Bruins playoff roster quick hits: Forwards (Pt. 2)

Pastrnak

(Eyes on the prize: David Pastrnak is the present and future of the Boston Bruins franchise. Fans are truly fortunate to watch the electrifying trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Pastrnak, and the healthy unit has something to prove.)

Back to close out the Boston Bruins 2020 NHL Playoff preview series with the back half of the B’s forwards listed alphabetically. We hope you have enjoyed the posts, and let us know if there is anything else you want to see. Stay tuned for some more thoughts and observations on the B’s roster from the Amigos- coming this weekend and early next week.

Sean Kuraly- Every year since the B’s broke their two-season playoff drought in 2017, the former Miami University captain has made postseason plays to earn him the “Clutch Kuraly” moniker, so 2020 should not be any different. Right now, he’s practicing on the third line at right wing, but he’s probably going to shift back down to the fourth line, where he has proven himself to be effective as a two-way forward with the size, speed and situational sense to make offensive plays at opportune moments. One of the assets acquired for Martin Jones in the summer of 2015, Kuraly is yet another example of the Bruins archetype of a mobile, versatile forward who elevates his game and production when pace of a contest picks up.

Kuraly

(Somehow, watching Sean Kuraly celebrate a big goal in the playoffs has become an annual spring tradition in Boston)

Karson Kuhlman- Another NCAA captain, Kuhlman won a championship as Frozen Four MVP for University of Minnesota-Duluth in 2018 and a year later, was nearly a part of an NHL championship. Like Kuraly, he’s clutch- his speed, pace/energy and intelligence all combine to make him a prime playoff performer, even if the Esko native doesn’t have a top-line skill set. The undrafted free agent is the quintessential Bruin, who interestingly enough, listed Boston as the one city in the USA he wanted to move to in an interview well before he signed with the B’s- it was meant to be. He emerged a year ago to earn a regular spot on the team’s playoff roster, and although it wasn’t all smooth sailing this past year, he provides options for Bruce Cassidy and the coaching staff as a sparkplug who can be an asset. Whether he’ll be able to break through the logjam up front with everyone currently healthy, rested and vying for a role on the established lines remains to be seen, but you know what you’ll get with Kuhlman.

Par Lindholm- Signed for depth and youthful NHL experience after splitting 2018-19 between Toronto and Winnipeg, Lindholm played 40 games for the B’s, posting a modest 3-3-6 stat line. He’s a capable player to round out the bottom of the roster and a solid plug-and-play option for the Boston coaches to use to exploit defensive matchups.

Brad_Marchand

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

Brad Marchand- Boston’s first 100-point scorer since Joe Thornton in 2003 had a chance to repeat the feat had he gone slightly more than a point-per-game over the final 11 before the pause, but will gladly exchange that lost opportunity for another shot at the Stanley Cup. We won’t sugarcoat it- he had some questionable plays against the Blues in the 2019 championship series, and that team’s supporters and everyone else rooting against the B’s had a field day with memes featuring a despondent Marchand as the visitors skated around the TD Garden ice with the Stanley Cup. 2020 is a new year and chance for Boston’s top left wing to get some redemption and erase the smug grins on the faces of his many detractors.

Although 32, Marchand can still fly and is the most skilled and creative forward on the Boston roster. With a pair of superstars on that line in Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, Marchand is lethal, and he’s lost none of the abrasiveness that has been his hallmark since the earliest days of minor hockey.

Of all the B’s forwards who can crack opposing defenses and goalies like an egg, Marchand is the one who could be the linchpin going forward. In seven games against the Blues, he scored just two goals and five points, while being held scoreless in three of those contests. He was capable of more, and we think we’ll see it this time around.

Joakim Nordstrom- The veteran defensive forward signed two years ago isn’t likely to get a contract extension, but he’s a solid plumber type who does his job without a lot of fanfare (or production). He’s a bottom-six guy, currently skating on the left side of the Phase III fourth line with Lindholm and Chris Wagner, but that lineup was missing Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase, so we’ll see Anders Bjork and Kuraly dropping down, which could impact Nordstrom’s role and ice time.

