Tag Archives: Kevan Miller

DTFR Podcast #123- 2018-19 Atlantic Division Season Preview

Nick, Colby and Connor talk the Max Pacioretty trade, Eugene Melnyk’s latest antics, John Tortorella’s extension, Adam McQuaid and Steve Yzerman stepping down in Tampa. Also in this episode– DTFR’s official 2018-19 Atlantic Division preview.

Subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts (iTunes)Stitcher and/or on Spotify.

Boston Bruins 2018-19 Projected Lineup

If you wait long enough into the summer things start to look more concrete– until you really look at the nitty gritty.

The 2017-18 Boston Bruins were ahead of schedule. They exceeded expectations. They weren’t even supposed to have the kind of season they had until at least this season or next season (if that makes sense), depending on how you broke down General Manager Don Sweeney‘s master three-year plan.

Like everything, however, this offseason has had some ups and downs.

Without getting too much into the nonsensically named (okay, it was named after some videogame, read Bob McKenzie’s book Hockey Confidential— shameless plug) advanced stat “PDO”, let’s just say that whenever a team does really well for a season, they usually come back to reality the following season.

Hockey logic has indicated this in the past, what with the Chicago Blackhawks almost evenly spaced out Stanley Cup championships in 2010, 2013 and 2015 (notice, 2011, 2012 and 2014 did not result in Cups– kind of makes you think)– let alone all of hockey history.

A long season, while rewarding with a championship run (sometimes), is a grind.

Not trying to be Debbie Downer here, but let’s just try to look at things with a slice of realism for this season especially.

Last season they were “too young, too, too young”, but they amassed 50 wins and made it to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. This season they’re more experienced, but with an unknown and untapped source of depth in both their free agent signings and expected rookie debuts and sophomores.

Gone are Tim Schaller and Riley Nash— two quality bottom-six forwards who left for Vancouver and Columbus respectively in July. In their place we find Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom. Lateral– but necessary– moves.

The expectations coming into Schaller and Nash’s two-year deals in the 2016 offseason were that they’d contribute in some way, but nobody could predict Schaller becoming a legitimate fourth liner and Nash amassing 41 points (a career best) in a contract year.

While Wagner and Nordstrom aren’t your bottom-six fan favorites yet, they share similar parallels of the unknown and are expected to rise to the occasion– whatever that may be as Head Coach Bruce Cassidy will see fit.

Wagner’s your tough guy and Nordstrom’s a solid penalty killer. The latter will likely see some time with Sean Kuraly on a PK-unit a la Nash and Kuraly from this past season.

Also departed this offseason are defenseman, Nick Holden (signed with Vegas), and goaltender, Anton Khudobin (signed with Dallas).

In their place the Bruins signed blueliner John Moore and backup netminder Jaroslav Halak.

Moore’s five-year deal may seem like a bit much, but at $2.750 million per season, he’s making as much as Adam McQuaid for likely a bottom-pair role that’ll transform into McQuaid’s replacement, should Sweeney look to move the career-long Boston defender or not re-sign him in July 2019.

Despite being one-year older than Khudobin, Halak is an upgrade as a stable backup goaltender who’s numbers should improve in a more limited role with a better group of skaters in front of him than his now former New York Islanders teammates were the last few seasons.

Pointless arguments can be made all day (Halak is better than Khudobin), but let’s move on with the actual lineup projection, shall we?

Actually, let’s digress for another moment. Rick Nash remains undecided about whether or not he’d like to return to the game, so that could always mess everything up.

Anyway, here’s a look at how the Boston Bruins 2018-19 lineup should shape up:


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Forward Line 1

63 Brad Marchand — 37 Patrice Bergeron — 88 David Pastrnak

Isn’t it obvious? The best line in the NHL from 2017-18 rolls right into 2018-19 intact with the same level of chemistry as before. Sure, you could spread out the points a bit by putting Pastrnak on the second line with David Krejci, but you really don’t have to unless you’re looking to shake things up a bit from time to time.

Boston’s first line is set for at least the remainder of Patrice Bergeron’s existence– ignoring contracts altogether. Brad Marchand is inseparable from Bergeron and Pastrnak has joined that royalty in his own right, as he continues to emerge as a star.

Forward Line 2

74 Jake DeBrusk — 46 David Krejci — 10 Anders Bjork/17 Ryan Donato

Jake DeBrusk and Krejci go together like Milan Lucic once did on the Czech center’s left side. Except there’s a bit of a difference in DeBrusk’s game– it’s more offensive. The bigger question on Boston’s second line shouldn’t be “what top-six forward will they try to acquire to fill a ‘hole'”, but rather “who will win the job between Anders Bjork and Ryan Donato?”

For the sake of testing things out in the wake of Bjork’s return from a season-ending injury in 2017-18, Cassidy could insert No. 10 on the second line. Then again, if the Bruins are set on giving Donato a big-time role for a full season, well, then it’ll be Bjork sliding down to line three or line four.

