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 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:
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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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.
As 2020 came to a merciful end, (many) Boston Bruins fans were greeted with one more bit of unwelcome news this week as captain Zdeno Chara’s 14-season run with the team came to an end with news he accepted a one-year offer from the Washington Capitals at age 43.
It seems both unimaginable and inevitable that the greatest free agent signing in team history would end in a whimper the way it did with a sudden announcement that after months of little to no movement on the renewal of a contract that most supporters felt was sure to happen. Like former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield at the end of his major league career, it appeared as if the team and player had an unofficial deal to stay in Boston until both agreed that Chara’s playing days were over.
Clearly, that was not the case, as initial news brought anger and disbelief, especially when the base salary of $795,000 for the new season to exchange the black and gold for red, white and blue, came out. Chara’s deal calls for performance bonuses that would bring his total compensation to a $1.5 million AAV (per CapFriendly.com), but it was understandable that most fans would think it ridiculous that the Bruins weren’t willing to find the money to re-sign their captain, a player who had inked four separate contracts in Boston since he first came to town at age 29 in 2006.
However, as things are often the case with Hall of Fame-caliber players, and let’s be clear- four years after Chara calls it a career, whether in 2021 or later, he will be enshrined in Toronto- the truth of the matter is rarely black and white.
As the news has settled and more has come out on the negotiations that took place between Boston and Chara, both have said complimentary things and it appears that the following are both true:
The Bruins wanted Chara back for a 15th season as captain, but with caveats.
Chara was not willing to return to the team he cemented his legendary status with in a reduced role.
The purpose of this post is not to defend the organization for what did or didn’t happen to facilitate an icon’s departure, but to add context and provide food for thought to those fair-minded observers who are interested in what might have happened and why the team and player took positions they did. We weren’t there, so while we have been given some information based on sources familiar with the negotiations, this is merely one view on what might have happened.
It is fair to be disappointed that Chara and the team his greatest collective and individual accomplishments happened with couldn’t find a way to keep him until age 44 or when he finally calls it a stellar career. It is also fair to be okay with the realization that Chara is no longer the player he was and that his lack of mobility and inability to play in all situations like he once did means that the organization had to make a tough choice about answering the player’s questions about how he would be employed should he sign a fifth contract and third one-year extension since 2018.
The biggest challenge the Bruins face right now is with expectations for 2021. The team is coming off of a President’s Trophy as top regular season club in 2019-20 until COVID-19 forced the campaign’s pause in March. Prior to that, they took the St. Louis Blues to a seventh game of what would have been a second Stanley Cup championship team under Chara’s captaincy out of three trips to the final series. Given Torey Krug’s departure to those very Blues via free agency, fans have a right to be concerned about how the B’s power play and penalty kill special teams units will fare without two key anchors from a season ago.
From this view in the saddle, the issue so much isn’t Chara’s departure due to a fundamental disagreement between player and team over usage going forward and how to better manage the development other players in the organization, but more of a realization that without Chara and Krug, the Boston defense as a unit is almost certain to take steps backwards in 2021. In a few short months, we’ve gone from a team many thought might win a championship after the COVID pause resumed, to one that is on the outside looking in right now and in the immediate future.
Even if one or more of Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and even Jack Ahcan were all primed to step in and fill those roles vacated by Chara and Krug with much more certainty than what we’re currently dealing with, there would still be questions about their basic experience and ability to replicate the x-factor that such battle-tested veterans provided Boston over the last 5-7 years. That, in our view, is what is really at the heart of the negativity surrounding Chara’s departure. More than anything else, it’s a harbinger of darker times and a window that has essentially closed after the team watched other teams around the league get better while Boston’s biggest name addition in the offseason was complementary forward Craig Smith.
Boston lost the opportunity for a second championship in three years when they dropped a six-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, the dawn of Krug’s era as a PP staple in Boston, while Chara was still at the height of his two-way productivity as an all-situations stalwart. The B’s followed up that disappointment with a President’s Trophy in 2014, then lost in the second round of the playoffs to their hated rival Montreal Canadiens and subsequently missed the playoffs for two years before a renaissance largely sparked by Patrice Bergeron’s continued excellence, plus the emergence of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as offensive forces from 2017-20 brought the team back into contention. Charlie McAvoy is the heir apparent on defense as potentially the next top/franchise cornerstone defenseman in Boston.
