Mr. Overtime Marchand beats Varlamov in Sudden Death, B’s Take 2-1 Series Lead

Brad Marchand is a winner.

In Game 3, with the scored deadlocked at 1-1 and the ice tilted against the Boston Bruins early in the extra frame in their second-round series against the NY Islanders, Marchand took a Charlie McAvoy pass inside the offensive blue line, skated down the left wall and zipped a high shot that whizzed over Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov’s shoulder, hit the corner of the far post and crossbar and ricocheted down and into the cage.

Boom.

Just like that, a game that the Bruins deserved to win in regulation, but had lost all momentum in late and in the early minutes of overtime, was over on Marchand’s fifth goal (in 8 playoff games) and third career playoff sudden death tally.

It moved him into a tie with Mel “Sudden Death” Hill, for second all-time in franchise history. Keep in mind- Hill scored all three of his OT goals in the same 1939 semifinal playoff series against the NY Rangers, getting extra session strikes in Games 1 and 2, then the deciding triple OT tally in Game 7. The B’s went on to win the Stanley Cup.

One could argue, that given how much more jump the Islanders had in overtime last night, Marchand’s goal was the embodiment of the term- sudden death. Just like that, it was over, as No. 63 circled the net, arms raised and fists pumping the air, while Islanders forward Kyle Palmieri (who scored his own wondrous OT snipe in Game 1 of the 2021 playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tristan Jarry) looked on in dejected befuddlement.

“Any puck, especially in overtime, has a chance to go in,” Marchand said. “Can’t pass up a shot, and that’s another example of it. I tried to get it on net and it found its way in.”

How did that go in?

How. Did. That. Go. In?

Short answer is: It’s hockey.

Longer answer: Shooters shoot, and winners win.

Even longer one: The Bruins lead their series 2 games to 1 with a chance to go up 3-1 on Long Island Saturday night.

Marchand has been helping the Bruins win big hockey games in spring for a decade now- he arrived in 2011 and his performance in the Stanley Cup Final series against the Vancouver Canucks keyed Boston to its first championship parade in 39 years. The B’s haven’t won another one since, but two other trips to the final and 102 career playoff points, puts Marchand in select company with current teammates David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. They are the NHL’s only active trio with more than 100 career playoff points, a nod to just how good this Bruins organization has been since the three of them started playing full-time on the roster in 2010-11.

Marchand is highly polarizing, having entered the league as a rat who stirred up controversy in junior as a skilled, productive player who didn’t always put the best interests of the team ahead of his own. In the years since he established himself first on the B’s bottom line before working himself into bona fide NHL superstar status and the first player since Joe Thornton in 2003 to notch a 100-point season two years ago, Marchand has grown and matured. He’s always been a good guy and teammate, it’s just that most outsiders didn’t know it. Like many young, even immature players with a chip on their shoulder- and Marchand had a big chip as a player who had first-round talent but slipped to the third round of the 2006 NHL draft- the public persona didn’t jive with who he was behind the scenes in Boston.

He’s no saint- some of the things he did earlier in his NHL career were unacceptable and hurt people. The league held him accountable for that and he paid a price for it. And while some would say it wasn’t enough, that was how the NHL chose to handle things. You can’t defend it, but you can at least acknowledge that for the most part, he changed the way he plays.

Several things did not change, however: Marchand always put in the work. He practiced and played hard. And, as his career progressed, the results followed. After developing a reputation as a pure agitator (read: dirty player that everyone loves to hate), along with a penchant for streaky scoring in his first several seasons, Marchand has toned the self-destructive on-ice behavior down while growing into one of the most consistent and dangerous scorers in the NHL over the past five years. It didn’t happen overnight, and there are times when he can be pulled down into the kind of negative shenanigans that don’t help, but last night was a microcosm of who he is as a 33-year-old veteran and one of Boston’s purest clutch players, not only in the modern era, but perhaps of all time.

Marchand knows he plays on the edge and that sometimes, his emotions and the devil on his shoulder get the best of him. Last night, he took another bad penalty. But, the Boston PK had his back and killed it. He then returned the favor with a shot that ended the debate about who was the better team on this night.

The OT goal was the second of this spring for Marchand- he tallied in Game 2 against Washington. It’s just the third of his career, but is proof that he’s a worthy addition of Krejci (whose 120 career playoff points lead the current B’s and are second only to Hall of Fame icon Ray Bourque) and Bergeron (who has 119 points and leads the Boston franchise with four career OT strikes in the postseason).

Boston fans no doubt relish that the rest of the NHL let out a collective groan, perhaps threw their TV remote, or kicked a chair when Marchand’s shot went in last night. Anyone but him…please, Hockey Gods…anyone but HIM!

And, as great as the shot was, you can’t really fault Varlamov. Craig Smith’s first period goal on a nifty feed from Taylor Hall was an absolute bullet. The ghost of Terry Sawchuk, Patrick Roy AND Martin Brodeur all in the crease together wouldn’t have stopped that shot. After that, it was lights out for the rest of the 60-minute contest.

He was tremendous in regulation, especially in the third period, when the B’s were peppering him with shots from all areas of the ice, but he held his team in, long enough for Mat Barzal to score his first goal of the playoffs to tie it with some 5 minutes and change left in the game. It was a nice play by Barzal, but let’s be honest- Connor Clifton took the wrong angle and Chris Wagner stood beside him and ineffectively reached in with his stick rather than put his body into Barzal and knock him away from the doorstep. But hey- credit where due. Barzal is one player you don’t want to let whack away at a puck in tight and he made the most of the time and space he was given.

After that, the Islanders seized momentum and were helped by a mind-numbingly bad Sean Kuraly cross-checking penalty on Palmieri with 2:15 remaining in the third. Even if Palmieri got away with something in a battle seconds earlier, Kuraly who is rapidly burning away the goodwill of past strong playoff performances (exhibit A for why you don’t pay a lot to role players for past performances, btw), had no excuse for putting his team in that spot.

Thanks to Tuukka Rask, whom we haven’t yet mentioned in this space today, but who got his 6th win with some tremendous saves late and in OT on Barzal, the score remained tied, setting the stage for Marchand’s heroics.

“That one from there finally found its way in,” Bruce Cassidy quipped, underscoring the volatile nature of a playoff game in the NHL.

Marchand finished third in regular season scoring and won some respect and consideration for league MVP honors, even though he has no shot to beat out Connor McDavid. He’s fast, hard, skilled and most of all- productive. He’s the one player that fans around the league will scream about never wanting on their team publicly, but secretly would kill for. He’s on a great contract, and like Bergeron, is playing better hockey in his 30’s than he did in his 20’s.

Winners win.

Brad Marchand is a winner.

***

Brandon Carlo exited the game after taking a hit from Islanders grinder Cal Clutterbuck. Boston’s update on him after the game sounded optimistic, but make no mistake- if the big, mobile shutdown D is out for an extended period of time, the B’s will have their hands full. Assuming he can’t go, and that’s probably the right answer based on what we know. That means Jarred Tinordi or Urho Vaakanainen is next man up.

Game 2 goat (not the Tom Brady kind of GOAT) Jeremy Lauzon rebounded from a tough Game 2 with a solid defensive performance and no glaring mistakes or miscues. He has to keep things simple and the coaches showed a lot of trust in him to go back with No. 55. Trust…key word. Young players and fans don’t always understand that when it comes to hockey and coaching, trust is pretty much it. You want to play more? Earn your coach’s trust. You want to play less or not at all? Break that trust. That’s it. So, when fans get on social media and want to know why the B’s could possibly give Lauzon another shot in the lineup after so disastrous an outcome the game before, there’s your answer. They trust him. You aren’t there. Neither am I. None of us save those in the Bruins room knows or understands. So, you may not like it, but the world doesn’t work the way we want it to, sometimes. Cassidy and Co. trust Lauzon. For better or worse. And last night, he rewarded that trust.

Elsewhere in the NHL…

Three jeers for the league in giving Winnipeg Jets veteran Mark Scheifele a four-game suspension for his charge on Montreal’s Jake Evans Wednesday night. Look, it was an unnecessary hit, and you could even be justified in calling it a bad hit, but the outcome is what is being judged here. If you have to suspend him, and the NHL probably did given the outrage, give him a game and move on. But the farce of this all is that this same league watched Washington’s Tom Wilson grab a star player from behind, slam him to the ice, end his season, then mock the response and show zero contrition. The league’s response? A $5,000 fine…and the scorn and figurative black eye for another mind-numbingly incomprehensible decision.

With supplemental disciplinary decisions like this one, clearly aimed to address the abject failure of dealing with Wilson vs. Artemi Panarin, where the NHL failed to protect one of its own, you can’t help but feel that Director of Player Safety George Parros was under orders on this one to make an example out of Scheifele, but if that is indeed the case here, it’s a massive and unjust overcorrection. We all feel for Evans, but we felt for Panarin, too. What about Carlo? His suffering and loss of games to another concussion from Wilson’s forearm to the head was deemed worthy of a seven-game ban for a known and repeat offender. Now, every time Carlo takes a hit, we have to hold our collective breath, wondering if this could be it for his career. He’s 24 years old, by the way.

The NHL’s real efforts need to be on changing the culture. Scheifele has not made a career of running guys and injuring them. He made a mistake and will now pay for it. But what message does that send to the nimrods of the league who repeatedly cross the line and see no major impact to their livelihood?

We look forward to a 25+-game ban for Wilson the next time said repeat offender hurts someone. After all, a player with no track record like Scheifele got four games for his first offense, right? Sadly, not holding our breath on that one… The Capitals and NHL by extension, have been enablers for Wilson’s antics and he shows little sign that he’s going to change his ways.

Breaking down “ill-advised” Lauzon pass; Islanders even series in OT

The Boston Bruins missed out on an opportunity to go back to Long Island with a 2-0 advantage in their playoff series against the NY Islanders after scoring a pair of late third period goals to tie the game and seize momentum.