Donato could be like Pastrnak once was early in his development and be sent to Providence for some seasoning in his game and offensive capabilities at the professional level. However, one difference between Donato’s development and Pastrnak’s development is that Donato stood out on an Olympic level, not just in an international World Junior Championship competition.

But if you’re looking to give props to Pastrnak, it’s worth mentioning (albeit due to international/minor league transfer rules) that No. 88 in black and gold went pro before Donato while No. 17 in the spoked-B finished his bona fide duties at Harvard University.

Or just to mess everything else up, perhaps Bjork starts 2018-19 with a stint in Providence.

Forward Line 3

43 Danton Heinen — 52 Sean Kuraly — 42 David Backes

Whoever doesn’t win the second line right wing job (Bjork or Donato) should likely end up on the third line in Boston alongside Danton Heinen and Sean Kuraly. Kuraly, you say?

Yes, Kuraly will be tested out as a third line center as had been planned since he was part of the Martin Jones trade with the San Jose Sharks. Just how far will his bottom-six forward potential go? Time well tell and the time is now.

Otherwise Joakim Nordstrom slides right into Riley Nash’s old job much like how he’s already slid into the No. 20 sweater in the Hub.

Forward Line 4

14 Chris Wagner — 20 Joakim Nordstrom — 55 Noel Acciari

Then again, if Bjork or Donato slide just enough, they might end up taking a job from Noel Acciari on the fourth line. Or just maybe Sweeney can console armchair GMs enough with some level justification for having Backes on the fourth line at $6.000 million per season through the 2020-21 season.

For fans and armchair GMs alike that like a lot of hitting, Chris Wagner is your man. He’s basically the new Matt Beleskey, but without the expectations that ran rampant after Beleskey’s incredible 2015 Stanley Cup Playoff run with the Anaheim Ducks.

Otherwise, it’s pretty much status quo on the fourth line, despite some new faces in Wagner and Nordstrom– provide a spark. Whatever that is.

Defensive Pair 1

33 Zdeno Chara — 73 Charlie McAvoy

Zdeno Chara wants to play forever (basically) and Charlie McAvoy is the closest thing Bruins fans have seen to a modern-day Ray Bourque in his development and potential.

On a serious note, Chara intends to play for at least another four years (by then he’ll be 45) and signed a one-year extension (at a $5.000 million cap hit) this spring for the 2018-19 season. McAvoy, on the other hand, seeks to continue his rise to stardom on the blue line moving on to his sophomore season.

Defensive Pair 2

47 Torey Krug — 25 Brandon Carlo

There’s an impetus among armchair GMs to trade Torey Krug for a second line wing and/or other assets, but the fact of the matter is Sweeney and Co. have no legitimate rush to move on from Krug. He might be their biggest piece of trade bait for speculative purposes this season, yet he’s also still part of the top-four defensive core in Boston.

Meanwhile, Brandon Carlo looks to rebound from a bit of a sophomore slump in which he failed to score a goal. Carlo and Krug had a chemistry that– at best of times– worked well in 2017-18. Like any defender, though, mistakes are usually noticeable, because there’s a puck in the net behind them.

Defensive Pair 3

27 John Moore — 86 Kevan Miller

You’re not going to pay John Moore $2.750 million for the next five seasons to not play him, whereas a guy like Matt Grzelcyk or Brandon Carlo could be at risk of becoming a healthy scratch– and that’s assuming Adam McQuaid who also has a $2.750 million cap hit this season already will be a healthy scratch most nights.

In the meantime, Kevan Miller has solidified himself as the 5th or 6th defenseman in Boston– for his physicality and impressive play alone– and could further take on McQuaid’s fighter role this season as a deterrence from the waning role of the enforcer around the rest of the league.

Extra Skaters

48 Matt Grzelcyk, 54 Adam McQuaid

Following suit with last season, Grzelcyk will have to win his full-time role out of the gate once again, while McQuaid’s future status with the organization remains cloudy past 2019. So cloudy, in fact, that he’ll be a pending-UFA as of July 2019.

In the system

Zach Senyshyn (potential second line RW/bottom six contender), Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson (bottom six contender), Jesse Gabrielle (fourth line option at camp), Trent Frederic (bottom six contender), Jack Studnicka (bottom six contender at camp), Jakub Zboril (bottom pair defensive contender), Jeremy Lauzon (bottom pair defensive contender), Zane McIntyre (backup goalie contender at camp), Dan Vladar (backup goalie contender at camp)

Goalies

40 Tuukka Rask

Tuukka Rask is your starting goaltender as he has been since Tim Thomas decided to take a gap year (and was subsequently traded to the Islanders). There is no goaltending controversy, though Jaroslav Halak should provide more consistency in net on the night’s Rask gets to rest.

