustained success, obviously, is “depth,” and how a lot of credit should be given to the front office for constructing a deep roster that can overcome that many significant injuries.

After all, McAvoy has been a game-changer on defense, Pastrnak has blossomed into a star, and while the Bruins may not have maximized the return on their three consecutive first-round picks in 2015 (they passed on Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor, just to name a few) they still have had a nice collection of young forwards emerge through the system, especially Jake DeBrusk.

While all of that is certainly true to a point, this is also a team whose depth was probably its biggest weakness and question mark until about two months ago.

Everyone knew their top line was the best in the NHL. Everyone knew their defense with McAvoy blossoming into a star and Krug producing the way he did was starting to turn around. But they were still a remarkably top-heavy team that did not get much in the way of offense outside of their top five or six players. And they spent a lot of time over the past two years, in the league’s toughest division at the top, and still managed to win a ton of hockey games.

[MORE: Bruins head to Stanley Cup Final after sweeping Hurricanes]

Maybe the depth was better than it was originally given credit for, and maybe the goaltending duo of Rask and Jaroslav Halak has helped to mask some flaws. But you also can not ignore the job Cassidy has done behind the bench and the success the team has had since he took over. In the two-and-a-half years prior to him (including during that very season) the Bruins’ points percentage was only 18th in the NHL, and while their possession and scoring chance numbers were still good, they were not as downright dominant as they have been under Cassidy.

It doesn’t matter who he has had in the lineup, who he has been without, or what run of injuries have been thrown his way his team has just simply gotten results. Even more important than the results is the way they are getting the results. They control the puck, they get the better of the scoring chances, and they just simply play like a championship level team.

It is a far jump from where they were just a little more than two years ago, and the turnaround started the day they made the switch behind the bench.

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.

No punishment for Bruins’ Marchand, who doesn’t ‘regret’ cheap shot

19 Comments

Boston Bruins star-miscreant Brad Marchand isn’t expected to face supplemental discipline for his very Brad Marchand sucker-punch of Blue Jackets defenseman Scott Harrington, according to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline.

If you’re hoping that Marchand might have “learned” something from this experience, well, you haven’t been paying much attention, have you?

Marchand admitted to The Boston Globe’s Matt Porter that his punch to the back of Harrington’s head (while Harrington’s back was turned, and he was off his feet), was “unnecessary,” … but Marchand also said that he doesn’t regret doing it, explaining it away as “playoff hockey.” Then cue some whataboutism, in regard to Columbus apparently roughing up Jake DeBrusk.

To Harrington’s credit, he’s not throwing gas on the fire. Instead, he called it a “hockey play” and emphasized that the Blue Jackets are moving on, as NBC Sports Boston’s Joe Haggerty reports. (This article has even more on Harrington brushing it off.)

Allowing Marchand to be his own worst enemy?

You may chalk this up as “living well is the best revenge.”

The Blue Jackets have won two consecutive games to snare a 2-1 series lead against the Bruins in Round 2, including Tuesday’s strong Game 2 effort.

Bottling up Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak has been a big part of Columbus’ success. Marchand specifically is on a four-game pointless streak, stretching back to Game 7 of Round 1 against the Maple Leafs, and he must be getting frustrated being that he’s failed to score a goal despite generating nine shots on goal against Sergei Bobrovsky over three games.

While going without a point, Marchand’s taken two penalties, and both resulted in power-play goals for the Blue Jackets. Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reports that the Bruins are planning on having a talk with Marchand about discipline.

Honestly, it’s hard not to chuckle at the thought of the Bruins having what must be the billionth “talk” with Marchand about his antics.

Years ago, even stretching back to the later days of the Peter Chiarelli era in 2014, there were rumblings about Marchand being traded, in large part because of his sometimes self-destructive tendencies. Marchand’s ascent from a very good player to a full-fledged superstar has been aided by a better balance of scoring versus shenanigans, yet it sure seems like it’s too much to argue that he’s fully reformed.

(Granted, his playoff lick count appears to be at zero, unless we’ve missed some sneaky snacking.)

All things considered, the Blue Jackets are being pretty smart here. Sure, some of John Tortorella’s no-comment approach is to avoid fines for officiating, but if this side stuff gets Marchand off of his game and into the penalty box, that could be the sort of factor that helps Columbus win a Round 2 series that’s been very extremely close so far.

In other words, the Blue Jackets may profit off of a “don’t feed the troll” approach.

Teaching moment

Onlookers have been quick to voice their disapproval, however.

USA Today’s Kevin Allen believes that a suspension is warranted, considering Marchand’s history. Even those who argue that it wasn’t suspension-worthy also called it “greasy” or even “a greasy rat play.”

The “it is what it is” feeling spreads when you realize that sneaky punches do happen quite often during these scuffles. The Blue Jackets experienced this before when Steven Stamkos snuck a shot in on Nick Foligno (note Foligno’s death stare), and plenty was made of Zdeno Chara landing a punch on John Tavares.

“These things happen” makes it tough to suspend Marchand, yet maybe this moment could inspire some broader change? What if the NHL decides during the off-season to ramp up punishments for these types of moments, particularly involving punches to the head, especially as we gain more awareness of the dangers of head injuries? Would other players – not just recidivists like Marchand – really take the chance to throw unnecessary punches like those if there was a more credible threat of a suspension?

***

Whether he’s getting under the Blue Jackets’ skin, scoring goals, or having a meltdown while failing to accomplish either task, it should be fascinating to watch Marchand in Game 4 and as this series goes along. Just don’t expect some big change of heart from one of the most prolific pests of the playoffs.

Game 4 goes at 7:30 p.m. ET on Thursday on NBCSN (Stream live).

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.

Fight involving Bruins’ Chara plays out exactly as one might expect

5 Comments

Ever try to punch a giraffe in the face? Me neither, but New York Islanders forward Matt Martin has a story to tell.

Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara is a man few want to fight. He towers over everyone in the NHL and his reach is close enough to double that of his nearest opponent that the best you can often hope for is a good shadow boxing practice because the odds of connecting are so terribly low.

Martin got exactly that when he and Chara dropped the glove just four seconds into the second period off the opening faceoff.

The two exchanged rights before Chara threw a nasty, downward-directed bomb that caught Martin flush, knocking him to the ground. To Martin’s credit, he bounced back up and tried in vain to hit Chara. He had no such luck.

Chara ended the scrap by basically stiff-arming Martin to the ground followed by the congratulatory pat on the back from the 6-foot-9 man.

It’s respectable that Martin wanted to try and give his team a boost, although they were only down 1-0 at that point of the game. Ambitious, but respectable.

Chara, meanwhile, just turned 42 on Monday.


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