Stanley Cup Final: The names to know

The Blues and Bruins not only had success in the standings, but they also looked like championship-level teams with the way they played, controlling possession, playing great defensively, getting great goaltending and finding secondary scoring to go with their dynamic top line players.

Both teams have continued that level of play throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and now they are meeting in a rematch of the 1970 series that was won on Bobby Orr’s legendary overtime goal. With the series set to begin, let us take a look at some of the most important names you need to know.

Those include the star players, the goalies, the coaches and a group of people who do not actually play for either team.

Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins —  Everything with the Bruins revolves around Marchand. He is their best offensive player and one of the most productive in the entire NHL. He is a top-tier goalscorer and an excellent playmaker, and he combines all of that with an outstanding defensive game that makes him one of the most complete players in the league. He is also almost certainly going to do something — maybe even several things — that draw the ire of the Blues and their fans or pretty much anyone that is not a Bruins fan. Along with being a top-10 offensive player, he is also the most effective pest and agitator in the league. Sometimes he takes that heel role a little too far and gets himself in trouble, running the risk of an ejection or a suspension (or actually getting ejected or suspended), but it is a part of his game and it is not going anywhere. One way or another he will be one of the main attractions in this series.

The Goalies: Tuukka Rask and Jordan Binnington —  We mentioned them in our look at the potential X-factors in the series, but they really need to be mentioned again because they will play such an enormous role in who wins this series. Rask is not only playing the best hockey of his career this postseason, but he also is currently putting together one of the single best postseason goaltending performances ever, at least from save percentage and goals against standpoints. He has played on this stage before, backstopping the Bruins to the 2012-13 Stanley Cup Final where they were defeated by the Chicago Blackhawks, but he has yet to be “the man” in net for a championship run. This is obviously his best chance. Binnington, meanwhile, has a far smaller resume and track record at the NHL level but has been one of the most surprising individual success stories in the league. At the start of the year, he was nothing more than an afterthought in the Blues organization and is now one of the biggest reasons the team is playing in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 1969-70 season.

Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues —  Tarasenko is the Blues’ most dangerous player and is heading into the Stanley Cup Final riding a six-game point streak, finding the score sheet in every single game of the Western Conference Final. Along with being a consistent 35-40 goal-scorer since becoming a regular in the NHL, Tarasenko is also one of the best postseason goalscorers ever. His 0.476 goals per game average in the playoffs is not only higher than his career regular-season total, but it is also second best among all active players and in the top 25 in the history of the league. He had a slow start to the playoffs but has looked unstoppable over the past two weeks.

David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins —  One of the biggest reasons the Bruins’ Stanley Cup window reopened over the past couple of years has been the emergence and development of young players like Pastrnak and McAvoy. They needed another wave of talent to come through their system and complement the core of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Zdeno Chara, and these two have been everything the Bruins could have possibly hoped for them to be. Pastrnak has become one of the top goal-scoring wingers in the NHL (38 goals in only 66 regular-season games this season), while McAvoy is the perfect modern-day No. 1 defender given his skating, ability to jump into the play and lead the rush and overall brilliance.

Jaden Schwartz, St. Louis Blues —  After a disappointing regular season that saw him score just 11 goals in 69 games, Schwartz has put together a Conn Smythe-worthy performance in the playoffs, already eclipsing his regular-season total. He is one of just three players in NHL history to have scored at least 10 goals in the playoffs and exceed his regular-season total. He has two hat tricks and two game-winning goals so far this postseason.

The referees: Gord Dwyer, Steve Kozari, Wes McCauley, Chris Rooney, Kelly Sutherland — The NHL would probably prefer that you did not know the names of this group, but given the way the playoffs have gone so far you might soon become acquainted with them. Officiating has been the sub-plot of the 2019 postseason due to the controversial calls, missed calls and messed up calls that have severely impacted games. Every round has been affected in some way by the officiating, and the NHL has to be hoping that trend does not continue in the Stanley Cup Final.