In addition to finding the right mix of rest and play, fewer shots against for the third consecutive year since facing a career high 2,011 shots in 70 games in 2014-15 has helped Rask’s focus throughout the season as the Bruins look to go further as a team.

You win and lose as a team– not solely as a goaltender.

41 Jaroslav Halak

Yes, Anton Khudobin bounced back from a disappointing 2016-17 season to an exuberant 2017-18 season, but let’s get this clear– he’s a backup. Khudobin bounced around a bit from the NHL to the AHL and back again in 2016-17, posting a 2.64 goals against average and .904 save percentage in 16 games played.

He then had a 2.56 GAA and .913 SV% in 31 games as Boston’s backup in 2017-18, which was good enough for his third best season in GAA and SV%, dating back to his first real taste of being a backup NHL goaltender in 2012-13 with Boston (Khudobin appeared in seven NHL games from 2009-12 with Minnesota and the Bruins in dire situations).

The thing here is a 2.56 GAA is not starting netminder material, no matter how you break down Khudobin’s overall improvement from 2016-17 to 2017-18.

In the meantime, Jaroslav Halak is poised for career-reset. He’s got a change of scenery from Brooklyn to Boston and with that he won’t be playing in nearly as many games.

Halak had a 3.19 GAA and .908 SV% in 54 games as New York’s starting goalie, keeping in mind the Islanders suffered a lot of injuries on the blue line last season. He also nearly doubled his workload from a dismal 2016-17 (28 games played) to 2017-18 (54 GP).

In 2015-16, Halak had a 2.30 GAA and .919 SV% as the Islanders backup netminder in 36 games played. Khudobin, on the other hand, appeared in nine games for the Anaheim Ducks that season, amassing a 2.69 GAA and .909 SV% before being sent down to San Diego (AHL).

The moral of the story here is that the Bruins have been about giving backups second chances in recent history, whether that’s Chad Johnson, Jonas Gustavsson, Khudobin and now Halak– they’re willing to take that gamble.

Okay, end Halak vs. Khudobin rant.

Lightning thunder back to even series with 4-2 win in Game 2

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Tampa’s second line of Brayden Point, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat got the job done in Game 2 as the Lightning won, 4-2, on Monday night at Amalie Arena— leveling their Second Round series with the Boston Bruins, 1-1.

Andrei Vasilevskiy had 18 saves on 20 shots faced for a .900 save percentage in the win, while Boston’s Tuukka Rask made 27 saves on 30 shots against for a .900 SV% in 58:34 time on ice in the loss.

Tension escalated quickly in Game 2 as Cedric Paquette was handed a roughing minor for his activity with David Backes after the whistle just 5:30 into the action. Backes, meanwhile, was handed two roughing minor penalties and the Bruins were shorthanded as a result. Tampa did not convert on their first power play opportunity of the night.

Exactly halfway through the first period, Boston defender, Torey Krug, was called for slashing Point with a quick chop across the shin pad and the Lightning went on their second power play of the game.

While on the penalty kill, Zdeno Chara accidentally bumped into the net, forcing it off its moorings. Almost a minute went by before the officials realized what was up behind Rask and blew the whistle to cease play.

The Lightning won the ensuing faceoff, worked the puck down low, around the boards, then back to the point and finally to Yanni Gourde (2) who lobbed a shot on Rask. The puck caught Rask’s right leg pad and deflected into the goal to put Tampa on the scoreboard first, 1-0, and give Gourde a power play goal at 11:47 of the first period.

Point (4) and Mikhail Sergachev (2) had the assists on Gourde’s goal and the Bolts were outshooting Boston, 10-0.

Almost a few minutes later, Johnson took a roughing penalty after a whistle, having been tangled up with Brad Marchand. Fifteen seconds later, Ryan McDonagh gave the Bruins a 5-on-3 advantage for running Marchand into the boards— though McDonagh was only assessed a minor penalty for roughing at 14:17

Just prior to their first power play opportunity, Patrice Bergeron recorded Boston’s first shot on goal, 14:01 into the game.

While on the power play, Ryan Callahan blocked a couple of shots, Boston worked the puck around the offensive zone really well and David Pastrnak rang the goalpost. The B’s did not convert on their two-man advantage.

Minutes later, while in the offensive zone, Bergeron sent a pass back to Charlie McAvoy as the 20-year-old defender snuck his way in from the point. McAvoy (1) fired a shot past Vasilevskiy for his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal and tied the game, 1-1, for Boston.

Bergeron (9) and Marchand (10) notched the assists on McAvoy’s goal at 18:30 of the first period.

After one period of play, the game was tied, 1-1, with the Lightning dominating the first half of the first period and the Bruins in complete control of the second half of the period. Boston trailed Tampa, 10-0, in shots on goal as the Bolts went up, 1-0, but the Lightning were held without a shot on goal for the last 8:33 of the opening period as Boston tied the game.