Tallies by Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand (after Charlie Coyle staked the B’s to a 1-0 lead on the game’s first shot) went for nought when young defenseman Jeremy Lauzon’s attempted pass at the offensive blue line in overtime hit Coyle’s skate and bounced into the neutral zone, allowing Casey Cizikas to break away and fire a rising shot over Tuukka Rask’s shoulder to end it.

For the Bruins, it was a tough break that saw them dig out of a 3-1 hole after giving up three unanswered goals in the second frame. Whether you factor bad puck luck (great for the Islanders, however, especially when Josh Bailey’s attempted pass deflected off of Lauzon’s skate for the first of 2 PP goals), questionable officiating (Brandon Carlo’s penalty in a fracas with Leo Komarov that saw just one player sent to the box in a situation where refs in the playoffs normally send both guys- Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored on the ensuing man advantage to make it 3-1) or just bad execution (Sean Kuraly was slow to get back to his net on Kyle Palmieri’s go-ahead goal allowing him to jam a fortuitous bounce of the end boards past Rask- also in the good puck luck for the Isles category), the B’s came up short in this one in a game they were just one shot away from winning. That’s hockey.

We have seen differing reactions to the winning goal online, and so we’re going to make that the crux of this post-game post, because the two sides seem to be talking past each other.

The Cizikas goal happened when Lauzon, who had possession of the puck at the left point of the Islanders’ blue line, attempted to move it D-to-D to Charlie McAvoy over on the right. Cizikas was skating at Lauzon, attempting to disrupt his decision cycle and had the benefit of forward momentum towards the Boston end. Unfortunately for Lauzon, he didn’t look first- instead whipping the pass laterally into space where Coyle was looping back along the blue line to initiate his own route to the Islanders’ net. The puck hit Coyle’s skate and skittered out into the neutral zone where Cizikas, who was in motion, was able to easily get to it, beating Lauzon at a standstill. From there, it was off to the races and the Islanders evened the series on a nice shot from a player who has been a solid two-way energy guy and role player for them over the past decade.

Now, where the debate comes in is where Lauzon should have tried to move the puck in the first place. When you look closely at the replay, the Islanders players are in an overload to the strong side- in this case- the left half of their defensive zone. Normally, the D-to-D option is open and that’s the play you make to move the puck to the weak side where the other Boston D can use the extra time and space to work the puck to the net or move it to a forward who is deeper in the zone for an attempted shot or to activate the cycle and force the Islanders to adjust their zone coverage. The D-to-D play…typically when the defending team is clogging up the strong side…is the one you opt for because it is the one that will better position your team for a better scoring chance.

The other option for Lauzon, was to move the puck down the left wall (strong side) and get it deep, where the Bruins had a forward below the goal line and would have been in a better than 50-50 possession situation with the nearest Islanders player. In that situation, Lauzon would have gotten the puck to his teammate down low, and created a potential cycle opportunity. Even if the Islanders had forced a change of possession behind their own net, getting the puck deep would have meant that they would have to go all 200 feet *through* the Boston defensive structure to generate a scoring opportunity.

So, in a split-second, pressure situation, Lauzon had to make a decision to make the safer pass to get the puck deep, or the higher percentage offensive play to the opposite point that normally works or had worked at various times during the game. But, we have to key on that word…normally…and whether you observed that the D-to-D play was open all game or not, in this case, it was overtime. And in that situation, the onus is on the players to manage the puck, period. Even if you can argue that the D-to-D play is the best (under normal circumstances) situational play, there are mitigating circumstances:

1. Cizikas was pressuring him, meaning Lauzon wasn’t able to just hold the puck and wait for an obvious lane to open up without exposing himself to the risk of a turnover and the same result of a Cizikas breakaway.

2. It was overtime, meaning that any time you give up the puck to make an attempted pass, you need to understand the risk you are taking and carefully manage where that puck is going. Throwing pucks away is frowned upon in the most “normal” of situations- in regulation- never mind sudden death, where one turnover is all it takes to decide the outcome.

3. Even if the D-to-D play is the correct one in that situation when you are in full possession at the offensive blue line, it is never the right situation to attempt a no-look pass without making sure that the lane is clear AND that your intended target is open. Lauzon did neither- and that is the crux of our argument here.

Those who are saying he was making the right situational play aren’t necessarily wrong, but in overtime, the idea that a no-look D-to-D pass when someone (Coyle) is in the lane and you haven’t even verified that your opposite point target is open and ready to receive that pass, we would argue, is NOT the right situational play. Not in regulation, not in overtime, not ever. You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would try to say otherwise. So, what we have here is a situation where some are saying that the intention to go opposite point was the correct one, even we felt from the moment we saw it that the play for one of Lauzon’s ability was to get it deep along the left wall.

Look, we’re not here to kill Lauzon, as he appears to have become yet another high-profile scapegoat in the playoffs for Bruins fans, as his lack of experience is getting exposed and things are snowballing (like the Bailey shot off his skate). He’s made good plays…but he’s also been on the ice for a lot of goals (a team-leading seven in just three games for defensive pairing per 98.5 SportsHub’s Ty Anderson).

It’s unfortunate that in the modern age of social media and instant reactions and analysis where everyone has a platform, the tendency is for a segment of the fanbase to target an individual and pile on. That creates an oppositie reaction for some to want to mitigate the vitriol going Lauzon’s way. It’s understandable, but it doesn’t change the idea that in the case of OT in Game 2, Lauzon’s best option was not the risky, no-look lateral pass, but instead moving the puck down the left side to an open forward below the goal line and into a spot on the ice that even if an unlucky bounce occurred, would not have sprung the Islanders on a breakaway.

In the end, Lauzon’s decision is magnified because it ended up in the back of his net and was a walk-off play for the other team. There’s a lot of frustration with what happened, especially since the B’s battled back to get it to OT and were in position to hand the Isles a soul-crushing defeat and take a stranglehold on the series. That, more than anything, is why we believe Bruce Cassidy called Lauzon’s play “ill-advised.”

Would he have even said that if the D-to-D play was Lauzon’s best option? Make no mistake- if Cassidy had no issues with what Lauzon did, he would have said so. Lauzon made too risky a play there- and it blew up. Cassidy was obviously talking about the fact that he didn’t head check to see where McAvoy (and by extension- Coyle) was- he just hurried the play and unfortunately for the Bruins, the attempted pass hit his teammate’s skate and that was ballgame. However, even if your position is that the attempted pass ending up on Cizikas’ stick was just unfortunate, bad, doo-dah luck, it does not absolve Lauzon of the puck management decision he made with the stakes so high.

Hockey 101- Manage pucks at all times, but especially at both blue lines- turnovers will kill you. The safe play, the right play for Lauzon was to get it deep, period. Easy to say in hindsight, but that’s how players earn their coaches’ trust- they make the right decisions and manage pucks in tough spots. In that situation, Lauzon needed to live to fight another day, not push the envelope. It proved to be a costly error. In Boston’s case, the D-to-D play was the better option for them throughout the game…until it wasn’t.

That’s hockey, though. It is a game played by imperfect humans and Lauzon will no doubt agonize over what he did repeatedly between now and his next chance. He’s a good player, and we find ourselves again in a position where a lot of folks out there seem to expect perfection from players like Lauzon, and turn on them quickly when they don’t go out and flawlessly execute and show perfect poise with and without the puck. At the same time, it is fair to assert that Lauzon has to be better. He’s in a situation where he has an opportunity to play a regular role on this team and the team will seek an upgrade if he doesn’t find a way to be a net positive in his performance. Those are just the cold, hard facts of hockey.

That’s not just hockey, that’s life. And while we respect the view out there that his attempted play was the right one, given his inexperience overall to the situation, that becomes our biggest counterpoint. McAvoy or other high-skilled defenders probably look over, see the ice and can make that D-to-D play. Lauzon is not one of those players at this stage of his development. In his situation, the right play is not necessarily the one that works for everyone else on the ice, and Lauzon needed to keep it simple. Tough lesson- now the onus is on him to learn from it.

Bruins-Islanders are back at it with an extra day of rest on Thursday- we have a series.

Pastrnak, Bruins Get Garden Rockin’ in Game 1 vs Islanders

It seems crazy that it has been more than 440 days since there was a near-capacity crowd at a Boston Bruins home game, yet that was the scene at the TD Garden Saturday night as David Pastrnak’s hat trick keyed a 5-2 victory over the New York Islanders in Game 1 of the Eastern Division playoff series.

All three of Pastrnak’s tallies were shooter goals- no junk or gimmes- just smart plays by the 2014 NHL draft’s top finisher and a positive sign that whatever he was going through in a lengthy slump that saw his production fall off considerably in the regular season’s final month is over. No. 88 looks to be back to himself, and the newly-minted 25-year-old whose birthday was this week, sent a warning shot across the bow last night that you had best take notice.

Also scoring for Boston were Charlie McAvoy, who broke a 2-2 tie in the third period with a point shot that beat uber-rookie Ilya Sorokin, and an empty-netter by Taylor Hall.

McAvoy’s goal was scored through a screen set up by Nick Ritchie, who emerged from the penalty box and pursued play into the offensive zone, where he won a puck battle in the corner, then went to the front of the net. Though he didn’t draw an assist on the first strike of the postseason for No. 73, that kind of play from Ritchie is precisely what the B’s need from the big power forward.

Tuukka Rask, who posted his fifth win of spring (56th of his career), was solid in net again. He gave up the opening goal on a power play deflection from Anthony Beauvillier, and later allowed a scorching, rising point shot from d-man Adam Pelech that tied the game in the second period, but that was it.

Pastrnak’s first goal was with the man advantage, and evened the score. Getting the puck to Sorokin’s right, he showed excellent poise to not just try and fire a shot on net with defenseman Scott Mayfield in position to block it. Instead, Pastrnak changed his shooting angle while freezing Mayfield in place to provide a partial screen, then roofed the puck over Sorokin and into the net for his first of three goals. That was a pure goal scorer’s move and points to the fact that Pastrnak is back after struggling offensively and playing a generally moribund game in the first couple of games of the 2021 postseason series against the Washington Capitals.