And it is right for those who see the parallels between the B’s teams from 2013-14 and 2019-20 to point out that by allowing Chara to leave like this, things are setting up for another precipitous fall like the one we witnessed in 2015 and 2016.
Five years hence, the 2015 draft was a major missed opportunity. Though all three first-round picks are still in the fold and Jake DeBrusk has become a solid complementary scorer with the B’s, the chance to draft three driver-types didn’t happen, and has exacerbated the concerns surrounding the club’s current fortunes. We’ll not open that can of worms in the Chara piece at present, as the 2015 draft’s failings deserves its own treatment at some point soon, but the reality is- as the 2021 season dawns, the B’s have far more question marks on the left side of their defense corps than answers at present, and that is at the heart of the angst surrounding Chara’s exit.
Also at issue is the captain’s legacy and how things should have ended in Boston. One can certainly argue that he deserved better- a final curtain call in Boston and the ability to close out a two-plus decade career in the NHL that saw him endure as the league’s tallest player who evolved into a curious project into a dominant, Norris Trophy-winning, franchise icon who helped the Bruins organization to its first championship in nearly four decades, the first such accomplishment since Bobby Orr manned the Boston blue line. On several levels, it doesn’t make sense that the Bruins as a whole- whether you’re talking Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy or even ownership as a collective brain trust, wouldn’t see the black clouds gathering on the horizon and know that they would take a major PR hit by not closing the deal to keep Chara in the fold.
At the same time, we have to admire the team’s courage for looking at the situation and deciding that simply offering him a new contract to maintain a status quo in Boston and turn 44 in the midst of the new season without addressing what has been a declining return on investment, was a bridge too far. Right or wrong, what is always lost on fans and media members, no matter how well sourced they may be, are the team dynamics of what goes on behind the scenes. They are not sitting in the meetings that take place when leaders lay out the depth chart and talk through the myriad scenarios of player usage combined with future financial constraints and contract negotiations. No one is privy to the discussions that talk about who the team is likely to lose when the NHL’s newest expansion club, the Seattle Kraken gets to leverage the changed rules to build a far more competitive roster than all of the other NHL’s expansion clubs in history. We all watched the Las Vegas Golden Knights create a blue print for in 2017, and the Bruins are trying to manage the challenge of not losing a driver-type of player to Seattle because they didn’t know what they had in order to make the right decision when it comes to whom they protect and those who get exposed in the impending expansion draft.
Sound like excuse making? Perhaps. But, ask yourselves this: If Chara returned and continued to log key minutes in the rotation and on the PK and another player further down the depth chart departed either to Seattle or other club only to blossom as a top performer there, many of those same people unhappy about Chara’s departure would also savage the Bruins organization for allowing an aging veteran to hang on for so long and hindering the development of others in the system or at least- camouflaging their potential and preventing the B’s from making an informed decision on who to protect.
Building a winning team is a never-ending master-level jigsaw puzzle. It isn’t just about acquiring talent and skill but supplementing those stars with the right kinds of players who can come together and embrace a team’s structure and organizational values. Some fans might scoff at this quaint notion of the herculean task managers face at all meaningful levels, but the reality is- that’s why they’re fans. They might build a successful Twitter following, but they’ll never be part of a high-level team, nor will they understand the constant challenges of juggling the many dynamics needed to build a winning, championship team. For them, it is more about pointing fingers and playing to a crowd of like-minded toadies and sycophants in a social media echo chamber than thoughtful analysis and a fair-minded approach to what is going on. Like barking, clapping seals, they speak in absolutes they know nothing about. And that’s fine- it’s the world we live in, but it is also completely fair to point this out and call out some of the mind-numbing nitwits who have the loudest voices on matters they haven’t earned a shred of credibility to comment on.