Tampa led in shots on goal (10-8), hits (13-9), takeaways (4-2), giveaways (5-4) and faceoff win percentage (65-35) after 20 minutes of play. Meanwhile, the Bruins led in blocked shots (8-4). Boston was 0/2 on the power play and the Lightning were 1/2 through one period.

After Tampa cleared the puck off glass, Point fed Johnson (3) on a rush that led to Johnson beating Rask, high-glove side. Point (5) and Palat (4) had the assists on Johnson’s goal at 10:14 of the 2nd period and the Lightning had a 2-1 lead.

Victor Hedman was penalized for holding Boston fourth liner, Sean Kuraly, at 10:31 and the Bruins went on their third power play of the evening. They did not convert on the man advantage.

Through 40 minutes of play, Tampa led, 2-1, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 18-13. The Bolts also led in hits (35-18), takeaways (6-4) and faceoff win percentage (64-36), while the B’s had an advantage in blocked shots (11-6) and giveaways (11-6) after two periods. Boston was 0/3 on the power play and the Lightning were 1/2.

The Bruins did not register a shot on goal in the last 9:14 of the second period and totaled over 23 minutes without a shot on goal through 40 minutes of action.

Tempers flared after Kevan Miller hit Point from behind and was dealt a boarding minor. Krug (roughing), Anton Stralman (cross checking) and Gourde (roughing) were all penalized for their actions in the scrum after the whistle, so neither team had a power play at 3:18 of the third period.

On a faceoff, moments later, Pastrnak attempted to lift Hedman’s stick and in doing so, sent the Lightning defender’s stick into his own face. This is— albeit by an unconventional definition— high-sticking, per the rulebook, as Hedman was cut from the play.

Pastrnak was sent to the box with a four-minute, double-minor at 7:31 of the third period. Boston killed off both penalties.

As Marchand attempted to clear the puck from his own defensive zone almost seven minutes later, he turned it over in the neutral zone, forcing a pass from Point to Palat for the breakaway.

Palat (2) capitalized on a high-glove side shot that beat Rask and gave the Lightning a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 14:08. Point (6) had the only assist on the goal as a result of Marchand’s costly turnover.

About a minute later, Krug (3) rocketed a slap shot past Vasilevskiy to cut Tampa’s lead to one. Pastrnak (13) and Marchand (11) had the assists on the goal at 15:58 of the third period.

With about 90 seconds remaining in regulation, Bruce Cassidy pulled his goaltender for the extra skater, but it was to no avail as Point (2) pocketed the empty net goal with about 25 seconds left in the game. Hedman (2) collected the lone assist as the Lightning put the game away, 4-2.

At the final horn, Tampa had evened the series, 1-1, with a 4-2 victory in Game 2 on home ice. The Bolts finished the night leading in shots on goal (31-20), hits (42-24) and faceoff win percentage (57-43), while Boston led in blocked shots (13-8) and giveaways (13-6).

The Bruins finished the night 0/3 on the power play and the Lightning went 1/4 on the man advantage.

The series shifts to Boston for Game 3 at TD Garden on Wednesday night. The winner will take a pivotal, 2-1, series lead and puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the game on NBCSN. Fans in Canada can tune to CBC or TVAS for their fill.

Bruins steal the thunder from the Lightning, 6-2, in Game 1

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Rick Nash (2-0—2), David Pastrnak (0-4—4) and the Boston Bruins ripped apart the Tampa Bay Lightning, 6-2, in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

Tuukka Rask had 34 saves on 36 shots faced for a .944 save percentage in the win for Boston, while Tampa’s netminder, Andrei Vasilevskiy, made 18 saves on 23 shots against for a .783 SV% in 59:18 time on ice in the loss.

Ryan Callahan was guilty of the first penalty in the series after tripping Bruins defender, Kevan Miller, late in the first period.

Boston converted on the ensuing power play just eight seconds later as David Pastrnak fired a shot from the point that Rick Nash (2) tipped past Vasilevskiy at 17:11 of the first period. Pastrnak (9) and Patrice Bergeron (8) had the assists on the goal that made it, 1-0, Bruins.

After one period of play in Tampa, Boston was leading, 1-0, on the scoreboard and, 13-11, in shots on goal. The Bruins also led in blocked shots (7-3) and giveaways (6-1). Meanwhile, the Lightning led in takeaways (4-2). Hits were even (11-11) as was faceoff win percentage (50-50) and the Bruins were 1/1 on the power play after 20 minutes (Tampa had yet to see a man advantage).

Bergeron (2) gave Boston a two-goal lead 42 seconds into the second period on a one-timer past Vasilevskiy. Pastrnak (10) and Brad Marchand (7) notched the assists on the goal after Pastrnak sold a drive to the net and passed the puck across the low slot to Bergeron for the shot on net.