David_Pastrnak

David Pastrnak is the player the Boston Bruins have been waiting for. (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

David Pastrnak- The B’s had a limited skate with the younger players on the roster Wednesday, but one veteran was with the black aces- a sight for sore eyes- No. 88, in his first practice action since the pause. One of those future Bruins taking notes on the leading scorer’s practice habits was Jack Studnicka.

“He’s (an unbelievable talent,” Studnicka said via remote call after the session. “Obviously his year kind of speaks for itself how he was able to contribute offensively on such a consistent basis.

“To see how he practices- he’s always moving full speed and finding ways to be creative and be better. It was definitely fun to share the ice with him.”

Pastrnak led the team in scoring with 95 points and became the first Bruins player to win the Henri “Rocket” Richard Trophy as the top goal scorer, an honor his 48 goals shared with future Hall of Famer Alexander Ovechkin. As an elite goal scorer, Pastrnak excels at finding space and quiet ice in the offensive zone and unleashes a shot with a hyper-quick release, deadly accuracy and a heaviness that belies his average size and frame.

In short, he’s a natural who has blossomed into one of the NHL’s true young super stars- and with his exuberance and genuine personality on and off the ice, Bruins fans are right to be salivating at the thought of what Pastrnak is going to do in the postseason.

Calgary Flames v Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – FEBRUARY 25: Nick Ritchie #21 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the first period of the game against the Calgary Flames at TD Garden on February 25, 2020 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

Nick Ritchie- Like Kase, Ritchie was acquired at the trade deadline from the Anaheim Ducks, and the big power forward has much to prove after being selected 15 spots ahead of Pastrnak and 106 spots ahead of the player the B’s traded for him- Danton Heinen (Anders Bjork went 136 spots after Ritchie, for the record…okay, we’ll stop now).

Ritchie is another heavy, possession forward who, when he’s moving his feet, is tough to contain and is an asset in tightly-contested spaces typical of playoff games. He’s also got some nasty- when he gets fired up, he can hit and fight with the best of them. Like Kase, he’s going to benefit from a training camp to get himself adjusted better to his new team and coaching staff.¬† The younger Ritchie admittedly put himself in position to receive the questions and criticism with an inconsistent work ethic and intensity level, so we’ll see how it all plays out for him in Boston- with his tools, he could turn things around in a hurry. If he doesn’t, there are plenty of options the B’s have to put into the lineup.

He’s had a slow start to his NHL career relative to his high draft position, and his regular season numbers aren’t anything to write home about. But the reality is this- if Ritchie had delivered on the immense potential he had in junior off the bat, the Ducks never would have made him available for trade to Boston. There is no doubt the organization is taking on some risk here, but in moving a player they had multiple versions of in Heinen, they have added another potential horse with some real reward who is young enough to blossom¬† with a better pool of talent around him.

Zach Senyshyn- We’re tabling any reference to the 2015 draft here and will just say that while his chances of breaking through to establish a spot on this roster right now and play meaningful playoff action is remote, the former Soo Greyhound is getting closer to staking a legitimate claim. For now, he’ll join the other young black aces in Boston and benefit from the opportunity to be around the veterans and absorb the culture and atmosphere of NHL playoffs. The size and skating gives him a chance to play up or down in the lineup- it’s just a hardcore group ahead of him on the depth chart. Sometimes, we forget that he’s just 23- still time to see him bear some fruit, even if the clock is admittedly ticking.