What does seem to be playing out is this: the Bruins have put themselves at a disadvantage by selling off draft capital to remain competitive for playoff runs in recent years, but the time has come for them to start accruing picks and looking at building a better system. Prospects like Jack Studnicka and Mason Lohrei show significant promise as two of Boston’s most likely candidates to be drivers one day, but unlike many other teams around the league, Boston lacks the volume/depth of star power and pure skill/dynamic upside players in other systems who are on their way to the NHL in the next 3-5 years. The B’s have long done pretty well with savvy undrafted free agent signings to help bolster their draft misses and disappointments, but this puts tremendous pressure on the organization to find the rare players everyone else has not identified, and causes the GM to expend assets and capital on talent acquisition via trades and the bloated unrestricted free agent market.
Losing Chara to Washington stings, because he had so many amazing moments as a Bruin and was in many cases, the face of a franchise that had fallen on hard times when he was signed, and played a major role in a resurrection that ended with the Stanley Cup five years later and a near 10+ year run of sustained success. Just about everyone who rooted heart and soul for the Boston Bruins should be sad to see him go and appreciate what he did when he was here. But nothing, especially those lives spent in professional sports, lasts forever. Et tu, Tom Brady?
Those who are upset that Chara and the current core didn’t bring more championships to Boston have a point. Those who feel that Chara should have been treated a little differently so that he wouldn’t have felt the need to take his game elsewhere in the twilight of a tremendous career are also right. But so are those who understand that the business side of hockey sometimes means that you lose these battles and teams have to make highly unpalatable decisions because they truly feel that those are in the best interest of the club. No one has a crystal ball…sometimes, those tough decisions pay off and sometimes they don’t. But the Bruins felt that keeping the status quo for another year without addressing it with the captain was the wrong thing to do. Even if they had agreed to give him the role he was used to, would fans have demanded a change if he was unable to keep up, unable to make the plays needed for success at age 44? It’s easy to say that the team *should* have done what it took to keep him, but remember- Chara himself had a choice to stay and perform in the role that the team had for him. He chose a different path. It’s not just on the Bruins for that.
In the end, it may be precisely true that the Bruins take steps backwards in 2021. It seems a certainty in fact, that they will. But even if that happens, it does not stand as proof that the leadership lacks a plan or vision. Sweeney and his staff dug the club out of the malaise of 2015 and 2016 and built a squad that was three periods away from a championship just 1.5 years ago. History is never kind to those who are unable to close it out and attain ultimate victory, and those with an agenda to do so will almost certainly continue to overlook that or harp on the failures of the 2015 draft (without ever citing the multiple successes of 2014), but just because you feel strongly about something does not make it true.
We wish Zdeno Chara the best as he embarks on what could be one last hurrah with a new team. It’s a shame that he couldn’t finish his storied run in Boston, but like Ray Bourque before him, the show will go on.
Thanks for everything, Big Z- You were everything we thought you would be when you signed 14+ years ago…and then some.
Dominic Tiano is on fire, and brings us another intriguing piece laying out a scenario in which the Boston Bruins could potentially work a 1-year contract with unrestricted free agent Mike Hoffman into their current cap crunch (while also making a Zdeno Chara extension work). No one does cap maneuvering like Dom does, so sit back and enjoy his latest. -KL
The COVID-19 pandemic has affected all of us individually in one form or another. It has also affected the arts, entertainment and the sports world.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past 9 months, there is no need for me to explain how the pandemic has affected the National Hockey League, your favorite team, or your favorite player so, we won’t go there.
When it comes to unrestricted free agents in the NHL, maybe no one has been more negatively impacted then one Mike Hoffman. While the likes of Taylor Hall, Alex Pietrangelo and others signed contracts relatively quickly, Hoffman waited. It’s not that there weren’t offers on the table for him.
But why wait in a world with as many financial question marks as the NHL has? Were there only one-year offers being thrown his way? Was he adamant that any contract be a long-term deal? Not according to his agent Robert Hooper who made it clear they’d be willing to accept a one-year offer. (By the way, it must be noted that Hooper is also the agent for David Krejci.)