Less than two minutes later, Dan Girardi (1) put the Lightning on the board, cutting the lead in half, with a slap shot from the point that deflected off of Bruins blueliner, Matt Grzelcyk, and went past Rask to make it a 2-1 game. Cedric Paquette (1) and Victor Hedman (1) had the assists on the goal at 2:31 of the second period.

Marchand thought he had a goal of his own midway through the period, but a delayed penalty ruled the goal dead as Pastrnak cross checked Tyler Johnson behind the play, giving Tampa their first power play of the afternoon.

The Bolts did not convert on the ensuing man advantage.

Shortly after killing off Pastrnak’s penalty, Rick Nash (3) fired a shot off the iron and in, giving the Bruins a 3-1 lead at 12:33 of the second period with his second goal of the game. David Krejci (7) and Pastrnak (11) had the assists.

Twelve seconds later, Jake DeBrusk was sent to the sin bin for interference and the Lightning went back on the power play.

This time, however, the Bolts would score thanks to an odd scenario for Rask. Boston’s netminder lost his left skate blade and couldn’t move across the ice as well, but fell victim to the fact that the only rule in which the whistle is blown for a goaltender’s equipment malfunction is if the goaltender’s mask comes off.

As such, Mikhail Sergachev (2) took advantage of a mostly empty net and brought Tampa within one, 3-2. Brayden Point (3) and Yanni Gourde (2) had the assists on the goal at 13:22.

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and trailed the Lightning in shots on goal, 25-18. Boston led in blocked shots (11-4) and giveaways (8-4), while Tampa led in hits (24-21) and faceoff win percentage (51-49).

Charlie McAvoy intentionally shot wide aiming to connect on a redirect and Marchand (4) finally got his first goal of the afternoon, giving Boston a 4-2 lead 3:32 into the third period. McAvoy (2) had the only assist on the goal.

Midway through the third, it was Boston’s first line again making magic happen as Pastrnak worked a pass off to Marchand, Marchand delayed the next move and circled with the puck and sent it over to Bergeron (3) for Bergeron’s second goal of the game.

Marchand (8) and Pastrnak (12) had the assists on Bergeron’s goal at 10:11 of the third period. Pastrnak completed a four-point day (all assists), giving the Bruins a 5-2 lead.

DeBrusk was sent to the box for cross checking about a minute later and the Bolts failed to convert on the ensuing power play.

With just under seven minutes remaining in regulation, Lightning head coach, Jon Cooper, pulled his goaltender for the extra skater. It did not work out the way he planned.

Fresh out the box, DeBrusk (6) rushed in on a pass from Marchand and buried the empty net goal at 13:41 of the third period. 6-2, Boston. Marchand (9) and McAvoy (3) had the assists and all of the Bruins first line forwards completed four-point efforts in the game.

At the final horn, the Bruins had won 6-2 and taken a 1-0 series lead.

Boston led in blocked shots (21-6) after regulation and trailed the Lightning in shots on goal (36-24) and hits (33-27). Tampa finished the afternoon 1/3 on the power play and Boston went 1/1.

Game 2 is set for Monday night in Tampa. Puck drop at Amalie Arena is expected a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can watch the action on NBCSN. Fans in Canada can follow along on CBC or TVAS.

DeBrusk and the Bruins eliminate Toronto in seven games

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First Star of the game, Jake DeBrusk (2-0—2 totals), and the Boston Bruins are moving on to the Second Round after a thrilling 7-4 victory in Game 7 on Wednesday night. The TD Garden crowd was roaring throughout the game as Boston eliminated the Toronto Maple Leafs from the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tuukka Rask made 20 saves on 24 shots against for an .833 save percentage in the win, while Toronto’s Frederik Andersen stopped 29 out of 35 shots faced for an .829 SV% in the loss. Rask improved to 2-2 all-time in a Game 7, as Andersen remains winless (0-3) in his career Game 7 action.

Bruce Cassidy started his Worker Bs line consisting of Tim Schaller, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari against Maple Leafs superstar, Auston Matthews, and the energy level cranked past 11 at puck drop.

Perhaps a bit too much for the Bruins, however, as Kuraly was penalized on a controversial tripping minor against Toronto defender, Jake Gardiner, 30 seconds into the action.

While Boston was struggling to settle their jitters, the Leafs pounced.

Patrick Marleau (3) opened the game’s scoring 2:05 into the first period with a tip-in from point blank and gave Toronto a 1-0 lead. Gardiner (2) and William Nylander (2) had the assists on the goal.

Gardiner fired a shot from the point into heavy traffic where Marleau used his stealthy hand-eye coordination to redirect the puck past Rask.

Entering Wednesday night, the team that scored first won five out of the six prior games in the series. In games where Toronto has led this series, they’ve won. All of that would mean nothing by the end of the night.

Morgan Rielly followed up with a minor penalty of his own, giving the Bruins their first power play, as the Maple Leafs blueliner was sent to the penalty box for delay of game (puck over glass) three minutes into the period.