Jack Studnicka- A year ago, the 2017 second-rounder was a black ace on Boston’s deep run, and he’s back for more as he appears to be on the verge of making the lineup as a full-time NHLer soon. The steal of a late second-round selection led the AHL in shorthanded goals and his own Providence club in scoring. He’s never put up eye-popping offensive numbers, but doesn’t have to because he’s a top three-zone forward in the mold of Bergeron. He’s Boston’s best prospect in our view, and the team will make room for him soon as he has done very well in his young pro career to date. There’s a lot to like with Studnicka, and the Bruins know that what they have is special- no need to rush to failure, but when the time comes, he’ll likely seamlessly slot right in and look like a seasoned veteran from the get-go.

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Jack Studnicka (Kirk Luedeke photo)

Chris Wagner- Another local and the 2019 Seventh Player Award winner for the B’s after signing as an unrestricted free agent the summer before is more of a depth piece on this deep forward group, but he’s a proven grinder and NHL commodity who brings a junkyard dog mentality on every shift. Wagner may not be as talented as other forwards on the roster, but the coaches trust him to go out and grind, create space for himself, and use his nonstop motor and manic, relentless style to generate timely offense. We’ll admit it- we’ve always had a lot of time for Wagner going back to his days with the South Shore Kings, and while the advanced stats might not always break in his favor, he brings that positive x-factor to the Boston lineup and gives the team every ounce of his talent. He’s a worthy successor to the storied “lunch pail gang” legacy that the Bruins hang their (hard) hats on.

 

Meet me in St. Louie, Louie…B’s blow ’em out 7-2

14 down, 2 wins to go.

The Boston Bruins sandwiched dominant wins between an OT loss in games 1-3 of the Stanley Cup final series, smashing the home St. Louis Blues by a 7-2 score Saturday, including 4 power play goals, a first with Torey Krug’s 4-point night- the only time a Bruin has tallied that number in a final game, and another top effort in net from Tuukka Rask.

Krug has been unbelievable in the playoffs, as has been Rask. I’s ironic that the two most polarizing players for Bruins fans are the ones who are the most deserving of Conn Smythe consideration should the B’s close the deal- and remember- 14 wins doesn’t win squat. Krug has been a man on a mission- always a player motivated by doubters and skeptics who just look at his smaller size and make judgments about his ability to be an impact NHL D. The same people who give big, mobile defensemen who are complete and total liabilities with the puck on their stick have little to no time for Krug, but his play has been so good this postseason, that even the most obtuse of haters out there have no choice but to be silent. It’s been great to see. Ditto Rask. He’s a world class talent in net who hasn’t always played like it, but to his complete and total credit- he’s thus far taken his game to the highest level, and that’s the difference.

Now, on to some other observations about Game 3…

The B’s got the scoring going when Patrice Bergeron tipped home a textbook point shot from Krug, the first of four man advantage strikes. In fact, the B’s logged just 2:06 on the four power plays they had, because they scored on a perfect 4 of 4 shots- 3 surrendered by Jordan Binnington and one final PPG given up by Jake Allen to Marcus Johansson late in the game.

The Blues have a problem. They don’t have the talent to match the Bruins player-for-player, nor do they have the experience this B’s club has. So, they have to play a tough, physical game- but the Blues were running around trying to level kill shots all night, and the end result was catastrophic for them: they can’t hit and intimidate if they cross the line and go to the box, because Boston’s lethal power play will absolutely make them pay…and it has, with PP goals in every game thus far. Game 3’s special teams play for the B’s was sublime, though- they became the first NHL playoff team to tally 4 power play markers in the SCF since the Colorado Avalanche did it against John Vanbiesbrouck and the Florida Panthers in 1996. For perspective, Charlie McAvoy was still over a year away from being born when that happened. The Boston PKers did surrender their first power play goal to the Blues in the series- a shot that hit Brandon Carlo and deflected in (both goals against Rask ticked in off the bodies/skates of B’s D).