Could we see the two Hooper clients skating side-by-side on TD Garden ice (or wherever they may be playing) for the 2021 NHL season? When free agency began, Hoffman was being linked to the Bruins by many in the hockey world. Over the last couple of days, those links to Boston have been resurrected. As they say “where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
As free agency moved along, we saw the cap space the Bruins had begin to evaporate after signing Kevan Miller, Matt Grzelcyk, Craig Smith and Jake DeBrusk all while waiting on a decision by Captain and future Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara and his plans.
The independent website CapFriendly currently shows the Bruins with $2,982,686 in cap space for the upcoming season. So how could the Bruins possibly fit a player of Hoffman’s caliber with the little wiggle room they have? It’s doable. And they could even fit Zdeno Chara in.
At the top of the list is what the Chara decides to do. You could almost bet that if Chara was to return, that he would eat up the majority of the cap space the Bruins have remaining. Would Chara be open to returning on a deal with a $1.5 million cap hit with performance bonuses? (I believe we’ll have an answer to the Chara questions before the holidays, if not sooner.)
Assume that he would. Would Hoffman agree to a one-year deal with a $5 million cap hit?
Under normal circumstances, the answer would be a resounding no. And I will be the first to admit that is a lowball offer for Hoffman. But we’ve seen in these uncertain times, players take less money on short term deals and wait out the ugly financial uncertainty that sits over the NHL’s head.
Many players took pay cuts. Braden Holtby, Justin Schultz, Tyson Barrie, Craig Smith, Tyler Toffoli, just to name a few. Not that they are on the same level as Hoffman but it’s the sign of the times. Under normal circumstances, most, if not all those players would have earned more.
What about term? Of the 278 non-entry level contracts signed since October 8, 2020: 167 were one-year deals (60%), 76 were two-year deals (27.3%), 21 were three-year deals (7.5%), 8 were 4 years deals (2.8%) and 6 were for 5 or more years (2.1%).
How does that compare to the 2019 free agency period beginning on July 1, 2019 through to October 1, 2019? There were 265 contracts through the free agency period, just 13 less than the current period. That breaks down as follows: 159 were 1-year deals (60%), 63 were 2-year deals (23.8%), 15 were 3-year deals (5.7%), 8 were 4-year deals (3.0%) and 20 were 5+ year deals (7.5%).
While 1-year contracts went unchanged percentage wise, there is a clear trend that suggests players and owners both moved away from long term deals in favor of 2-year deals, suggesting financial uncertainty plays a role.
Even if Chara and Hoffman did accept those terms, the Bruins would still be short roughly $3.5 million. Where could they possibly make that up?
In the short term, Long Term Injury Reserve could be an answer as they await the status of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Miller. That would at least buy them some time to get the cap in order.
But what about long term?
Since CapFriendly is the most trusted resource available when it comes to the NHL’s salary cap. Let’s continue by working off of their numbers.
Firstly, we need to add a defenceman in the form of Jakub Zboril if the Bruins are serious about giving him an opportunity. That reduces the cap space available to $2,257,686.
Secondly, we remove the Anton Blidh ($700,000) and Par Lindholm ($850,000) cap hits by sending them to Providence. That cap space now becomes $3,807,686 and a roster that resembles this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
DeBrusk – Krejci – Kase
Bjork – Coyle – Smith
McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner
Grzelcyk – McAvoy
Moore – Carlo
Lauzon – Miller
Zboril – Clifton
The most obvious answer if you ask Bruins fans in general would be to move Nick Ritchie and John Moore via trade. Combined, that would clear $4,248,925 in cap space but likely would require taking a salary back in return.
That brings us to Anders Bjork. Signed for three more seasons and a controllable $1.6 million cap hit, he would be more enticing to other teams since he would still be a restricted free agent when his deal expires and much easier to move without having to take salary back in the return.
That would leave a roster that would look like this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
Hoffman – Krejci – Kase
DeBrusk – Coyle – Smith
McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner
Grzelcyk – McAvoy
Moore – Carlo
Lauzon – Miller
Zboril – Clifton
That roster would leave the Bruins with $407,686 in cap space. So, how would you fit Chara in while still adding Hoffman?