As was tradition in the regular season, Boston’s power play had several chances, but could not capitalize on the man advantage until late in the power play.

After David Krejci kept the puck in the zone on a Toronto clearing attempt, the veteran Czech forward sent it to his fellow countryman, David Pastrnak, who quickly fired a purposeful shot looking for DeBrusk in front of the goal to redirect it. And that’s exactly what happened.

DeBrusk (4) redirected the shot into the net and the Bruins tied the game, 1-1, on a power play goal at 4:47 of the first period. Pastrnak (8) and Krejci (4) notched the assists on the goal.

The game wouldn’t be tied for long, however, as Marleau (4) scored his second goal of the night on a wicked wrist shot that beat Rask blocker side. Mitch Marner (7) had the only assist on the goal, having been responsible for the reverse pivot— fake shot on goal, turned pass— that was enough to sell Rask just out of position to stop Marleau’s shot.

Just over six minutes into the first period, the Maple Leafs had a 2-1 lead. It was the third time in three games that Boston allowed a goal about a minute after scoring.

Almost three minutes later, Danton Heinen (1), who had returned to the lineup after being a healthy scratch for part of the series, rocketed a shot past Andersen to knot things up, 2-2. Krejci (5) and Rick Nash (1) assisted on the goal at 9:10 of the first period.

Halfway through the opening frame of Game 7, there were 11 combined shots on goal. Four of them were goals.

Past the halfway mark, Leafs defender, Morgan Rielly took a shot up high— just above his upper lip— that caused a stoppage in play while the blueliner was attended to by Toronto’s athletic trainer.

The Bull Gang scrapped off the blood on the ice and play continued. Rielly would return for the second period after getting stitched up.

Rick Nash caught Zach Hyman with a high-stick at 11:30 of the first period and sent Boston on a penalty kill. The ensuing effort by both Toronto’s special teams and the Bruins penalty killers did not result in any goals allowed and Boston once again swung momentum in their direction, feeding off of the home crowd.

With less than a minute remaining in the opening period, the Bruins worked the puck into the offensive zone, whereby David Backes worked the puck back to Kevan Miller and the Bruins defender took full advantage of everything he had.

Miller shot the puck intentionally wide to attain a carom off the boards on the far side. The plan worked flawlessly as Patrice Bergeron (1) was crashing the net and put home the rebound off the boards to give Boston their first lead of the night, 3-2.

The assists went to Miller (2) and Backes (1) at 19:23 of the first period.

Through 20 minutes of Game 7, the Bruins led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and 12-10 in shots on goal. Boston also led in blocked shots (6-5) and faceoff win percentage (52-48), while Toronto led in takeaways (6-3) and giveaways (4-3). Both teams had 12 hits aside and one power play goal, as the Maple Leafs were 1/2 on the man advantage and Boston was 1/1 heading into the first intermission.

The Maple Leafs became the first team in NHL history to blow two separate first period leads in a Game 7, but fear not, that provided just enough motivation to take back the game’s momentum in the second frame.

Toronto stormed out of the gates to start the second period as Travis Dermott (1) converted on a Bruins turnover to tie the game, 3-3, just 2:07 into the period.

Roman Polak (1) and Nylander (3) picked up the assists on the goal as the B’s started a tumultuous period of sloppy play all over the ice.

Tomas Plekanec knocked down Brad Marchand away from the play at 4:56 of the second period and was assessed a minor penalty for interference. Boston’s power play proved to be powerless, especially after Torey Krug failed to keep the puck in the offensive zone.

With Marchand chasing after the puck, Kasperi Kapanen (1) stripped the Bruins winger of the rubber biscuit and dangled one past Rask on a beautiful individual effort for a short-handed goal to give Toronto the 4-3 lead just over six minutes into the period.

Boston allowed two goals on two shots on net to start the second period and were snake bitten leading up to the second intermission.

After 40 minutes of play, Toronto held a one goal lead— leading, 4-3 heading into the third period. Boston led in shots on goal (25-16), giveaways (6-5) and faceoff win percentage (58-42) after two periods and the Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (10-9), hits (26-22) and takeaways (14-4). Both teams were 1/2 on the power play.

Krejci and Hyman took matching roughing penalties about a minute into the third period, resulting in 4-on-4 action, early in the final frame of regulation.

Four seconds later, Krug (2) redeemed his poor second period play with a one-timer goal that beat Andersen after the Bruins won an offensive zone faceoff. Miller (3) and Bergeron (6) had the primary and secondary assists, respectively, on the goal that tied the game, 4-4, just 1:10 into the third period.

Moments later, Tyler Bozak and Rick Nash couldn’t keep their hands off of each other as Bozak interfered with the Bruins winder and Nash retaliated.