The top centers: Patrice Bergeron and Ryan O’Reilly —  This series will feature two of the best two-way centers in the NHL when Bergeron (Bruins) and O’Reilly (Blues) go head to head. Bergeron is the standard against whom all other defensive forwards are measured in the NHL right now and is just as dominant with the puck on his stick as he is without it. He will score, he will shut down your top scorer and he will dominate every phase of the game when he is at his best. O’Reilly may not quite be on his level (few players are), but he is not far behind. He, too, blends top-line offense and stellar defensive play and also has the ability and discipline to play big minutes against the league’s best players, play them tough and still stay out the of the penalty box at astonishingly low rate.

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By: Adam Gretz

Watch: Brad Marchand taunts Justin Williams over penalty

Boston’s Brad Marchand is known for being arguably the biggest instigator in the NHL, and he was back at it on Sunday during Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals between the Bruins and Hurricanes.

Marchand took Hurricanes captain Justin Williams down with a high stick late in the second period, and the referees only called a penalty when Williams got in Marchand’s face and yanked his chin strap. Marchand then pointed to the penalty box and taunted Williams by making a “C” with his hand and putting it up to his chest.

In other words, Marchand was ridiculing Williams for taking a dumb penalty as his team’s captain. It proved costly, too, as the Bruins scored on the power play to take a commanding 4-0 lead into the third period.

When compared to some of the things Marchand has done to opponents in the past, that was nothing. Williams is just lucky Marchand didn’t lick him.

By: Steve DelVecchio

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Recap: Bruins start strong, recover late to take Game 1 over Columbus

It might not have been pretty all the way through, but they got the job done.

For a while, this game was going exactly how Bruins fans hoped it’d go: the Blue Jackets came out rusty, the Bruins came out flying, and an early lead had fans feeling confident.

However, there was an uncomfortable feeling after the first period. You couldn’t help but feel like the Bruins should have done more. A few missed tips, a few bouncing pucks, a few great saves by Sergei Bobrovsky.

Those fears were realized in the third, when Columbus scored two quick “couldn’t do it again if they tried” goals and the Bruins found themselves trailing.

Just when it looked like the Blue Jackets were going to continue their stunning run with another steal, Charlie Coyle scored, then scored again, and all was well in Boston.

The B’s ended up taking Game 1 with a 3-2 OT win, their third playoff win in a row. Here are some thoughts from a wild night at the Garden:

  • In the first period, it was rust, not rest, for Columbus. The Bruins absolutely rolled the Blue Jackets in the first period. In terms of possession, shot attempts, actual shots…it was a madhouse. The Blue Jackets looked like they were hanging on for dear life, but a combination of Bobrovsky saves and Bruins flubs let the Jackets hang around.
  • You can’t help but be happy for Charlie Coyle. His turnover inside the defensive blue line led directly to the first Columbus goal. He atoned for that mistake by tying the game late in the third, and then did one better with the OT winner. As Jack Edwards likes to say, guilt is a powerful motivator.
  • Speaking of Coyle, it’s weird to say, but he’s probably been the Bruins’ best forward in this postseason. Yes, better than Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, etc. Coyle has ended up one the scoresheet many nights, and when he’s been kept off it, he’s been solid in other areas. He’s been great along the boards in the offensive zone, and has done a great job keeping possession for extended stretches.
  • Tonight must have been fairly sweet for Don Sweeney. His two big acquisitions were the ones that led the way for the Bruins: it was Marcus Johansson to Coyle for the game-tying goal, and Johansson to Coyle for the game-winning goal. BRUINS WIN THE DEADLINE!
  • In a good sign for the Bruins, Johansson has looked better in the past two games than he did all regular season with the B’s. Bruce Cassidy credited Johansson’s God-given talents after the game, citing his smarts and vision as his best assets. If he’s feeling good and gets rolling, it will be huge for the Bruins.
  • Tuukka Rask was solid tonight. There was nothing he could do on either of the Columbus goals, and he made some big saves in the middle portion of this game.
  • David Krejci didn’t play at all in overtime, leaving the game after taking a hit that seemed late and a bit high from Riley Nash. After the game, Cassidy said that he hadn’t talked to Krejci, but that he wasn’t in concussion protocol and is considered day-to-day. He also mentioned that the game ended before Krejci could come back, but kind of implied that he could have returned if the game continued.
  • Cassidy said postgame that he wasn’t terribly concerned about his top lines, but I’m not sure if I believe him. David Pastrnak has looked off the entire playoffs. Brad Marchand uncharacteristically missed a few golden chances tonight. Jake DeBrusk was quiet.
  • The only reason the Bruins are still playing? Their bottom-six forwards, oddly enough. It was the fourth line in Game 7 against Toronto, and was Noel Acciari who got things going tonight. As Cassidy implied after the game, if the Bruins can get their big guns going too, look out.
  • Charlie McAvoy showed another side of his game tonight: he was throwing the body big time. In the third, he got laid out by Josh Anderson behind the Bruin net. He got right up, and then proceeded to throw himself at any Blue Jacket he came across.
  • The most noticeable Columbus forwards to me tonight were Alexandre Texier, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Josh Anderson. Artemi Panarin was fine, but Cam Atkinson was borderline invisible, except when Marchand stepped on his stick before a faceoff.