It’s likely that any Chara contract would come with some sort of performance bonus. Here’s the issue: Both Jaroslav Halak and Kevan Miller deals include performance bonuses with easily attainable numbers totalling $2 million. The Bruins could use the bonus overage and defer that to the 2021-22 season when David Backes’$1.5 million retained cap hit comes off the books. That’s just replacing Backes’ “dead money” with even more “dead money”. A Chara performance bonus just makes that even greater. And they’re already deferring $964,222 from the 2019-20 season.
No one really knows which direction Bruins cap genius Evan Gold will take. One thing I have faith in is that he will figure it all out. Back to the subject at hand.
Unless the Bruins plan on moving out one of their core players with big cap hits, the only viable solution to these eyes is moving Moore. And to move him without taking any salary back may just mean that you are going to have to move a prospect or a pick to entice a team. That’s where I look at a team like Detroit, who are rebuilding, stockpiling draft picks and prospects and have cap space. And Detroit only has two defencemen signed beyond this upcoming season, and just five if you’re counting prospects. Maybe you could package Bjork and Moore together to a team like Detroit. Bjork would certainly fit into what Steve Yzerman is trying to accomplish in Motown.
If the Bruins can make that happen then we have a roster that will look like this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
Hoffman – Krejci – Kase
DeBrusk – Coyle – Smith
McKegg/Ritchie – Kuraly – Wagner
Grzelcyk – McAvoy
Chara – Carlo
Lauzon – Miller
Zboril – Clifton
That would leave the Bruins with $1,657,686 in cap space and a 23-man roster. That space can be used to eat up performance bonuses, or be used at trade deadline or more likely to get Chara and Hoffman signed to deals they could likely get somewhere else. Especially Hoffman as $5 million is going to be on the light side. Then again, no other contender can afford much more than that.
The purpose here isn’t intended to suggest any or all of this is going to happen. Its intention is to suggest that there are options and that financially, the Bruins could make it work. There’s been plenty of negativity on social media about the handling of the cap when it comes to the Bruins, especially after GM Don Sweeney signed Miller to his contract.
Time after time after time we’ve seen NHL GM’s work themselves out of a cap issue. We’ve even seen Sweeney do it himself with Matt Beleskey and Backes. Hindsight is 20/20 but he was able to do what he needed to do to rid himself of those deals. Yes, of course, they came at a cost. At the same time, Sweeney recognized it was a misjudgement and did what was best for the Boston Bruins.
As was the case in 2014, the President’s Trophy-winning Boston Bruins bowed out in the second round, this time to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The series ended with a 4 games to 1 victory by the ‘Bolts, who after stumbling in periods 1-2 of Game 1, turned around and carried play for pretty much the rest of the series.
The Lightning used a combination of superior speed, skill, toughness and disruption to prevent the Bruins from ever really mounting much of a serious challenge.
Boston could have won Game 2, but the goaltending from Jaroslav Halak was average, and after losing in OT given a major momentum swing with Brad Marchand’s late equalizer, the B’s were completely overmatched in sudden death and what could have been a 2-0 series advantage, swung decidedly into Tampa’s favor.
The Bruins were blown out in Games 3-4 and though they showed some real fight in Game 5, it wasn’t enough. As he had done for much of the series, defenseman Victor Hedman ended Boston’s season with an outside shot that got through Halak with Torey Krug battling in vain at the top of the crease.
Game over, season over. What next?
The loss of Tuukka Rask two games into the playoffs certainly didn’t help, but the B’s simply didn’t get enough from their entire roster against Tampa.
There were too many passengers- not enough big-game guys to make up for the ability for Tampa to get to the net and score a lot of goals on tips, deflections and redirections.
You can’t say enough about what Zdeno Chara has meant to the Bruins franchise, but he played too much and was exposed. Jon Cooper’s crew aggressively attacked him every time he had the puck and he simply couldn’t move quickly enough or get rid of pucks fast enough without costly turnovers. It’s tough to limit the captain and 1st ballot HHOFer’s minutes, but that needed to happen and didn’t.