Boston was pressing harder than they had in the end-to-end action that concluded the first period. The Bruins were looking to be the ones to score the next goal and they did just that, thanks to one of their rookies.

After working the puck up the boards, Krejci sent a quick, short, pass to DeBrusk (5) who bolted into the offensive zone, slide the puck under Gardiner’s stick, while taking a hit and went five-hole on Andersen to give Boston their second lead of the night, 5-4, at 5:25 of the third period.

Krejci (6) had the only assist on the goal.

Six minutes later, after surviving counter attacks from the Maple Leafs, the Bruins were on the prowl again, working the puck deep into the offensive zone, where Marchand slid the puck to Bergeron.

Boston’s alternate captain tossed the puck to Pastrnak (5) in the low slot and the 21-year-old star held onto the puck just long enough to let Andersen overcommit and leave a gapping net open.

Pastrnak hit the twine and the Bruins had the first two-goal lead of the night, 6-4, at 11:39 of the third period.

With about three minutes remaining in regulation, Babcock pulled his goaltender for an extra skater and the Leafs went on the assault for a solid minute and a half until Riley Nash skated the puck out of the defensive zone and up to Marchand.

Marchand (3) brought it in just far enough to seal the deal with an empty net goal and gave Boston a three-goal lead with 51 seconds remaining in the game. Riley Nash (1) notched his first point of the series and the Bruins led, 7-4.

At the final horn, Boston had finished the Toronto in seven games— leading, 7-4, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal (36-24), hits (33-31) and faceoff win percentage (57-43). Despite the loss, the Maple Leafs led in blocked shots (10-9). Both teams scored one goal each on the power play, as Toronto finished the night 1/2 and the Bruins finished 1/3 on the man advantage.

Bruce Cassidy completed his first series win as a head coach and is now 1-0 in Game 7s for Boston, while Mike Babcock fell to 3-6 all time in Game 7s, split between Anaheim, Detroit and Toronto.

The Bruins are now 3-1 all-time in Game 7s against Toronto, having last beaten them, 5-4 in overtime, in the 2013 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.

Boston improved to 14-12 in Game 7s all-time, tying an NHL record for most Game 7 wins (14) with the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings. Wednesday night’s game was also the 26th Game 7 appearance in franchise history for the Bruins, surpassing Detroit’s 25 appearances for the league lead.

As a result of the win, the Bruins are moving on to the Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and will face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Since the Bolts won the Atlantic Division and secured the best record in the Eastern Conference, Tampa will have home ice in the series and Game 1 is set for Saturday afternoon at Amalie Arena.

Puck drop is scheduled for a little after 3 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBC. Canadian viewers can follow the action on Sportsnet or TVA Sports.

Maple Leafs force Game 7 after emotional win

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The City of Toronto has all our love after the tragic event on Monday.

For the first time since that game in 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will face each other in a Game 7 thanks to Toronto’s 3-1 victory on home ice in Game 6.

Frederik Andersen made 32 saves on 33 shots faced for a .970 save percentage as the Air Canada Centre crowd backed up their goaltender with enthusiasm all night. Boston’s Tuukka Rask turned aside 27 out of 29 shots against for a .931 SV% in the loss.

Both teams had great scoring chances in the first period— Brad Marchand even beat Andersen through the five-hole, but the puck deflected wide of the goal after catching some leg pad on its way through— but none of them changed the scoreboard from zeros.

Jake DeBrusk attempted to clear the puck out of the defensive zone around the halfway point of the opening period, but he got a little too much under the puck and sent it over the glass for an automatic delay of game penalty. The Maple Leafs were not able to convert on the ensuing power play.

Later in the period, Andersen made an acrobatic save while the puck was mid-air, having swatted it like a fly with the paddle of his stick to kill Boston’s chances at a rebound goal.

Entering the first intermission, the Bruins were outshooting Toronto, 17-10, and led in hits (11-8), as well as takeaways (4-1). The Leafs led in giveaways (3-2) and were 0/1 on the power play. Both teams had five blocked shots in the first period.

DeBrusk (3) got the Bruins on the board first with his third goal of the postseason 1:02 into the second period. David Krejci (3) picked up the only assist after winning a faceoff in the offensive zone after Toronto iced the puck. Krejci won the draw, got it back to DeBrusk at the top of the faceoff circle, who then promptly fired the puck through traffic and past Andersen.

Just 35 seconds later, Maple Leafs forward, William Nylander (1), tied the game, 1-1.

Nikita Zaitsev (1) and Jake Gardiner (2) were credited with the assists on Nylander’s goal at 1:37 of the second period after the Leafs beat the Bruins once again by virtue of the stretch pass.

Toronto thought they had the first lead change of the series when it appeared they had scored again moments later, but Zach Hyman had skated through the crease, taking Rask’s stick with him as the Bruins netminder was attempting to make a poke check.

The call on the ice was a goal, but Bruins head coach, Bruce Cassidy, used his coach’s challenge, asking for the play to be reviewed for goaltender interference.