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By: Dan Ryan

NHL playoff primer: 5 intriguing matchups to watch in the 1st round

It’s playoff season once again.

Before you fill out your postseason bracket, we break down one key matchup across five first-round series that could make or break a team in their pursuit of the Stanley Cup.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs

Top-line takeover

It’s no secret – for the Leafs to trump the Bruins, they need to find an answer for the three-headed monster of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand.

The Leafs were tormented by the Bruins’ top line in their seven-game series last postseason. Bergeron and Co. controlled possession, posting a Corsi rating of 64.90, and dominated Toronto in high-danger scoring chances at five-on-five, 49-26. An encouraging note for the Leafs is that the Corsi number dropped to 54.84 when matched with Auston Matthews and shot up to 75 when going against Tomas Plekanec – suggesting the trio dominated much of the play against a veteran player who is no longer in the league.

Looking at the regular season, both Matthews and Bergeron were out of the lineup for two of the teams’ meetings this season, so we’ll have to see how the coaches choose to deploy their top talent with the pair back in the mix.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Islanders

Goaltending vs. star power

The Islanders claiming home-ice advantage was key, but perhaps their biggest edge sits between the pipes. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss combined to capture the William M. Jennings Trophy this season, and their dominant play must continue for the team to be successful against the Penguins’ offensive arsenal.

Though neither netminder has a ton of playoff experience, the job will likely be Lehner’s to lose. Since returning from injury on March 19, the 27-year-old has posted a 5-2 record with a .942 save percentage.

Barry Trotz’s club allowed a league-low 191 goals on the campaign and posted a record of 38-2-2 when scoring at least three times in a game. Led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins boasted the fifth-best offense this year and rostered four players with 70-plus points.

Pittsburgh mustered 13 goals in four games against the Islanders during the regular season, with Crosby and Malkin combining for eight points.

Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

Can ‘Johnny Hockey’ outperform MacKinnon?

Calgary’s Gaudreau and Colorado’s MacKinnon each notched a career-high 99 points this season. Though they play different positions up front, the two will be a joy to watch compete as they best embody the speed and skill that will be on display in this series.

The All-Stars have no problem facing the pressure of playoff hockey, either, as MacKinnon has tallied 16 points in 13 career contests, with Gaudreau posting 11 points in 15.

Both men know how to deliver when it matters most, too. “Johnny Hockey” racked up 39 points and 17 goals in the third period or overtime this season, while MacKinnon contributed 37 points and 15 goals in those clutch moments. When the game is on the line, look for one of these two studs to follow through.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets

Stingy penalty kill vs. Electric man advantage

Special teams will heavily influence this matchup between one of the greatest regular-season teams ever and a franchise looking for its first playoff series victory.

The Lightning’s power play was lethal this season, clicking at a league-leading rate of 28.2 percent. The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, deploy the NHL’s top penalty kill.