The story of the night was the raucous Boston crowd, which got plenty to cheer about from the home club and made it be known after more than a year of not having hockey in the building (for the most part). The sounds of the fans and sheer energy and excitement was palpable on television, and one can only imagine the bedlam that went on inside the TD Garden for those present. It is all a welcome feeling, and one we should not ever take for granted again.

Here are a few additional notes/observations:

Beauvillier is a player. Not only did he quiet (briefly) the home crowd with his first period power play marker, but he played with a lot of effort and energy. No. 18 was a noticeable problem early and throughout the game. He’s skilled, very smart and just makes plays. The B’s will have to keep better tabs on the 2015 late first-round pick going forward.

Speaking of 2015 first-round picks… It is just one game, but Mat Barzal didn’t get much accomplished in Game 1. Did he even play? Oh, right- he did. He took that bad penalty near the end of the third period with this team down a pair and desperately needing a goal to make it a game. Yes, he’s an unreal talent and there is no denying six years later that the Bruins missed out by not drafting him. He’s a heck of a player, but as skilled and offensively savvy as he is, there is an inconsistency in his effort and his lack of size exposes him in playoff matchups like this one. Monday will be a new night and opportunity for Barzal to remind the Bruins that they messed up. But last night…wasn’t it, chief. And if you’re one of those folks out there who has been feeding the white noise machine nonstop since it became evident that the B’s were on the wrong side of that draft call, your silence this morning is deafening. Ok, we don’t usually like to spike the football, but in this case- we’re making an exception. Again- Barzal is a good player and the B’s blew it not drafting him. But, on one night at least, he didn’t look like a top player, and to be frank- he hasn’t been all that impactful this spring, either. Sometimes, you eat the bear. Sometimes, the bear eats you. We fully expect Barzal to make plays in this series, but it is also true to say that his performance thus far has, at best, been…lackluster.

Sorokin had that look of Ken Dryden in 1971 early on, and couldn’t help but get this “here we go again” feeling, but as time went on and the Bruins kept peppering the rookie with shots, you couldn’t help be sense the tide was turning and the B’s would take over the game. Drafted in 2014 like Pastrnak, Sorokin is highly athletic and tracks pucks extremely well. The Bruins did a nice job to set screens and get him moving, also getting some favorable rebounds. Boston handed him his first playoff loss, but he’s going to be a tough out on any given night. Kid is legit.

Connor Clifton continues to have a strong playoffs. He just plays hard and is willing to do whatever it takes to keep the puck out of his own net. He did commit a bad turnover in front of his net early on, and those kinds of things can’t be repeated often without paying a price, but he provides energy and tenacity on the back end. He’s far more the sum of his parts, especially in the postseason.

There’s a lot more we could get to, but we’ll leave it here. 1 win in the books, but the Bruins need to work on their touches in their own end and make better puck management decisions to reduce the turnovers. The Islanders are well coached by Barry Trotz and his staff- hard-working and opportunistic- the B’s can’t keep giving up possession in their own end and expect it not to come back to bite them.

In the end, you couldn’t ask for a better start for the team in round 2, or a better night for the thousands who witnessed it inside the Garden and at the area watering holes and throughout the rest of the world.

The buzz is back.

B’s Close Out Capitals Led By Bergeron and Rask

The Boston Bruins won their fourth straight game Sunday in the opening round of the 2021 NHL Playoffs, winning 2 out of 3 games on the road to eliminate the Washington Capitals by a 3-1 score.

Led by captain and future first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame tenant Patrice Bergeron (two goals) and Tuukka Rask (40 saves), the B’s made it look easy in a game that could have gone the other way.

After taking a 2-0 lead into the third period, Conor Sheary scored 11 seconds in to give his club some hope, but Bergeron answered later in the period with his second tally of the contest. Although Lars Eller appeared to have scored a few minutes later to pull the Caps again to within one, the goal was disallowed on the ice due to goalie interference by Evgeni Kuznetsov.

The game completed an impressive surge for the Bruins, needing overtime to win their first two contests of the series, but then handling business in wins 3 and 4 to finish them off.

The 2018 Stanley Cup champion Capitals, who took Game 1 in overtime on a Nic Dowd deflection goal, went out with a whimper. Few of the core members of that championship squad stepped up to accomplish much of anything in the series loss, leaving it to the bottom two lines and role players to get the bulk of Washington’s production.

It was bittersweet for many fans to see Zdeno Chara go through the handshake line wearing Washington red and seeing his 23rd NHL seasons come to an end. He was capable in the series, but not a difference-maker for the Capitals and the B’s had success by putting pucks behind him and forcing him to turn, skate and defend under pressure. It’s a shame he didn’t stay in Boston and was on the other side of the result, but at the same time- what’s the point in having such a debate? He opted to go where he felt he could have a bigger role, and the Bruins opted not to do what it took to keep him. Hockey is a business, and if you didn’t believe that, then look no further than what transpired between the B’s and their former captain. In the end, both positions should be respected, and in this case- Chara now gets to rejoin his family in Boston while his former teammates await their next opponent.

Here are some thoughts on the highlights and lowlights:

UP

1. Tuukka Rask Boston’s wins leader dropped Game 1 and took heat for allowing the winning score, but was near-perfect the rest of the way, posting a .940 save percentage in the four victories and raising his career postseason save percentage to .927 (75 games minimum) in 98 career games, good for No. 1 in NHL history (for now). He’s healthy and has his patented swagger back. In Game 5, the Bruins were outshot by a wide margin, but he made it look easy. In his final two starts, he stifled the Caps at nearly every turn, and it was his ability to make the big saves in the overtime games 2 and 3 that allowed his club to take control of the series. We recognize that there are some out there who are simply never going to get on board with Rask, but in this case, we’re giving full credit where due.

2. Patrice Bergeron The captain presided over his first playoff series win with the Bruins wearing the ‘C’ and led by example by potting two goals, including the winner. Boston fans have been spoiled by his 18 years of excellence in the Black and Gold. Remember, he came in and made the team as an 18-year-old, looking like a seasoned veteran. That seems like a lifetime ago, and while he’s never put up an 80-point regular season, he’s been the model of consistency and success as this generation’s greatest two-way center who can do it all, even if he lacks the pure production of other NHL super stars. To put it another way, if you’re in overtime of a Game 7 final series for all the marbles, who do you want as your center over Bergeron? There aren’t many names you can come up with if you’re being intellectually honest in that exercise. The veteran who grew up in Quebec City admiring Joe Sakic, has cemented a similar legacy of greatness like his idol, all accomplished with the franchise that drafted him in 2003. His 44 postseason goals are the most among active players for the team, and his 115 points trail David Krejci by just two. For the record, Ray Bourque is the team’s all-time playoff scoring leader with 161 points, but Bergeron and Krejci have all surpassed franchise icons like Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Rick Middleton.

3. Charlie McAvoy As the series went on, Boston’s top defenseman asserted himself more and more. When he turns the wheel and plays his best hockey, he can impact the game positively in all zones. His three power play assists in Game 4 was instrumental in giving the Capitals a spirit-crushing loss and setting the stage for Game 5, and McAvoy’s ability to log big minutes in all situations makes him the latest in a long line of top blue liners who have worn the spoked B. He’s still prone to turning pucks over because he wants to push the envelope at times with more risk in his play than he should, but the aggression is good, and as the old saying goes, you can tame a tiger but you can’t paint stripes on a pussycat and expect it to rule the jungle. His next contract is going to be a big one, so get ready for that, but to the young former Boston University product’s credit, he’s earning it. Every top team needs a bell cow defenseman, and McAvoy stepped out of Chara’s shadow in this series to assume that responsibility. So far, so good.

4. Brad Marchand The 21st century version of Ken Linseman built a reputation with his antics, but in recent seasons toned his act down. When his abrasiveness threatened to cross the line and put his team at a disadvantage, Marchand pulled it together (assist to Bergeron, btw) and scored two critical goals to get his club back in control of the series. His three goals in 5 games led the B’s, but it speaks to his MVP-worthy season that he’s been able to keep the scoring going after finishing third in the regular campaign with 29 goals and 69 points in 53 games. His overtime one-timer in Game 2 came just 39 seconds into the extra frame and set a franchise record, breaking Bobby Orr’s famous flying Mother’s Day tally to win the Bruins the 1970 Stanley Cup. That alone deserves recognition on this list, but Marchand played hard, fast and put his team first when he had to. That’s a sign of his veteran maturity and ability to understand how fine a line it is, making sure he stayed on the right side of things to secure another series victory. With 98 career points, Marchand is close to joining Bergeron and David Krejci in the Playoff Century Club.

4. Taylor Hall Since the B’s acquired the 2010 first overall selection at the trade deadline, the team has gone 16-4-2 with No. 71 in the lineup. He scored what is arguably the biggest goal of the series late in the third period of Game 2 as the B’s were down 3-2 with the seconds ticking off the clock towards a crushing 0-2 series deficit. Then, Hall flashed his trademark speed to grab the puck and gain the offensive zone, flying past Washington’s top D John Carlson, and sending it to the front of the net. He then circled the cage, located the puck lying in the paint amidst player-induced chaos in the crease, and jammed at it until it went in. The speed, pace and skill Hall brings when he’s on top of his game is something not seen in Boston very often, and his presence has electrified the offense and second line. He didn’t always play his best hockey throughout the series, so there’s definitely room for improvement, but he came through in the clutch with a critical goal when his team needed it the most. It sure looks like the B’s will be able to find a way to extend the pending unrestricted free agent when the time comes (be patient- the expansion draft complicates things and stow the fast food mentality to get something done now). We’ll leave that to Don Sweeney and his capologist Evan Gold to sort out, but Hall is proving himself to be a valuable commodity, and the veteran is enjoying the kind of success he’s having as the right kind of fit at this stage of his professional career.