With Matt Grzelcyk out of action thanks to a head hit from Oskar Sundqvist (suspended for Game 3), John Moore was next man up and played well. Although he’s been criticized for not having the anticipated impact when Don Sweeney signed him last July, Moore perfectly illustrates the disparity in depth the B’s enjoy over their Western Conference counterparts. Moore kept it simple and used his mobility to good effect, playing a strong defense-first game. The B’s are likely to be without Grzelcyk for the remainder of the series and Kevan Miller is done as well- yet the team’s D remains capable and up to the task.

Although Brad Marchand has yet to get untracked offensively in this series (and he was atrocious in Boston’s 3-2 OT loss in Game 2), Bergeron and David Pastrnak had nice bounce-back games.

But it is Boston’s third and fourth lines that have been the difference and exposed the disparity in depth between the clubs. After Charlie Coyle buried a perfect Johansson pass (secondary assist to Danton Heinen, who had his best game of the series) for his eighth goal of the postseason to make it 2-0, Sean “Clutch” Kuraly stunned the home crowd with a five-hole shot with just 8 seconds or so left in the opening frame to give the B’s a 3-0 lead. Kudos to Joakim Nordstrom, who, though entered the zone ahead of the puck, was not ruled offside because Blues D Joel Edmundson (man, has he been bad this series…P.U.!!!) carried it in…took it away from Edmundson and kicked it to Kuraly who trailed the play and buried the shot.

Blues hero Binnington was grody in Game 3…giving up 5 goals on 19 shots before getting the hook. He’s been beatable this series and isn’t playing with the kind of lights-out mentality that his team needs right now. Allen went in after Krug’s power play marker made it 5-1, but the B’s didn’t get much going in terms of shots until later on in the affair.

Noel Acciari even got into the scoring act- scoring the sixth goal into an empty net. He’s got one more goal in this series than does Blues sniper Jaden Schwartz…just saying. Ryan O’Reilly…sleeping giant? Let him sleep.

Overall, it was a statement game from the Bruins- on paper, we all know they are the better team. Saturday night at the Enterprise Center, they went out and proved it.

Bruins in their 3rd Stanley Cup Final since 2011

The Boston Bruins are back to playing for Lord Stanley’s glittering prize- they defeated the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 for the first NHL championship parade in Boston since 1972, came up short in 2013 against the Chicago Blackhawks and now join the Windy City team as the only the second team this decade to reach the SCF three times.

How did we get here?

Tampa Bay and Washington both flamed out in the first round, opening the door for the B’s (or as old Blue Eyes used to croon “Luck be a lady tonight…”) to handily defeat Columbus and Carolina after battling it out with the Toronto Maple Leafs in a second consecutive 1st-round seven-game barn-burner of a series. Out West, wagons like Calgary and 2018 SCF runner-up Vegas were knocked out in the first round as well. Not a bad draw when all is said and done, but no matter who you have to play- winning a championship is never easy.

Now, onto some thoughts on the players:

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What, us worry?

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Zdeno Chara (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

You mean to tell us that since two critical veterans went down with significant injuries, the Bruins are 3-0-2 with 8 points out of 10?

And that, dear readers, is why they play the games.

Given the Boston Bruins’ recent run of wins, welcome news despite not having two of the franchise’s faces out for at least 4 weeks or longer: captain Zdeno Chara and defacto captain Patrice Bergeron. The duo of future Hockey Hall of Famers are more than likely at the top of a short list of players that if you polled fans before the season, were the guys the team could least afford to lose for extended stretches of the 2018-19 campaign.

And yet, as the Thanksgiving weekend comes to a close, the B’s pulled out two close wins, a 2-1 OT contest against the underachieving Pittsburgh Penguins at home on Friday and then Saturday night’s 3-2 victory over the Montreal Canadiens, helping Boston secure the sixth-best record in the NHL to date. Of course, few would have guessed that the Jeff Skinner-led Buffalo Sabres would be sitting atop the league standings as November comes to a close, but that’s a story for another day.

In the meantime, let us focus on the Bruins and how they’ve put themselves in position to remain competitive despite suffering through some personnel setbacks that would cripple many teams in any league.

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