The Lightning and Blue Jackets posted similar possession numbers with Corsi ratings of 51.59 and 50.21, respectively. The more even-strength hockey Columbus can play, the better its chances of pulling out the upset – in the regular season, the Lightning erupted for six power-play goals on 11 attempts in their three victories over the Jackets this year.

St. Louis Blues vs. Winnipeg Jets

Battle in the crease

This Central Division clash is about as even as any playoff series on the slate. The Jets won 47 regular-season games and sported a goal differential of plus-28, while the Blues won 45 contests and were plus-24. Both teams finished with 99 points, but what may ultimately separate the two in this series is the play in the crease.

The Blues netminder was one of the best stories of the season. In 32 appearances, Binnington posted a .927 save percentage and an unbelievable 1.89 goals-against average en route to setting a franchise record for wins by a rookie goaltender with 24. The 25-year-old has yet to face the Jets this season, perhaps to the Blues’ advantage.

Hellebuyck was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy last season but will need to regain his form in a hurry after taking a step backward this year. The 25-year-old won 10 fewer games and saw his goals against average spike from 2.36 to 2.90.

With two netminders trending in opposite directions, goaltending will be the deciding factor in this series.

By: Matt Teague

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10 thoughts after the NHL trade deadline

In a lot of ways the 2019 NHL trade deadline was a predictable one.

The Ottawa Senators sold off their few remaining good players. The Nashville Predators were heavy buyers. Teams like the Calgary Flames and New York Islanders that appear to be ahead of schedule did not mess with what has worked for them so far and decided to stay the course and see where their current rosters can take them. There also were not really any major shockers, outside of maybe Mikael Granlund being traded by Minnesota, in terms of the players who did get moved.

But there were still a few surprises thrown in.

The Columbus Blue Jackets went wild and mortgaged their short-term future for the hope of even shorter-term success, the San Jose Sharks doubled down on their confidence in Martin Jones, the Vegas Golden Knights went after the big fish again and the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals made some minor tweaks to their rosters.

We examine all of that and more with 10 thoughts and observations after the NHL trade deadline.

1.  Columbus has everything riding on this season

Keeping Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky was a pretty good indication that the Columbus Blue Jackets were willing to see what they could do this season instead of being resigned to the fact they will lose both over the summer, and thus trading them before the deadline. But then they doubled down on that by being the biggest buyers at the deadline by giving up draft picks and prospects for rentals Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel, Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid. That leaves the Blue Jackets with six unrestricted free agents after this season (including Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene and Dzingel) and only two draft picks in the 2019 class: a third-rounder and a seventh-rounder. That is the definition of “all-in.” The wild thing about this is that they are not even a lock to make the playoffs. This could all go south very quickly if they do not secure one of the top eight seeds in the Eastern Conference.

2. The Sharks have everything riding on Martin Jones

The San Jose Sharks made themselves better at the trade deadline by getting Gustav Nyquist from the Detroit Red Wings, making an already deep team that much stronger. They did not, however, address the biggest question mark facing them: goaltending. The tag-team duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell has not played up to a championship level this season and that could prove to be the team’s ultimate undoing in the playoffs. Jones has never been one to steal games for the Sharks, but he has always been, at worst, a league-average to slightly above-league-average starter. If he can return to that form and play at that level, the Sharks will be a formidable team in the playoffs. If he does not, it could derail a potential championship season.

3. The Flames have a lot of faith in their team

The San Jose Sharks added Nyquist. The Vegas Golden Knights added Mark Stone. The Nashville Predators added Mikael Granlund and Wayne Simmonds. The Winnipeg Jets added Kevin Hayes. All of the top contenders in the Western Conference added a significant player. The Calgary Flames? Added Oscar Fantenberg. A depth defender. No insurance in goal. No additional depth up front. They are riding into the playoffs with the team that has gotten them to this point in the season. Sometimes that is a good thing.

4. The Detroit Red Wings probably should have done more

It is a few years overdue, but the Detroit Red Wings have finally started to rebuild their aging, expensive, declining roster. They have assembled a ton of draft picks and have at least set themselves up for a chance to restock the cupboards. But why didn’t they do more? Trading Nyquist was a necessary move, given his pending status as a UFA, but was there really no market for Jimmy Howard, Niklas Kronwall, Thomas Vanek or any other veteran on the team? It just seems like there was a chance here to move more players and get even more draft picks for the future.