5. Connor Clifton When Jeremy Lauzon went out of the lineup early in the series with a hand injury suffered in Game 1, it opened the door for Clifton, who in his third playoff spring with the Bruins, has once again elevated his play when it matters most by eclipsing his up-and-down regular season performances. The small but speedy and physical New Jersey native drew the tough assignment of containing Alex Ovechkin and sent a message in his first game against No. 8, hitting him, disrupting his rhythm and blocking his shots. His stats line of no points in 4 games doesn’t tell the story, but Clifton was able to stabilize the left side and make an impact with his fast, hard play. He shined in Game 4 on one particular penalty kill when he blocked three big shots in the same sequence. Players love that stuff, and Clifton is clearly a big man trapped in a small man’s body. The ability to play your best hockey when the games get so much faster and tougher is the sign of a true competitor.

6. David Pastrnak After getting off to a sluggish start, Boston’s most skilled scoring forward racked up 4 points in his final two games, ending the series on the top with 6 points in 5 games. His goal to break the scoreless tie in the second period of Game 5 was a thing of beauty as he went through the legs to avoid Dowd, then beat defenseman Nick Jensen to the front of the net and tuck the puck inside the far post. Though Pastrnak struggled late in the season and his 20 goals in 48 games was well off his 48 goals in 70 from a year ago, he’s getting his confidence and swagger back. When Pastrnak is going, the B’s can skate with the best offensive clubs in the NHL because they have the speed and depth to do it.

7. Bruce Cassidy Let’s face it- the man can coach a hockey team. His winning percentage with the Bruins since taking over for Claude Julien in 2017 is north of .650, and his 2019 club came to within one victory of the ultimate prize. He’s a student of the game who has built a winning culture through structure, discipline/buy-in and by demanding accountability, starting with himself and his staff. He’s an astute game manager who made the right adjustments throughout the series and did a good job with handling injuries to the club throughout the season and the playoff carryover. He’s learned a great deal since failing with the Washington Capitals, so you know this series win felt so good for him to beat his old team. He wasn’t ready to be a NHL head coach when the Capitals hired him in 2002, but in the years since his firing in 2004 and when he got the Boston job 13 years later, he learned from his past experiences. Cassidy consistently presides over winning teams because he employs the right kind of structure, motivation and leadership. Coaching a professional hockey is no easy task if you expect to do it right and achieve top success, but one of the most important aspects of it is that the players will show up every night and play hard for you. That just doesn’t happen by being a nice guy- they have to respect your knowledge of the game, connect with you personally and believe that by buying in to your systems and methods, they will have the best chance at capturing a championship. Cassidy has done that in Boston, and the way his team took control of the series after a devastating Game 1 loss has reinforced his mettle behind the bench along with the contributions of his staff to the entire process.

8. Jake DeBrusk When the top guns were struggling to find their offense, it was DeBrusk who came forward. Although he didn’t sustain the scoring as Boston started racking up the wins, he used his speed and played with energy and effort to be a disruptive force, create chances and back check with authority to prevent opportunities on his own net. It hasn’t been a good year for him, but instead of pouting and continuing to be a black hole, the 23-year-old put up a respectable 2 goals and 3 points while showing he can be an effective 200-foot player when he sets his mind to it. That, more than anything, could be a key factor in getting his career back on the rails after his confidence took a big hit.

9. Ilya Samsonov The Russian rookie showed why he was a first-round pick a few years ago by playing hard and keeping the Bruins from turning the series into a blood bath on the scoreboard in Games 3 and 4. He has tremendous ability, though he did whiff on Bergeron’s first goal of Game 5- a shot he needed to stop. His ability to move laterally and locate/track pucks is elite. On the downside, Samsonov reportedly got into some hot water with his off-ice conduct, landing him in COVID-19 jail, which hurt his standing with his team and fans a bit. However, in watching him from a pure hockey standpoint, as he matures and gains experience, he will make the Capitals a better team in the net if he can maintain his focus and learn from mistakes.

DOWN

1. Nicklas Backstrom The long time superstar center was, to put it mildly, putrid in this series and in his last two playoff years, has produced just two assists in 10 games. It isn’t just the lack of scoring- he was on the perimeter a lot and looked and played soft. For a player of his caliber, that is unacceptable, and barring some kind of injury he’s dealing with the Capitals and their fans are right to demand accountability from him for two years of no-shows after being such a critical cog in that machine for so long.

2. Evgeni Kuznetsov In a word, gross. This player is far too talented to put up the zero of a performance he did. From missing the first two games because of being in COVID protocol, to barely making a ripple on the pace and flow of the games as the series went on, going pointless. He had a poor year overall, and looked at times like he was just punching the time card. All of this from a guy who had 32 points the year the Capitals won it all. It looks like his days in Washington may be numbered, as the team and GM Brian MacLellan may decide to go in a different direction in building the next roster.

3. Peter Laviolette If Cassidy showed you what right looked like in a coach, Laviolette’s performance in his first playoffs with the Capitals was found to be…wanting. For whatever reason, he was unable to get top performances out of his best players, and it showed in the lackluster power play and the inability for Laviolette to get what had been the third-best PP unit in the regular season going with any kind of consistency. The reality is- if that power play is even half as better than it was, with all the penalties the Bruins took, it could have been a whole different series. Whatever the reason, the perception from afar was that his team just wasn’t in synch and following the program. The Franklin, Mass. product is a winning coach with one ring in Carolina and two more trips to the Stanley Cup final with the Flyers and Predators, but he looked overmatched and not up to the task in this one. To be honest, the team didn’t exactly do their part either.

4. Tom Wilson The NHL’s lightning rod has a world of talent, but diminishes himself with unnecessary self-sabotage instead of just playing the game hard…and the right way. Look, just about everybody respects hard skill and being tough to play against, and there’s no doubt that every team would love a Wilson on their roster, but this playoff version scored the first goal, and then went largely MIA, unless he was doing things that were either cheap/unwarranted or hurt his team. Unlike Marchand, Wilson has yet to figure out that he needs to let his offensive play do the talking rather allowing himself to become a distraction by being…offensive. And the Capitals as an organization have their own role to play as enablers- from the GM and coaches to even the social media staff- they have encouraged Wilson’s buffoonery, instead of realizing that when focused and on his game, he’s a lethal weapon, and getting him to play more of a ‘we’ game than a ‘look at me’ game. Wilson needs to step back and look in the mirror at the farce of a player he ended up being in this series, but so should the rest of the Caps- they allowed it to happen.

5. Boston Bruins team discipline A largely ineffective Washington power play prevented a closer-run series, but the B’s on the whole are going to have to clean up their penalty game going forward. Sure, some of the calls went from silly (Marchand’s roughing call in Game 5) to egregious (Washington getting a PP after Wilson cross-checked Nick Ritchie from behind after Charlie Coyle’s goal in Game 4), but that doesn’t change the fact that too many penalties that went against the B’s were self-inflicted through lapses in attention and discipline. Fans have been watching this team long enough to know that Boston doesn’t often get the benefit of the doubt from officials, so the players will have to put extra attention in avoiding the lazy stick fouls from not moving their feet, control their lumber so as not to draw high-sticking infractions and generally do a better job of staying out of the box. The penalty killing units (led by Rask) did their job, but its going to catch up with them in the next round if it continues.

6. Nick Ritchie Let’s face it- he’s capable of a lot more and the team needs it from the ‘Big Rig.’ He did have a glittering scoring chance in Game 5 on a between-the-hashmarks laser that Samsonov picked up and stopped as he slid laterally to absorb the puck in his pants, but other than a deflected shot on the PP off him and into the net in Game 1, Ritchie didn’t get a whole lot accomplished despite a respectable 3 points in the 5 games. He’s got to get to the net more often and with greater urgency and authority. When he drives the net, he’s a load to contain and with his hands and ability to finish plays in tight spaces, the chances will be had if he turns the wheel more.

7. David Krejci This is not a knock on Krejci, as there were times he showed his experience and made some savvy plays offensively and defensively. But there were a few examples where he was off in his play, especially handling passes cleanly on the PP and protecting the puck in tight spots like he so often does. The purpose of putting him here in the down section is not to criticize, but to point out that the Bruins won four games in a row without much of a contribution from No. 46. We all know that his best hockey comes out in the spring months, so this is an acknowledgement of that and the fact that for the B’s to keep advancing in the postseason, they will need more out of their No. 2 center.

We could go on, but time to leave it here.

The Bruins will now get some time to rest, heal and await their next opponent, be it the Pittsburgh Penguins or New York Islanders.

For more insights on the Bruins/NHL and hockey in general, follow me on Twitter at @kluedeke29

Bruins Take 3-1 Series Lead on Dominant Special Teams Effort

The Boston Bruins easily handled business in Game 4 on home ice, beating the Washington Capitals decisively by a 4-1 score (that could have been way more out of hand if rookie Ilya Samsonov had been just a little off last night). With the first regulation victory in four tries, the Bruins have taken control of the series, which shifts back to the nation’s capital on Sunday night.

The B’s got goals from Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle and Matt Grzelcyk. Tuukka Rask was perfect if not for an Alex Ovechkin broken stick off-speed shot that hit Brandon Carlo’s lumber in front of the net and deflected in. The B’s were fast and physical and their power play tallied three times, taking advantage of Washington’s miscues. Charlie McAvoy had a 3-assist effort, and played a superb game at both ends of the ice. The only black mark on the night was Boston losing veteran D Kevan Miller on a Dmitri Orlov cheap shot, where the latter clearly left his feet and hit Miller late, sending No. 86 to the hospital for what sounds like concussion testing per an in-game team report. More on that later, but here are the observations:

1. Tuukka Time- Rask claims sole possession of 1st place with 54th career playoff victory. At TSP, we like to think we’ve been honest and fair about Rask over the years. At one point in 2016, we proposed that trading him was an option worth exploring, and in hindsight, that was foolish. We’ve also been willing to give him the just respect he’s due when he plays like the No. 1 he has been for the Bruins in the last decade. This is one of those times. He has simply been superb in the first four games, going 3-1 and stopping 93% of the shots he’s faced, 8 of 9 goals allowed coming on some kind of tip, deflection or redirection. That’s just stunning when you think about it. We know, we know- some out there are so conditioned to throw out the reflexive, knee-jerk response that he’s a choke artist, not an elite goaltender or what have you, no matter what he does. It’s a shame that people like that can’t simply acknowledge excellence and seem to rather be right and see Rask fail. At TSP, we’re not going to be fundamentally dishonest bomb-throwers, so we’ll simply salute the franchise all-time wins leader in both regular and post season play for his 19-save effort, and wish Rask the best. He’s earned it and people who engage in the “yeah but-ism” that happens when celebrating this milestone deserve to be mocked and scorned- they shouldn’t be taken seriously any more than the “Tuukka can do no wrong” crowd out there.

