Game 7: Win or Die

Tuukka Rask (Photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

Well, here we are.

It’s Game 7 at TD Garden- last hockey game of the 2018-19 season for the honor of lifting the Stanley Cup overhead.

Boston Bruins are at home against the St. Louis Blues, who had the higher-seeded B’s on the ropes but couldn’t close the deal in Game 6. Now, it’s time to settle the matter of who will lay final claim to the title of world champions.

The B’s took a furious flurry of punches by the Blues in the early minutes of Game 6, with a frenzied, frothing-at-the-mouth crowd of St. Louis faithful hoping to see their team capture its first-ever Stanley Cup victory on home ice. Alas for them, Tuukka Rask and the more experienced Bruins had other plans.

Brad Marchand’s first period 5-on-3 goal drew first blood and the Bruins never really looked back after that, getting the winner from an unlikely source in defenseman Brandon Carlo, whose point shot skipped off the ice and past Jordan Binnington to make it 2-0 in an eventual 5-1 drubbing. Even rookie buzzsaw forward Karson Kuhlman got into the act, the undrafted free agent netting his first career playoff goal with a laser beam at the perfect time. It doesn’t hurt that Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff are pushing all the right buttons.

At the other end of the spectrum, it didn’t help that the St. Louis Post Dispatch accidentally pushed out some content meant for publication in the event that the Blues took care of business at home. That kind of an unforced error seems inconceivable in this day and age, and yet- it showed the decided lack of experience St. Louis has as opposed to Boston when it comes to the matter of winning championships. Whatever…those silly gaffes didn’t play a role in the big win the visiting team leveled on the Blues, but it does show how thirsty that team’s fans are for a Stanley Cup- something they haven’t enjoyed in the 52 years of the franchise’s existence.

So, now it ends. A new champion will be crowned tonight, and the momentum is with the Bruins.

Unlike Game 5, when the B’s had lost Game 4 to the Blues on the road, the home team is returning with the confidence of a big victory under the belt, and the experience factor may be just too much for the younger, upstart Blues to overcome. After all, Zdeno Chara is about to appear in his NHL-record 14th seventh game.

And the Bruins are no strangers to Game 7’s in the Stanley Cup Final- they went the distance eight years ago in Vancouver.  Different team, different situation, but the core of Boston’s veteran team saw it and lived it- they’ll know precisely what they’re up against tonight.  Only…they’ll have the pure energy of their fanbase behind them as the B’s play in the first SCF Game 7 in franchise history. The late, great Stevie Ray Vaughan will be watching from above, and he knows…nobody is gonna be a-knockin’ when that TD Garden gets a-rockin’.

The Bruins will be ready when the puck drops tonight and with an atmosphere reminiscent of the epic 1-0 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning to close out the 2011 Eastern Conference Final, the Black and Gold will have a full wind at their backs.

Last week, the Omaha Lancers of the USHL held the team’s main tryout camp at Ralston Arena in Nebraska, and a familiar face was on hand in our building to watch his son make the team. 2001-born forward Cam Recchi is a chip off the old block- looks like his dad and plays like him, too (which is great news for the Lancers). Cam was 10 years old when he watched as Mark lifted the Stanley Cup over his head one last time (as a player- he’s won 2 more since as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins organization) and skated off into the sunset with three rings.

As the time ticked down on Boston’s 2-1 Game 5 loss on the big screen televisions in the Ralston Arena’s Side Room lounge where Lancers players and their families gathered to watch a clash of titans, I stood next to Rex, one of the most beloved Bruins players in his three-season run to finish his Hockey Hall of Fame career.

“You guys lost Game 5 in Vancouver- what was the feeling going back to Boston for Game 6?”, I asked.

“We knew we were going to win the Cup,” Recchi said without missing a beat. “Vancouver was at their breaking point. They were worn down- it took everything out of them to beat us in that game, and we could sense they had very little left and momentum was in our favor.”

Swing it did, and the 2011 Bruins decisively beat the Canucks in two straight to secure the sixth Stanley Cup in franchise history, doing so on the road. The script didn’t quite play out the same way, but yet here we are- Game 7…winner take all.

“They’ve got this,” said Recchi as we walked away when the final horn sounded with the Blues up 3-2 in the series. “There are just too many experienced warriors in that room, and you can’t say enough about what that does for you.”

The Bruins are back home and in familiar territory, having beaten the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of their opening round series way back in April, which seems like a lifetime ago. The only thing is- they’ve had three more series of battles to hone their skills to a keen edge.

The Blues have done well to get this far- they are the heavy, nasty team we were all told they are. They’ve given the veteran club some serious punches, but as the old saying goes, If you’re going to kill the king, you’d better not miss.

The Blues took their best shot in Game 5 and had a chance to close it out in Game 6, but their trajectory went wide…and miss they did.

Tonight, the Blues are in the crosshairs.

Let the final game begin.

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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Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for the Bruins (pt 5)- Zdeno Chara

Editor’s note- After a bit of a hiatus, we’re firing up the What’s Next series with Dominic Tiano addressing what could be considered by some as the “elephant in the room” with the Bruins- Zdeno Chara’s future- as he enters the final year of his contract, signed back before the B’s won the Stanley Cup- a seven-year extension on October 10, 2010. He’s not the bell cow defender he once was, but Dom tries to present a balanced case for both sides here, and so we leave it to you, the reader, to decide…- KL

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Zdeno Chara returns for his eleventh season as the captain of the Boston Bruins (photo courtesy of Alison M. Foley)

It was January 7, 2017. The Boston Bruins were facing the Florida Panthers in the Sunshine State, a game they would win 4-0. But the biggest news from that game came when Panthers color commentator and Hall of Fame Defenceman Denis Potvin announced that he had a conversation with Zdeno Chara. Potvin stated Chara said he would like to play beyond his current contract and that he looks to Jaromir Jagr as inspiration. We now know, as reported by several media, that is the case.