5. The Nashville Predators love blockbusters

David Poile has assembled a powerhouse team in Nashville and somehow still kept his team well under the league’s salary cap. He’s also scored some of the biggest trades in the NHL over the past few years acquiring P.K. Subban, Filip Forsberg, Ryan Johansen, and Kyle Turris as part of blockbuster deals. He added to that at the trade deadline by pulling a stunner when he sent Kevin Fiala to the Minnesota Wild for Granlund and then acquiring Simmonds from the Philadelphia Flyers. Oh, and don’t forget about that pre-deadline deal to get Brian Boyle from the New Jersey Devils. That is what going all in looks like for a Stanley Cup contender, and, amazingly, his team is still in a great position under the salary cap in future seasons. A lot of times when GM’s swing for the fences on big trades, they start to eventually come up empty. That has yet to happen for Poile, who just keeps hitting home runs.

6. The Vegas Golden Knights go big

Even though they were in the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, it is still remarkable to see the Vegas Golden Knights, in Year 2 of their existence, going after the big-ticket players. They went all in trying to get Erik Karlsson. When that failed they traded for Max Pacioretty and signed Paul Stastny. Now they pulled off one of the biggest scores of the deadline in getting Stone from the Ottawa Senators, then agreed to a new contract. Stone is a star, a true top-line winger, and a player who can make a difference for an already strong team that is a contender. He is still in the prime of his career, making this a huge score for both the short term and long term.

7. Did Boston do enough?

The Boston Bruins are an outstanding team and a sneaky contender in the Eastern Conference, getting lost in the shadow of Tampa Bay and Toronto. But the top half of their lineup is as good as anybody’s in the league, and they have two goalies playing at an extremely high level in Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. Their big question has been depth, as there has been little offensive production after Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug (when they are healthy). They attempted to address that by acquiring Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. They are solid additions, and Johansson has been especially hot lately now that he is healthy. But will they be enough to get the Bruins through what will almost certainly be a daunting playoff run in the Atlantic Division that will probably include both the Maple Leafs and Lightning?

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By: Adam Gretz

Bruins’ Brad Marchand set to return for Winter Classic

The Boston Bruins should get a boost just in time for the Winter Classic on Tuesday against the Chicago Blackhawks. NHL.com’s Dan Rosen reports that Brad Marchand should be ready to go after practicing today, barring any setbacks. He missed Saturday’s game with an upper-body injury, but it looks like it wasn’t a serious issue.

Marchand is having another solid campaign with 12 goals and 41 points in 39 games this season.

Rosen also reports that defenseman Charlie McAvoy remains questionable for the big game. McAvoy has missed two games with a lower-body injury and did not practice today. The gifted defenseman has struggled with injuries and has appeared in just 17 games this year, although he has 11 points.

In other NHL injury notes:

  • Isabelle Khurshudyan of the Washington Post writes that Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen will be out Monday against Nashville and miss his second straight game with an undisclosed upper-body injury. However, the team got better news on Brooks Orpik, who is listed as a game-time decision for Monday after missing 27 games with a right-knee injury. Khurshudyan reports both players practiced Sunday and are close to returning. The team has also been without Christian Djoos.
  • The Pittsburgh Penguins could be without forward Bryan Rust and defenseman Olli Maatta on Monday as both are listed as day-to-day, according to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Matt Vensel. Rust didn’t practice today with an undisclosed injury, and Maatta suffered a lower-body injury during Saturday’s game against St. Louis, but finished the game. He also didn’t practice today.
  • Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun reports that Senators center Jean-Gabriel Pageau is close to a return. While he’s not expected to play Monday, he could be back not long after that. The 26-year-old has been out all season after having surgery to repair a torn Achilles. He had a six-month timetable in mid-September and is well ahead of schedule. Pageau had 14 goals and 29 points last season.

By Holger Stolzenberg

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