2. Special teams were special pt. 1- PK went 6-of-7 to smother a top PP. New memo going around the Bruins offices- Avoid giving the Capitals 7 power plays going forward, please. However, a good chunk of that was classic NHL officiating and game mismanagement by the men in stripes- they got into a ticky-tack rut of calling marginal penalties and then had their hands forced when bigger infractions occurred. We don’t want to make more of it than it is, because this is about Boston’s excellence in killing the penalties last night. Connor Clifton was a mad man at times, making 3-4 shot blocks during one crucial kill, and the B’s used superior stick positioning, anticipation and sharp angling to keep the Capitals at bay. The lone blemish was Ovechkin’s third period PP strike off of Carlo while Marchand was serving a questionable interference infraction while battling for inside position with John Carlson. All in all, the Bruins can’t afford to put themselves into similar situations going forward, but the Caps’ PP has been curious, as they remain largely static and try to funnel pucks to Ovechkin for his vicious one-timers from the top of the circle. Problem is, the B’s killers have sniffed that out and are doing a great job of filling that shooting lane, so it is a tactic that has produced just two PP markers for the Washington captain in four games. Nicklas Backstrom is a giant goose egg, too- which has hurt the Caps in the series. The Boston PK effort/motor has been high, and their goaltender has been the best killer of them all, denying the majority of shots that get through.

3. Special teams were special pt. 2 – Boston’s PP tallied three. The B’s came alive with the man advantage, getting three goals last night. Marchand struck first, standing right by the post and deflecting a Pastrnak shot through Samsonov to finally break a 0-0 in the second period. That was a big goal because it was scored with the PP the Bruins got from Orlov’s double-minor. Then, Pastrnak netted his first goal of the series early in the third period with the man advantage thanks to an Anthony Mantha brain freeze cross-check late in the second that carried over into the final frame. Mantha’s nit-wittery continued in the third when he appeared to lose awareness of where he was on a net drive (or did he?) and ran Rask. Grzelcyk ended the hopes of a comeback with a missile of a shot top shelf. Coming into the series, Washington’s vaunted PP had the bulk of the coverage attention, but the Caps have not gotten it done with the man advantage. The inability of their coaching staff to shake things up is far more confounding than Boston’s taking advantage of the situation to hang 3 of 4 goals on the Caps in Game 4 on special teams.

4. The Orlov hit on Miller was uncalled for, as was response from the on-ice officials. Let’s get this out of the way right now- the NHL has an obligation to protect its players. If they are not going to do that, then everyone just needs to stow the platitudes and understand that players are going to continue to have their careers and lives put in jeopardy when the guys we depend on to enforce the rules get it wrong in critical situations. In the second period, the Boston veteran defender, who has had tremendous injury obstacles to overcome in the past 3 years, was gaining a zone entry and moved the puck as he crossed the blue line. The video doesn’t lie: Orlov a. clearly left his feet to hit Miller b. late, and c. high causing Miller to hit his head on the ice hard. The officials initially called a major infraction only to review it and reverse themselves- basically making a dangerous and potentially career-ending play a 2-minute call. Orlov got to stay in the game and Miller went to the hospital for observation and tests.

It didn’t stop there… When Coyle scored to make it 3-1, Wilson cross-checked Nick Ritchie from behind and a scrum ensued, with Brendan Dillon joining the fray and getting some shots in. Somehow, the “curious” judgment of the officiating continued, with Washington getting a power play out of it when Wilson was the clear aggressor and Dillon at the least should have been sent to the box for injecting himself into the fracas. Instead, the refs hid behind the rule book to put Carlo in the box with Ritchie for going back on the ice for a cowardly too many men call. Look, this isn’t hard- if you’re not going to punish the real infractions in the game, then players and their coaches are simply going to take that as a green light to continue their “edgy” play. We have no issue with good, hard physical hockey, but dangerous, unnecessary hits not being penalized, or officials picking and choosing what they feel like calling based on the score of the game is the issue here. It should have been a 4-on-4 situation there…it’s a joke that the Caps got a PP out of it and the refs opened the door for Wilson to do it again in Game 5. Good job, guys.

With Miller likely out of the lineup on Sunday, watch for Boston to dress Jarred Tinordi in anticipation of more physical rough stuff or they could go with Jeremy Lauzon if he’s cleared to return to the lineup. They could go with Steven Kampfer too, and his experience could provide the trump card in the decision. At the same time, the B’s are up in the series, so the staff could decide that Tinordi’s size/toughness is more important than the playoff experience of Kampfer or Lauzon’s all-around play. Regardless, it will be tough to replicate what Miller does for the room, so the B’s will likely have to rally around their fallen teammate and make Washington pay on the scoreboard as they did last night.

5. Brad Marchand is playing like a Hart Trophy candidate. Of course Connor McDavid will win the award for NHL MVP and rightfully so, but Marchand has stepped up and is playing like a man possessed in this series. After finishing third overall in league scoring, Marchand has three goals in three games and is playing as hard as we’ve seen him, save for a dud of a first game. He’s gotten himself into penalty trouble, but he’s made amends every time with key goals to directly or indirectly secure wins in Games 2 and 3. Last night, he was flying and when Ovechkin blew him up with a third period big hit in the o-zone, he came right back at Ovechkin later on after Pastrnak had hit the captain from behind, preventing him from getting a high-danger shot off in the slot. It prompted us to go back and look at some scouting reports on Marchand from his draft season. We found this gem in the April edition of Red Line Report, and it speaks volumes to how good the independent scouting service’s track record has been in the 22 years since Kyle Woodlief took over as chief scout and publisher.

Gotta admit- 15 years later, that write-up looks pretty good, and Red Line hit on Claude Giroux too. Those players have gone from being “smallish Q scorers” to 2 of the most productive and successful forwards in the entire NHL Draft Class of 2006. Where would the Bruins be without Marchand over the past decade?

Final thoughts: It is easy to get caught up in the 3-1 series lead, but you need four wins to advance, so the Bruins will need to be prepared for a Capitals team that is going to come at them hard. It’s not over, and with Samsonov playing the way he has, he’s capable of stealing a game or two. Boot on the neck time- don’t give the Capitals any ability to get up off the mat.

Superman Comes Through in Double OT, B’s up 2-1 in Series

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

The Boston Bruins returned home for their first playoff game at TD Garden since the Game 7 defeat against St. Louis in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, and once again, overcame a third period deficit to force overtime. This time, free agent pickup Craig Smith ended the game with a nifty wraparound goal for his first tally of the series to give the B’s the lead for good in this one. Taylor Hall and Brad Marchand got the other goals for Boston, while Tuukka Rask stood tall in net in regulation, when his team didn’t have the greatest game in front of him before flipping the script in the full first overtime period and all of the second until Smith stole the puck away from Justin Schultz and beat rookie Ilya Samsonov back to his net for the winning dagger. Here are some observations…

1. Tuukka Rask ties a milestone. With 53 career playoff wins, Rask has tied Gerry Cheevers for first place in franchise history, already owning the team’s regular season victories record with 308. Sometimes, you just have to tip your cap to a player and acknowledge him. Who knows what the B’s would have done if they had not traded for Rask’s rights at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver, but we’ve not had to find out. Toronto drafted him (one spot before Boston could- settling on Matt Lashoff instead in 2005), but after Tim Thomas departed, he’s had the longest run of a B’s goaltender since Cheevers. Since the Hall of Famer’s retirement, the team has had various success over the years with about five or six seasons being the highwater mark (Andy Moog 1988-93; Byron Dafoe 1997-02; Tim Thomas 2006-12). Regardless of how you feel about Rask, he’s given his team a solid decade of stability in net, winning Vezina and Jennings Trophies along the way.

2. Eliminate the turnovers. Boston’s puck management wasn’t great and it cost them on Washington’s go-ahead goal by Nic Dowd when David Pastrnak mishandled a Charlie Coyle pass at the Boston blue line and then turned the wrong way, allowing Garnet Hathaway to find Dowd in front for a redirection. Coyle’s pass was a poor decision, but Pastrnak’s lack of awareness and effort on the play was a bigger issue, and could have been costly for the Bruins late in the second period. The B’s continued to struggle with turning the puck over in the third and some players appeared to be hesitant to take the big hits Washington players were dishing out. Marchand bailed his team out with a big power play marker in the final 10 minutes, as did Rask by stopping every other shot he faced in regulation and OT, but the team could have had a disastrous outcome. The B’s got better at managing the puck as the third period went on and then took over play in OT, but they’ve got to be better in Game 4- the Capitals have the players to make you pay.