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Dominic Tiano: What’s Next for the Bruins? (Part 3)

Editor’s note: We continue our series here at the Scouting Post on the end of the 2016-17 Boston Bruins season and 3 Amigo/guest columnist and fan favorite Dominic Tiano is here to provide his informed perspective once again. -KL

TSP founder Kirk Luedeke began this series once the Boston Bruins were eliminated by the Ottawa Senators Sunday from the Stanley Cup Playoffs. When he asked 3 Amigos Podcast Partners Reed Duthie and myself for our contributions, I immediately jumped on the task of shining some light on a few of the boys in Black in Gold that have, for a large part of the season, been “whipping boys” among the Bruins faithful.

Take this as one person’s opinion. Constructive criticism is always welcome but it is what it is, an opinion.

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Reed Duthie: Bruins are out…What’s next? (Part 2)

Editor’s note- Reed Duthie debuts at the Scouting Post with his thoughts on what could be on the horizon for the Boston Bruins personnel-wise. Reed is not only one of the 3 Amigos, but he is the accomplished play-by-play announcer for the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. With the hockey season over, we hope to see more of Reed’s contributions here in the offseason as a longtime follower of the Bruins and astute analyst.

You have to crawl before you can walk, and you have to walk before you can run. If this season was any indication, the Boston Bruins as a group are certainly finding their way, maybe not running just yet but certainly getting up to a brisk jog.

Although the end of season / early playoff injuries put the Bruins a hole they couldn’t recover from we learned a lot about this team in terms of heart and soul. The additions of traditional blue collar players like Noel Acciari & Sean Kuraly gave the Bruins an energy boost, while Charlie McAvoy made Bruins fans begin to dream in optimistic terms once again.

But after a hard fought loss where do the Bruins go from here?

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Bruins are out…what’s next? (Part 1)

For the sixth time in as many games in the Boston Bruins-Ottawa Senators 2017 NHL playoff series, the contest was decided by just one goal, and went to overtime for the fourth occasion. Unfortunately for the B’s and their faithful, an untimely David Pastrnak penalty (and it was a penalty, even though the men in stripes once again open themselves up to criticism by not calling other similar infractions in OT) opened the door for the Senators to send them home.

Given the tumultuous season that ultimately ended in what we feel is positive fashion despite the disappointing outcome (the B’s lost all three of its home games), there are reasons for fans to be optimistic about the organization going forward. Here are a few story lines to keep an eye on as the B’s made the postseason for the first time in Don Sweeney’s tenure as GM, and gave the Senators all they could handle. Some bounces here and there, and perhaps a little more consistency in the officiating, and who knows? Maybe the team could’ve pulled off an upset, but we see more reasons to  be positive than negative given where things stood in early February when Claude Julien was fired.

This post will focus on Bruce Cassidy and Charlie McAvoy as the team clears out lockers and begins the offseason. Other parts will look at different topics rather  than generate one gigantic 4,000-word (or more) post. Yes, the posts have been more and more infrequent- what can we tell you- professional and personal life has intervened and this is a side project. As always- appreciate the support of this blog.

Now, for the first in a series of “calling it like we see it” posts about the Bruins and where they go from here:

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Deconstructing the Claude Julien firing

About 24 hours ago, the Boston Bruins and GM Don Sweeney officially swung the Sword of Damocles that had been hanging over the organization and coach Claude Julien’s head for weeks (some would even say years), dismissing the franchise’s all-time wins leader and Stanley Cup champion behind the bench, setting off a firestorm of criticism online and in the media for the timing and way it was handled.

This post will attempt to analyze the move and the subsequent naming of assistant coach Bruce Cassidy as the B’s interim bench boss. It is by no means the first and last word on the matter, nor will it hit every bucket that the firing impacts. Whether you were someone who felt it was time to go and are angered that the team elected to do it on the morning of the New England Patriots’ victory parade, are someone who felt he was not the problem and are even more irate at the timing, or are someone who feels like the move had to be made and have no issue with it (and everyone in between), this piece will try to raise multiple perspectives and shed light on some of the other factors that led to where we are on Wednesday, February 8, 2017- nearly a decade after Julien was brought in on the heels of the failed Dave Lewis experiment.

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Jakub Zboril: the Good Cop-Bad Cop theory

good-cop-bad-cop-lego-movie

When the Boston Bruins drafted Czech defenseman Jakub Zboril 13th overall in 2015 out of the QMJHL’s Saint John Sea Dogs, few raised any eyebrows.

After all- the pick made sense at the time for myriad reasons: talent-wise, he was right around where he could and should go. He had posted a 13-goal, 33-point season in just 44 games in his first North American stint. He had the size, skating, puck skills, shot and even some physical nasty to his game to validate being chosen there. Defense was also becoming a major issue for Boston- then-GM Peter Chiarelli had traded veteran two-way machine & fan favorite Johnny Boychuk on the eve of the 2014-15 campaign for futures (well, as we type this Brandon Carlo is certainly thriving in the present) and he subsequently went off, posting a career-best 9 goals and 35 points, while Boston’s defense contributed to the late-season swoon that cost the B’s a playoff appearance for the first time since 2007. In short- Zboril was a typical crowd-pleaser in that not only did he address an obvious organizational need, but no one could screech loudly on Twitter and Internet message boards about his being a “reach” for the team where he was picked.

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