The Boston defense as a whole was porous and simply not effective enough at both ends of the ice. With little offensive production and too many defensive miscues to overcome, the defensive corps wasn’t able to make enough plays in front of Halak.
As for Halak, he wasn’t good enough after a strong Game 1 performance. He gave his club a chance in Game 5, but Games 2-4 were average at best, and average doesn’t win championships. Without a strong defensive effort, it was going to be a long road to hoe for the veteran Slovak, and he needed to steal a couple of games to win the series. Didn’t happen, especially given a lack of offensive support.
Aside from Marchand, Boston’s offense was consistently inconsistent and there wasn’t enough scoring from the forwards. Ondrej Kase seemed to be around pucks for grade A scoring chances, but…no finish. Jake DeBrusk’s streakiness is an issue, because if he isn’t scoring, he isn’t doing much. David Pastrnak didn’t generate enough scoring given his talent. Patrice Bergeron was great defensively, but struggled to impose his will on the offensive side. David Krejci had a critical tying goal in Game 5, but was held off the scoring for a large swath of the series. Injuries impacted Boston’s depth up front and the team simply didn’t get enough from Nick Ritchie, Kase and others they counted on to be difference makers when it mattered. And so on.
We could go on, and in the coming days, there will be more detail spent to looking at what went wrong and where to go from here. It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially given the way things ended in 2019, but there are positives to analyze as well. Don Sweeney and Company will take the time to assess and move forward. There is no other alternative given the circumstances.
Time to let the dust settle and see what happens next. More to follow…
That’s the way (uh huh uh huh) Halak it (uh huh uh huh)
With apologies to 70’s disco icon Harry Casey aka KC (and his Sunshine Band), Jaroslav Halak was the difference in a 3-2 Boston Bruins victory in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series against the second-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning.
He shut out the ‘Bolts for nearly 50 minutes, putting up a especially impressive second period whitewash with the Bruins up by a pair of goals by Charlie Coyle (late in the 1st) and David Pastrnak, allowing the Black and Gold to go up by three on Brad Marchand’s early third period tally.
A pair of Victor Hedman goals, the first of which was certainly stoppable, weren’t enough for Tampa to complete a comeback, giving the B’s a crucial win to bolster their confidence.
Halak, thrust into the spotlight after Tuukka Rask left the team and Toronto bubble to attend to important family matters, is showing just how valuable he is by providing the Bruins with a 1a-caliber starting backup. With a lesser No. 2 on the roster, Rask’s sudden departure would have been a death sentence. Instead, Halak is reminding everyone of his first NHL playoff foray a decade ago, when he was integral in helping the Montreal Canadiens reach the conference final, upsetting the heavily-favored Washington Capitals that spring, the 2009-10 President’s Trophy-winning squad.
Halak won’t win many contests on style points, but he gets the job done. A throwback type netminder who is well below the NHL’s height average, Halak is a pure battler who uses his instincts to square up, set his feet and let pucks hit him. He might not operate with the cool, Ice Man-like demeanor of Rask, but he’s been lights-out since stepping into the starter’s crease in Game 3 of the B’s-Carolina series, winning 4 straight contests.
Halak is just the fourth goalie over age 35 to post four straight playoff dubs for the B’s, joining esteemed company in Gerry Cheevers, Eddie Johnston and Tim Thomas.
The B’s didn’t execute a textbook gameplan on Sunday; they were in control and cruising but sagged in the last 10 minutes and opened the door for their opponent. They’ve got to tighten up defensively, and for the love of Pete- work on hitting an empty net!
But, in this case at least, their goalie was the difference- the x factor. Halak bent but didn’t break- and if not for him, Boston would not have had a strong lead to protect.
Not since the days of Andy Moog and Reggie Lemelin has the team enjoyed a one-two punch of veteran goalies who can deliver the wins at crunch time.
There’s room for improvement, but for now, Halak is getting it done. The rest of the team has an opportunity to follow suit, as we have yet to see the best hockey from this group, who were the NHL’s top team when the league got paused in March.