Brad Marchand is the team’s top LW period. End of story. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

3. Hall and Marchand carrying Boston’s offensive load. When the Bruins have needed offense at key moments in the two wins, those two have delivered. Last night, Hall put on a display of wizardry with his hands to answer Alex Ovechkin’s power play goal about a minute later, taking a no-look Smith pass and roofing a backhand-to-forehander over Samsonov in a jaw-dropping display of speed, balance and agility. Once again, for the kids- Hall attacks the net and goes to the high danger areas…that’s how you score- not by hanging out on the perimeter and trying to blow pucks by goalies from the outside. Then, Marchand followed up by batting Patrice Bergeron’s shot out of mid-air on the power play to tie the game in the third period. He got in trouble earlier by taking a bad stick penalty, which resulted in the Ovechkin’s first of the series. It’s an old hockey saw that your best players have to play like your best players to win, and that’s what has happened in the last two wins after the top guns were held in check in Game 1. Hall has infused the team with an energy and excitement not seen in some time, as he has revitalized his sagging career since coming to Boston with the explosiveness and ability to dictate a game’s tempo on one shift. He hasn’t brought a shift-to-shift consistency he’s capable and he’s said that himself, but when the B’s have needed a goal, Hall has been there to get it for them. Ditto Marchand, who made up for his lack of discipline in the second period with the equalizer on a tremendous hand-eye coordination play Samsonov had no chance on.

On the flip side, Pastrnak has struggled, and if he can somehow get going, look out. He played poorly during regulation, turning pucks over and not showing much urgency or effort- at one point in the third period, getting beaten to a loose puck because he was gliding, then reaching for it with his stick. That kind of lazy, uninspired play is unbecoming of No. 88’s pedigree and legacy, but to his credit, Pastrnak pulled out of the funk in overtime, generating several scoring chances. The team had a scare early in the second frame when he and Marchand broke in and he was hooked down and went hard into the end boards. He nearly was the hero, as he got a decent shot off and could have been awarded a penalty shot. If Pastrnak can keep trending to what he did in the extra sessions going forward, he will break through and find the back of the net. It’s simple- if Pastrnak takes it up a notch, the Bruins will likely win this going away, but he’s been more of an anchor on his line than a stiff breeze- he’s got to do more.

4. Washington’s fourth line is outplaying Boston’s. Original amigo Dominic Tiano said before the series even began that one of the keys would be the fourth lines and thus far, it hasn’t been close, with Dowd and Hathaway accounting for 4 out of Washington’s 8 goals in 3 games. They have been fast, physical and effective in all three games, especially last night, when they were able to roll a regular shift and make things happen, giving their team the lead late in the second frame. Dowd did take the penalty that resulted in Marchand’s goal with a bad stick penalty, but in reality, that bottom-line scoring has saved Washington from being down 0-3 in the series as Dom pointed out last night. On the other hand, Curtis Lazar, Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly didn’t do a great deal last night, and were especially noticeable in the wrong kind of way in OT when Bruce Cassidy employed them on several defensive zone draws. On paper, that unit should be an effective, heavy, hard-to-play unit, but we haven’t seen it after Jake DeBrusk moved up to the third line in Kuraly’s spot. We could see a change for Game 4, but whether it is Karson Kuhlman or Trent Frederic who gets the call to try and get that fourth line going remains to be seen, and given that Boston won Game 3, Cassidy could opt to keep things as is.

5. Craig Smith’s Superman arrived none too soon. You don’t see it very often, but bad communication on a muffed behind-the-net handover between Samsonov and Schultz ended in disaster when the former USHL and NCAA star with the Waterloo Black Hawks and University of Wisconsin Badgers swooped in, grabbed the puck and wrapped around the far post to beat Samsonov before the youngster could get set. This is the kind of play that veterans make over inexperienced ones, and it ruined a 40-save night and first-ever playoff game for Samsonov, who had confounded the Bruins in the extra sessions when the B’s owned a decisive advantage in scoring chances in the 25+ minutes of sudden death. The only unrestricted free agent signing of consequence this past offseason by the Bruins has been a revelation: he plays the game so hard, but has more skill and scoring touch than any of us really thought. He’s been able to solidify a spot on the second line and his sheer effort, hustle and determination should be a must-watch for any young, aspiring hockey player no matter how talented they are. When he put the puck in, he celebrated like Clark Kent, simulating his costume change the way New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton has done for years in the NFL, but on this night, that had special meaning for the B’s as it salvaged a game that could have just as easily gone the other way. The Ghost of Past Playoff Disappointments nearly added Samsonov to a long list of upstart players who have broken the TD Garden faithful’s hearts, but not last night, as Superman arrived just in the nick of time.

As an aside- Ovechkin was not happy after Smith score. He broke his stick on the bench and then could be seen (appearing to be) yelling at Samsonov, using a not-very-nice word in Russian (at least it looked like he was using *that* word). Obviously, No. 8 was disappointed to lose a game like that, but the rookie was the major reason the Caps were even playing into a second overtime period. If he was giving it to the goalie, then that’s not the greatest display of leadership from the captain, who, as was pointed out during the broadcast, has yet to score an overtime playoff goal in his career. Glass houses and all of that.

Around the NHL…

The Winnipeg Jets derailed the playoff excitement in Edmonton, taking Game 1 by a 4-1 score. Former Omaha Lancers and University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks star defenseman Tucker Poolman tied it with his first NHL postseason goal. Dominic Toninato (who also played in the USHL- with the Fargo Force) got the go-ahead tally. Kyle Connor and Blake Wheeler finished out the scoring with late empty-netters, but Vezina Trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck confounded the Oil’s high-powered offense. 31 years ago, the Oilers-Jets had a heck of a playoff series that Edmonton won en route to the 1990 Stanley Cup championship, but it is good to see these old Smythe Division rivals going at it again.

The Carolina Hurricanes are rolling…look out.

Can anyone stop Nathan MacKinnon and the Colorado Avalanche? Not the Blues, apparently- he tallied a hat trick and four-point game in a 6-3 victory to go up 2-0, giving him 5 goals and 7 points in the pair of wins. Jordan Binnington gave his team a chance in Game 1, but he wasn’t very good last night. Old friend Torey Krug had a pair of assists, but the Avs are just a powerhouse right now and flexing their muscles. Remember- your best players have to play like your best players, and that’s precisely what Colorado is getting right now.

Bruins Even Series- 5 More Observations

Down 3-2 late and with their backs against the proverbial wall to avoid falling into an even deeper 0-2 hole in their playoff series against the Washington Capitals, the Boston Bruins got a late equalizer from Taylor Hall and then Brad Marchand ended it in OT with a one-timer to set a franchise record for fastest postseason goal in the extra session just 39 seconds in. With the 4-3 victory it’s now a best-of-five, with the next two game on home ice.

Taylor Hall: Are You Not Entertained???!!!

1. Bruins didn’t get a faster start in Game 2, but Tuukka Rask held them in it. Washington came out of the gate on fire, at one point outshooting the Bruins 8-2 and again owning the physical advantage and dictating the tempo, but Boston’s goaltender was sharp and met the challenge. At one point, he made a breakaway save on Nic Dowd, keeping the score at zeroes, and some might say- no big deal, Dowd is a fourth-liner- but he made a scorer’s move, forcing Rask to com up with an even better stop. With the Capitals in control early (and we’ve seen this before from the Bruins who have earned the decisive edge early in territorial play), Jake DeBrusk stepped up once again, by driving to the top of the paint and converting a Charlie Coyle pass after Craig Anderson left his net to try and poke the puck off of Coyle’s stick. Although T.J. Oshie tied it on the power play off an Alexander Ovechkin blast, the DeBrusk goal was an important swing moment that allowed the B’s to gain their footing and then surge ahead in the shot count. Rask was sharp throughout the game, and even though the team was behind for much of the third period, he made the stops to keep it a one-goal game to set the stage for Hall and Marchand’s heroics.

2. Give Rask his due in this one. With 5 of 6 goals allowed on tips or deflections in the first two games, Rask got the job done last night. He wasn’t perfect and critics can quibble about whether he should have given up the late first period goal to Maine native Garnet Hathaway, but the reality is- it wasn’t how many he gave up but how and when. Even though Hathaway beat him with a laser on a 2-on-1 later, Rask locked it down. Again, we go back to what he did in the opening minutes of the game, when a shaky start could have put the Bruins in a crushing hole by two, maybe three goals, but he was dialed-in and ready to play. With the victory, Rask posted the 52nd ‘W’ of his career to move him within one of franchise leader Gerry Cheevers. When he was named to start the round 1 playoff series against Buffalo in 2010 and pulled off the upset at age 23, that seemed a lifetime ago. No player in recent Bruins history is more polarizing than Rask, but when the rubber meets the road, there aren’t many goalies in the league right now we’d rather have in net with a tight game on the line. Now, he must keep it going and take his play up a notch to keep Anderson from stealing the big Mo- momentum- back on TD Garden ice. He’s moving well and showing no signs of the injury that hampered him in March and April, so he’ll need to continue to track pucks and work even harder to locate and set himself for the shots because the Capitals are coming and they’ll being going at him hard.

3. Ovechkin…no goals through 2 games. Yes, it is true. The Boston defense has done an excellent job of neutralizing the man who may one day sit alone atop the NHL’s goal scoring ledger. It is only two games, and the series is tied largely because the Caps have gotten scoring from unexpected secondary sources like Hathaway, Dowd and Brenden Dillon. But, if you knew going in that the B’s would keep Ovechkin at bay in both home tilts, you would definitely have taken it. Last night, none other than Connor Clifton gave No. 8 a big hit in open ice, turning the tables on the future Hall of Famer, who through the first two games had been flying around hitting Boston players with real abandon. That’s much of the balance of Ovechkin’s greatness by the way- not just the goals, but the pure power and physicality he brings to give himself time and space, so one of the keys to keeping him in check is to prevent him from generating momentum and space for his ferocious shot that way. With Jeremy Lauzon out of the lineup, Clifton stepped in and did a good job of using his speed to get on pucks quickly, while also using the physical element he’s known for that belies his smaller stature by NHL defenseman standards. Clifton did a good job on Ovechkin because he’s fast and fearless. One example of why he was successful last night- No. 75 made an shot block on Ovechkin later in the third period because he was able to use his speed to close faster than the Washington superstar realized and took the shot into his body, then cleared it out of the zone. Little plays like that one add up, and through two games, the ‘Great Eight’ has yet to break through. It will be tough to contain Ovechkin over the entire series, but so far, so good. The onus is now on Peter Laviolette and his staff to figure out how to get him going- Bruce Cassidy and Co. have put him in check. Chess, not checkers- the best in the game play it. Clifton and Matt Grzelcyk both had standout performances in Game 2 for Boston.

