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

Zdeno Chara back at practice, on track to begin Stanley Cup Final

Zdeno Chara , 42, might not be the same player he was 10 or even five years ago, but he is still an integral part of the Boston Bruins’ success this season and postseason. When the veteran defenseman was forced to sit out Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes, there was some panic from the fan base and likely a little within the organization as well. However, Chara’s teammates buckled down and ended the series in convincing fashion and in doing so bought their captain another 11 days of rest before the Stanley Cup Final. While many assumed that would be enough to get him back on the ice, there was no timeline for his return from an undisclosed injury.

That is until today, when Bruins provided some clarity on Chara’s status. According to NHL.com’s Eric Russo, Chara was back as a full participant in practice today, after only skating and working out over the weekend. Following the full 45-minute session, Chara was feeling good:

It was nice to be out there again, skated [on Sunday] then skated with the team. It was a good practice, good pace. I’m taking it one day at a time. [Tuesday’s] an off day, but get back at it on Wednesday… I’m not gonna lie, watching games is not fun. You want to play them and you want to be involved. For sure it was something that [I] was feeling that kind of anxiousness to play. But guys did a great job, won the game, so that’s great.

Chara is eager to get back in action and, considering his apparent health with a week still to go before puck drop on Game 1, he is well on his way to doing just that. As the respected veteran said, it is “one day at a time” right now, but Chara is certainly on track to be ready for the Stanley Cup Final. As the Bruins wait to see who they’ll be playing, they know that Chara is an important asset regardless. The future Hall of Famer remains one of the more dominating defensive presences in the game and hopes to put his ability and experience to work in pursuit of a second Stanley Cup title.

By: Zach Leach

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Bruins sign Zdeno Chara to one-year extension

Zdeno Chara will be sticking around with the Boston Bruins for a little while longer. The Bruins announced that they have inked their captain to a one-year contract extension. The deal will carry a base salary of $2M with the opportunity to earn another $1.75M in performance bonuses. Pierre LeBrun of TSN and The Athletic reports that Chara will receive $1.25M for playing in 10 games, $250K if the Bruins make the playoffs and $250K if they win the Stanley Cup in 2020.

The 42-year-old is currently in his 21st NHL season and the 11th with Boston. While he is no longer the high-end top pairing anchor he once was, he has still proved himself to be a valuable member of their back end. This season, Chara has played in 55 games, collecting just 11 points but is still averaging nearly 21 minutes a night, third-most among Bruins rearguards.

In his career, Chara has played in 1,478 games between the Islanders, Senators and Bruins, which ranks fourth among all active players. His next goal will be the 200th of his career and will make him just the 22nd defenseman all-time to reach that plateau.

The deal actually represents a sizable pay cut from his current contract, which carries a $5M base salary with the same bonus structure as this new pact. While his offense has tailed off, this type of contract is certainly fair value for a mid-tier defender, which is probably the best role for Chara at this stage of his career.

With the contract, the Bruins now have five of their top seven defenders locked up for next season with a total cap hit of $13.9M guaranteed (not including the likely $1.25M for Chara playing in 10 games or Dennis Seidenberg’s buyout cost of $1.167M). That amount will go up considerably this summer with youngsters Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo slated to be restricted free agents. Even so, Boston should be able to bring back its entire defense corps for next season, one that has been quite effective as its 186 goals allowed is the third fewest in the NHL.

By: Brain La Rose

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