The Boston Bruins needed just two goals and a much better performance in net from Jaroslav Halak to close out the upstart Carolina Hurricanes Wednesday in Toronto, winning the first-round playoff series 4 games to 1.
Veteran core forwards David Krejci (who leads the B’s with 3 goals and 9 points) and Patrice Bergeron tallied second period power play goals, and the team weathered a back-and-forth third period including three minutes of 6-on-5 play to hold on and secure a bit of a rest for what is expected a second-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The game marked the return to action for David Pastrnak, who had several quality scoring chances but couldn’t finish (he did post helpers on both goals, however).
Halak wasn’t tested a ton, but after giving up the game’s first goal on a rising shot by defenseman Hayden Fleury, which hit the upper post near the crossbar then bounced into the back of the net and out, he settled in and was perfect the rest of the way.
At the other end, Petr Mrazek was outstanding, robbing Krejci with a mid-air paddle save, and also snagging a Torey Krug laser that would have given the Bruins three goals with the man advantage. His lone miscue was on the Bergeron goal, which the wily veteran scored from below the goal line by banking the puck off of Mrazek’s left skate and into the net.
Carolina has a good team and the series certainly could have gone in a different direction- Boston wasn’t particularly sharp in Games 4 and 5, but the reality is- they were the league’s top regular season team, and sometimes, simply being better means that the Hockey Gods will give you the breaks. In Carolina’s case, they are trending in the right direction and with their mix of veteran and impressive young talent, they will be heard from again.
Zdeno Chara was better defensively than he had in the previous contest, but near the end of the game, got caught out on the ice for an extended shift and instead of making an easy clear, hesitated just enough for Carolina to force a turnover and maintain possession in the offensive zone. The decisions have to come quicker for the captain- he can no longer rely on his enormous reach and experience- opponents will coach their teams to forecheck relentlessly and close the gap instantly. Chara has to make faster decisions and the team would be better served managing his minutes. In defense of Big Z- he made a critical goal-line clear earlier in the game when a puck squirted behind Halak and could have easily been knocked home. Those are the kinds of plays the 43-year-old future Hall of Famer keeps making, and he bailed out his team big time.
Tampa is going to prove a tough opponent- Brayden Point is white hot and the Lightning have plenty of scoring punch, defensive prowess and depth, plus some hard, heavy playoff types like Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman.
On paper, Andrei Vasilevskiy holds a significant advantage over Halak, but the B’s are starting to get their lineup going at the right time. And if we’ve learned anything about Halak, he’s got a record of playing above his head at crunch time and against superior opponents. We haven’t seen close to his best, but against a higher seed, he’s capable of delivering more.
We’d like to see more Anders Bjork and less Joakim Nordstrom in the Boston lineup going forward, but for now, the top lines are producing offense and the B’s are getting production from depth players.
We’ll have more as we learn whether Tampa will be the opponent, as it will take major comebacks by Washington or Montreal (who beat Philly last night to make it a series), but for now, the B’s will watch and wait.
Stars of the series:
David Krejci, C- Playoff Krejci is back- he torched the ‘Canes all series and his 9 points moved him into second place all-time in Bruins postseason scoring 112 points- just 49 behind Ray Bourque. Yep, he’s ahead of Boston icons like Esposito, Bucyk, Orr, Neely and Middleton. The guy just finds another gear when the games matter, and after a four-month rest to preserve his lighter-than-average frame, he looks primed for another memorable run.
Charlie McAvoy, D- He’s turning into the top 2-way guy he was projected as, scoring at a .5 points-per-game clip and laying a thundering hit on Jordan Staal in Game 4 to set the tone for a Boston comeback. The B’s dealt Dougie Hamilton one year before drafting McAvoy, and after watching the two go head-to-head in the series- it isn’t close. Hamilton has plenty of skill, but no real push to speak of. McAvoy took his game up a notch- and that’s why he’s on the verge of becoming one of the NHL’s top blueliners.
Brad Marchand, LW- The guy just finds ways to make plays at the highest pace and is a gamer. The Bruins need Marchand at his best, and he gave it a solid performance with room for improvement.