4. The Rat is back. Overtime lamp-lighter aside, Marchand got back to some of his abrasive shenanigans last night. There’s a good and bad side to it. On the good, his antics tend to enrage the opposition and Marchand managed to goad Anthony Mantha off his game, even taking him to the box with him after putting his stick in the Caps forward’s face. It was a dangerous line Marchand was on, because he just as easily could have given the NHL’s top regular season PP another chance. He got away with one. But, if we’re going to kill him for being abrasive and putting himself and his club at risk, we also have to acknowledge that at the right time and in the right situations, that is the stuff that has always made Marchand so effective in Boston (and so hated by every other team and their fans around the league). To his credit, he stepped up when his team needed him most, wiring the Grzelcyk pass in the wheelhouse with a laser 1-T to end the game. Also to his credit, he mentioned long time teammate, friend and mentor Patrice Bergeron in the postgame media availability, as someone who “reeled him in” after the chippy second period. Bergeron, who scored the game’s second goal of the game on an absolute bullet between the hash marks, may have made his most valuable assist- one that didn’t show up in the boxscore- by showing his leadership to get Marchand back to playing productively when his team needed him most. Things like that are why No. 37 is Hall of Fame-bound on the first ballot, while No. 63 could be quietly making a case for himself to land in Toronto himself when all is said and done.

5. Hall-in…Taylor Hall saves the day. With under 15 min remaining in the third period of a 2-2 game and just after the Bruins had to kill an undisciplined Nick Ritchie roughing penalty in the offensive zone that had led to a 6-0 shots advantage in the final frame for Washington, Hall turned the puck over in the neutral zone and then tripped Connor Sheary, to take a seat. The B’s killed Hall’s penalty, but right after it expired, an ill-timed Kevan Miller pinch led to a 2-on-1 for Dmitri Orlov and Hathaway, and the latter smoked a cross-ice pass to give the home team the first lead of the night. It was a lead that held for much of the rest of the period, and the pessimistic doubts of crushing playoff disappointments past began to creep in, but Hall doesn’t know about Boston’s past disappointments, does he? With a little under 3 minutes in regulation, Hall blew past Norris Trophy winner John Carlson on the left wall at the Washington blue line, hurled the puck to the front of net where there was a wild scramble, and then streaked around the back of the cage, located the puck sitting there on the doorstep with Anderson sprawled and a pile-up in the paint and put it home. I said it on Twitter last night- any other year, any other player instead of No. 71 and that puck probably doesn’t go in. Just like that, the game was tied. And it was a huge moment, because while Hall’s earlier penalty didn’t result directly in the go-ahead goal, it did stall momentum and forced Boston to keep killing while letting Washington get into a rhythm and eventually grab the lead. As Hall sat in the box, the look on his face said it all- he knew he screwed up with the NZ turnover and resulting trip. But top players do what Hall did- they go out and get it back. All he did was find a way to tie the game. And it wasn’t his first whack at the puck that did it- he stayed with it with Tom Wilson ineffectively standing there and not able to knock him off his feet or at least tie up his stick. Winning player? Probably too soon to say that about Hall, but man- is he fun to watch. And if he can make more plays like that one, he could get there.

The Agony: Taylor Hall in the penalty box

The Ecstasy: Brad Marchand and Taylor Hall in OT. “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop every once in awhile and take a look around, you could miss it.”- Ferris Bueller

Final thoughts:

You can’t say enough about Jake DeBrusk and how his two goals and two games have helped to get his tough season back on the rails at the most important time. He has skated his bag off and is making effort plays all over the ice. He had a chance to be the hero last night in regulation with a late 2-on-1 with Coyle when it was 3-3 that he just wasn’t able to elevate high enough over Anderson’s glove, but it looks like the No. 74 that has excited so many since he broke in with Boston full-time three years ago is back. He’s a great guy off the ice with a bubbly personality, so you’re pulling for him to keep the positive mojo going. A dialed-in, productive DeBrusk presents a matchup problem for opposing defenses. One more thing- what would you rather have? A DeBrusk who went out and scored 15-20 goals only to slump in the postseason, or the guy who is just 3 goals away from his season total in 2 games? Obviously you’d rather have option C, which is a 15-20 goal scorer AND the DeBrusk we’ve seen in Games 1-2, but hey- we’ll take it.

David Pastrnak made a nice play on Bergeron’s goal, but the team needs more from him. He’s playing too much on the perimeter and not doing the things that define him as one of the game’s top young goal scorers: needs to do a better job of driving through contact, finding quiet ice and getting pucks off his stick and on net much, much faster. If he can get going, the B’s offense will take on an entirely new dimension.

The series is tied, but the war is really just beginning. The Capitals aren’t going to roll over, but with the crushing weight of expectations now alleviated a bit, the Bruins can prepare for Game 3 without a lot of the wailing and gnashing of teeth that would have come with an 0-2 deficit. That Rask, Marchand and Hall all played such important roles in the win is just the icing on the cake.

Around the League…

The favored Carolina Hurricanes handled business in their first playoff game at home against the Nashville Predators, securing a 5-2 win. It’s a feel-good story for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic, who literally came out of left field this season to seize Carolina’s No. 1 job for the playoffs and then did his job. The Ohio native passed on the NCAA route to play in the OHL, and parlayed that into the 37th overall selection in 2014- 12 spots after Pastrnak. He’s bided his time since, seeing spot duty in the NHL while posting back-to-back 30-win seasons in the AHL with the Charlotte Checkers. But this year, with a long-term injury to Petr Mrazek, ‘Ned’ grabbed his chance, going 15-5-3 with a .932 save percentage and earned the trust of his teammates and head coach, Rod Brind’Amour. We had his younger brother, Andy, a forward, in the USHL with Omaha briefly a few years ago, and it’s a super family. These Cinderella stories in hockey are hard to beat, but then again, we shouldn’t be too surprised- he was the third goalie taken in the 2014 draft, just one spot after another former Omaha Lancer- Thatcher Demko. Both goalies established themselves in full this season, which just goes to show you- patience and a longer timeline with your goaltenders is often (but not always- Jeremy Swayman) the right approach.

Colorado looks to be the team to beat this postseason after securing the franchise’s first President’s Trophy since 2001- the year Ray Bourque raised his first and only Stanley Cup. Nathan MacKinnon is in playoff mode, going off in the third period. That Avalanche club is so deep and strong at every position. The only weak link could be the goaltending, but Philipp Grubauer had a superb regular season, so it isn’t that he is incapable, it’s just that Devan Dubnyk is the only one between them and oblivion if anything happens to the starter. Of course, with the team Colorado has up front, it may not matter all that much who is in net for them. They are a wagon.

And how about that old-fashioned slobber-knocker of a fight between Gabriel Landeskog and Brayden Schenn? I know fighting is frowned upon in this day and age, and it is even more of a rarity in the postseason than it used to be, but wow! Landeskog showed why the scouting reports on him in 2011 were that he played a decidedly un-European, North American-style of power hockey. The Bruins wanted Landeskog badly that season and were looking at the possibility on Jan 1, when they owned the second of two Toronto Maple Leafs first-rounders acquired for Phil Kessel. At the time of the WJC (where Landeskog was playing for Sweden, btw) in Buffalo, the Leafs were in last place. Then, they brought up James Reimer and it changed everything. They ended up finishing closer to 10 than 1, and the B’s missed out on Landeskog, Jonathan Huberdeau, Mika Zibanejad, Mark Scheifele and Sean Couturier, getting Dougie Hamilton instead. Ah, what could have been… That was a pretty good draft class.

For more (free) insights from me on the NHL (mostly Bruins), NCAA and junior hockey, follow me on Twitter: @kluedeke29

Fallout: 5 Observations About Game 1 and What the Bruins Need to Do About Them

The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have begun and aside from the first three contests all going to overtime, there are always winners and losers in hockey, especially come springtime. The Boston Bruins lost Game 1 on a Nic Dowd deflected shot from T.J. Oshie that he got a piece of before the puck rolled in, breaking a 2-2 deadlock in the first extra session. It was a game there for the taking from the B’s perspective, but they instead find themselves in an 0-1 hole. Here are some observations about the game and what the team can do about it to generate a better outcome in Game 2.

1. The Bruins were unable to match Washington’s physicality to start the game. The Capitals came at the Bruins hard, leveling them with big, clean hits early on and dictating the pace/tempo. This in turn fired up the home crowd. Boston was able weather the storm, but to set the conditions for a different result tonight, they will need to take the initiative and be ready for the runs that the heavier Capitals players are sure to take at them. One way they can mitigate that is by going to the net as hard as possible and initiating some scrums with Caps players to take away the momentum gained by big, open-ice hits. It’s a fine line, so the B’s will have to make sure their sticks don’t get up or that they don’t do anything undisciplined like running Craig Anderson, but with the proverbial wind in their faces, they need a better start, and earning the first lead of the series wouldn’t hurt.

2. 21 missed shots against a goalie playing in just his fourth contest of the season. Wayne Gretzky famously said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. The same holds true of shots attempted that miss the net entirely, and that played a significant role in Boston’s loss Saturday night. Whether the B’s had first game jitters or the Caps simply disrupted their time and space, the fact of the matter is- the visiting team failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity after Jake DeBrusk chased starter Vitek Vanecek from the game with his goal that forced the netminder to do an awkward split and incur a lower body injury. Another way to look at Anderson coming in is that it was a blessing in disguise for Washington. Anderson is a playoff veteran with a career .929 save percentage, knocking Boston out of the first round of the postseason in Bruce Cassidy’s first year. Either way, the ghosts of Hardy Astrom and Andre Racicot would have won a game in which his opponent didn’t force him to make 21 stops- the B’s made it easy on Anderson, who if anything, lacks sharpness and timing in his game. The Bruins must focus their efforts on shooting pucks at every opportunity and avoid falling into the trap of making the extra pass or trying to make the perfect shot- get it to the net early and often and bring the forwards down below the dots as much as possible to capitalize (no pun intended) on rebounds and get some dirty goals. The most important thing for the Bruins right now is to not let Anderson get comfortable- he’s only going to get better as he settles in, so figure out a way to pepper him early or the slog only becomes more difficult. They’d be better off against Vanecek to be honest (and Ilya Samsonov is out of COVID protocol and an option for the Caps as well).

3. The top lines didn’t have their best stuff. That is putting it mildly. Whether mishandling pucks, missing on passes, turning pucks over or generally failing to get anything going offensively, the first and second forward units were a no-show, and that is a recipe for a loss for any team. Brad Marchand, in particular, had a rough one; he’s so fast, slippery and dynamic, but for whatever reason, he was unable to handle the puck cleanly all night and made bad decisions with his reads and subsequent passes. Patrice Bergeron worked hard, but wasn’t able to get to the net consistently, while David Pastrnak had some perimeter shots, but was unable to find the quiet ice for one-timers and quick release shots that make him so dangerous. The second unit, aside from Taylor Hall drawing several penalties at the offensive blue line with his fast feet and quick hands, was even less effective. If playoff David Krejci is the best Krejci, then the B’s are right to expect more from him. There is simply too much talent, intelligence and effort on that line with Craig Smith for the second line to not generate sustained offensive pressure. That DeBrusk and Nick Ritchie scored the Boston goals to generate secondary scoring for a team that has long relied on its top forwards to create the offense was a good sign, but even the most ardent defenders of the B’s have to take a step back and recognize that they simply didn’t get it done. It isn’t like they were creating chances and Anderson was snuffing them out- they looked sluggish and ineffective, playing most of their hockey on the perimeter and not able to get to the middle of the ice where the real goals in this game are scored. Whatever happened in Game 1 is done, things have to change tonight, or you can expect the team to return to Boston in a bigger hole. We think Marchand and Co. are primed for a big comeback and if not, Krejci’s unit could ably carry the offensive load- they have it in them to do it.

4. Stick on puck, stick on puck, stick on puck! The Boston defense, especially the Jeremy Lauzon-Kevan Miller pairing, struggled with this, allowing the Capitals to enter the zone cleanly too many times. On the flip side, the Caps disrupted Boston’s rushes for the most part, because their defenders gapped up well and aggressively used their sticks to disrupt the north-south flow. The most effective defensemen in the game all share one trait in common: they have a “good stick,” meaning that they are able to negate scoring chances consistently using their lumber and not necessarily their body. The Boston defense as a whole needs to focus on making sure their stick on puck is better in Game 2 and not allow Washington to simply get to the net uncontested. One example of this in Game 1 was the Tom Wilson goal. When Charlie McAvoy broke his stick at the Washington blue line and allowed the odd-man rush, he was without his most important tool to defend his own net, but Matt Grzelcyk had a chance to break up the play had he employed a more aggressive stick on puck approach. As he backed in, he may have thought that Daniel Sprong posed a threat on the far side, but with Sean Kuraly beating feet back, there was a split-second window when he could have knocked the puck off of Oshie’s stick *before* he made the pass to Wilson for the score. It’s easy to second guess at this point, but a more aggressive defensive play as opposed to backing in and giving Oshie the ice in front of him uncontested was a key factor in Washington drawing first blood and seizing momentum. Boston’s overall defense was sound, but it is the little things that can turn the tide in Game 2, and better stick on puck won’t hurt. As an aside- Lauzon took a shot off the hand and is questionable tonight, meaning we are likely to see Connor Clifton in the lineup to take his place. Jarred Tinordi is another option, but with Clifton’s postseason experience, he’s got the edge if Lauzon can’t go.

5. More movement on the power play. Yes, the B’s got a power play goal from Ritchie and held Washington’s top units with the man advantage off the scoring ledger, but you can bet the Capitals will find their mojo. To counter, Boston’s power play unit simply must get better and is starts with improved movement. In Game 1, the PP was largely static, especially on the point with Grzelcyk not taking advantage of the time and space to walk laterally along the blue line to open up the penalty killers down low and create better shooting lanes (hat tip to Reed Duthie for that observation, btw). The B’s got their one power play tally due to a sheer effort and hustle play by Smith to win a footrace and keep the puck in the zone, but the reality is- the man advantage was never much of a threat in this one, when just one other goal would have secured a regulation victory for Boston. Any successful power play starts with effective movement to loosen up the PKers, and then gets pucks to the net so that the PP can employ the extra player to max advantage. If you don’t force the opposition out of their structure, they can simply sit back and clog the high danger areas and keep the puck to the outside. Its about movement and puck possession- forcing the killers to move and expend energy, while getting them out of position to create shooting/passing lanes and then capitalizing on the outnumbered situation. The Bruins didn’t do this enough and were fortunate to get the one goal. If they don’t alter their approach, they won’t have much success with the man advantage in the series. Another Reed suggestion- consider using Mike Reilly (who struggled with his defensive play Saturday) up top on the PP where he can use his lateral agility and vision to generate that movement.

You will note that goaltending is not one of the five observations. Tuukka Rask wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t great, either. He can and should be better, but there is no reason to spend any more time pointing that out. He gave his team a chance, and while the optics on the winning goal wasn’t great, it’s a team game, and for our money- the above factors had more with the Bruins losing a close-run overtime game than the inability of the veteran netminder to make that stop. Again, not absolving Rask of his part in the loss here, it’s just that he could have been lights out in OT, and Washington still could have won the game because the B’s were deficient in other areas. That’s hockey.

Onto Game 2- no one ever said winning a playoff series in the NHL was easy.

Dominic Tiano: Circumventing the NHL Salary Cap- If It Walks Like A Duck…

Dominic Tiano, the resident expert on most matters CBA-related, provides a quick primer on ways that teams are taking advantage of the existing framework to potentially manipulate the salary cap. You’ve probably seen the chatter on Twitter and social media in general, but “The Dom” breaks it down for the rest of us in a manner that’s easy to understand and provides some ideas to keep this from becoming a growing trend league-wide. -KL

What do Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Freddie Andersen, Michael Kempny and Evgeni Malkin have in common?

All have missed significant time (in Kucherov’s case, the entire season) which allowed their teams to exceed the NHL salary cap with the Long-Term Injury Exemption known as LTIR.

The problem is, what their respective teams have done does not break any NHL rules. It’s also allowed those teams to go out on trade deadline and make improvements to their rosters in their quest for the Stanley Cup.

And now, they are all set to return at some point in these playoffs because there is no salary cap in the playoffs.

It gets even stranger.

Alex Steen of the St Louis Blues officially announced his retirement on December 17, 2020 yet the Blues used his entire cap hit of $5,750,000 (and then some) on LTIR.

While there has to be some mechanism in place that allows a team to replace a player who is out with a bona-fide long term injury, the NHL and the NHLPA need to sit down and take a look at what some teams are doing, although the latter may not want a change as it puts more money in the player’s pockets.

How would you feel if the Boston Bruins lost Patrice Bergeron for a season and couldn’t replace him because there was no LTIR?

But the NHLPA may want to look a little closer. You need not go back any further then the 2019-20 season when the Ottawa Senators had a whopping $15 million plus tied up in players on LTIR. Marian Gaborik, Ryan Callahan and Clarke MacArthur never played a game and spent the entire 186 days of the NHL season on LTIR. And even though the Sens never used a penny of that LTIR, what did it accomplish? It got them to the cap floor without spending a penny of Eugene Melnyk’s money because they were paid by insurance. That kept money out of other player’s pockets.

If you could ask any General Manager how they feel about the situation, I would be willing to bet that the overwhelming majority have no issue with it because they know one day, it could be them that need to use that avenue.

But ask the now 32 team owners and you would get a different response because it now actually involves dollars. And none may be more vocal than Chairman of the Board and Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs who was one of the leaders of bringing in a salary cap. And he carries a lot of weight.

Chris Johnston of Sportsnet said on a Hockey Night in Canada Broadcast that the League is saying “we’re going to watch you closely.

Well Gary Bettman, the time has come. The playoffs are here.

I’m not one to defend Bettman and his right-hand man Bill Daly but in fairness, they have done a marvelous job along with the NHLPA and the players to make sure the Stanley Cup was awarded last season and we had some sort of season this year.

And their main concern has been to make sure that we get through the season and that we have a normal season next year. They’ve also had to negotiate two massive (in hockey’s case) American Television contracts.

Again Mr. Bettman, the time has come.

There are no easy fixes, but I will take a stab at it.

This is the way The Dom would rectify it:

1- Even though there is no salary cap in the playoffs, rosters must be cap compliant. You could also set an arbitrary cap like the offseason cap. Make it so teams could go over by 5% to carry their “black aces”.

2- If a player misses an entire season due to being on LTIR, then he is not eligible for the playoffs.

3- You can not trade a player who is on LTIR. Personally, I’ve never understood this. If you can’t buyout a player who is injured, why should you be allowed to trade him?

4- If a player officially retires, there should be no LTIR associated with him.

5- If a player is deemed to have a bona-fide injury and is going to miss 10 games or 24 days (the minimum required to go on LTIR), then the LTIR space allowed is based on the team’s “new” salary cap on the day of the injury. Right now, a team is allowed to make recalls to get as close as possible to the salary cap to maximize LTIR.

Example: With a salary cap of $81.5 million, if a team has a cap hit of $80 million, they can recall player(s) making up to $1.5 million to get to the upper limit. If a player with a $5 million cap hit goes on LTIR, they can then exceed the cap to $86.5 million. Under my scenario, the team’s cap hit on the day of the injury would be used, or $80 million making their new “upper limit” $85 million.

If you have any ideas, post them in the comments below!

Enjoy the Stanley Cup Playoffs!