Upon video review, the officials concluded that Hyman had reached the crease before the puck and interfered with Rask, thereby reversing the original call on the ice and reverting the score to a tie, 1-1.

Mitch Marner (2) would give the Maple Leafs the first official lead change of the series on a backhand goal at 13:25 of the second period. The goal did not come without controversy, however, as it appears Tomas Plekanec may have been offside entering the zone. Nonetheless, there was no review and the score remained, 2-1, for Toronto.

Plekanec (2) and Ron Hainsey (1) notched the assists on the goal.

Shortly thereafter, Kevan Miller, picked up a roughing minor against Kasperi Kapanen and the Maple Leafs went on their second power play of the night at 14:19 of the second period. Boston effectively killed the penalty and resumed even strength play.

Nazem Kadri slashed Riley Nash with about 10 seconds left in the second period, so the Bruins wound up with about 1:50 of their ensuing power play carrying over into the third period.

After 40 minutes of play, Toronto led, 2-1, on the scoreboard. Meanwhile, Boston led in shots on goal (26-22) and faceoff win percentage (64-36). The Leafs led in blocked shots (12-5), hits (19-16) and giveaways (11-10) entering the second intermission. The B’s were 0/1 on the man advantage and the Maple Leafs were 0/2.

Roman Polak and David Backes mixed things up a bit early in the third period as Backes was attempting to deflect the puck past Andersen. Backes caught Andersen with an elbow to the mask, but only matching roughing minor penalties were handed out to Polak and the Bruins forward at 1:53 of the third period.

Toronto ended up with a rare 4-on-3 power play after Charlie McAvoy served a minor penalty for tripping Kadri. The Leafs were not able to convert on the two-man advantage.

The Bruins ended up on their final power play of the night at 14:17 of the third period after Marner sent the puck over the glass and out of play for a delay of game penalty. Boston did not convert on their special teams opportunity and gave up a couple of tremendous shorthanded scoring chances for the Maple Leafs.

Auston Matthews moved in on Rask in the midst of a two-on-one, but was denied by a vintage-looking poke check whereby Rask slid across the crease on his stomach.

Cassidy pulled his netminder with 80 seconds remaining in regulation for an extra attacker, but things went sour fast.

Four seconds after Rask vacated the goal, Plekanec (2) forced a turnover while Patrick Marleau delivered a check to Backes behind the play. Plekanec pocketed the empty net goal that sealed the deal, 3-1, for Toronto. Marner (6) and Zaitsev (2) were credited with the assists on the empty net goal at 18:46 of the third period.

The Bruins pulled their goaltender for an extra skater again with around a minute remaining in regulation, but could not muster any legitimate scoring opportunities.

After the final horn had sounded, the Maple Leafs celebrated their Game 6 victory, while Boston lamented outshooting Toronto, 33-30, but trailing in blocked shots (23-6). Hits were even (23-23), as were giveaways (11-11), but the Bruins also led in faceoff win percentage (63-37), despite losing.

Neither team scored a power play goal as Boston finished 0/2 and Toronto went 0/3 on the night.

For the first time in the series, the team that scored the first goal of the game did not win.

Game 7 is scheduled for Wednesday night at TD Garden in Boston. Puck drop is set for a little after 7:30 p.m. ET and viewers can tune in on NBCSN in the United States, as well as CBC, Sportsnet and TVA Sports in Canada.

In 2013, it was the Bruins overcoming a 4-1 deficit in the third period for a 5-4 victory in overtime of a Game 7 less than a month after the 2013 Boston Marathon— and having led the series 3-1 before losing Games 5 and 6.

In 2018, it’s the Maple Leafs on the verge of making what could become a deep playoff run after a horrific event took place in their city before Game 6. Once again, Boston had a 3-1 series lead entering Game 5.

For the last series remaining in the First Round— and only one to go seven games— it’s anybody’s game. And Wednesday night, it’s game on.

Pastrnak propels Bruins to 3-1 win in Game 4

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David Pastrnak’s two-assist night contributed to the Boston Bruins 3-1 victory in Game 4 on Thursday night at Air Canada Centre. Boston holds a 3-1 series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs heading into Game 5 Saturday night on home ice.

Tuukka Rask made 31 saves on 32 shots faced for a .969 save percentage in the win for the Bruins, while Frederik Andersen stopped 18 shots out of 21 shots against for an .857 SV% in the loss for Toronto.

The City of Boston and the rest of New England collectively held its breath as Patrice Bergeron was not on the ice for warmups prior to Game 4 in Toronto. The Bruins tweeted that Bergeron would be out of Thursday night’s action and listed as “day-to-day” with an “[u]pper body” injury.

With Tommy Wingels back in the lineup, Riley Nash moved into the first line center role alongside Brad Marchand and Pastrnak.

Nash won the opening faceoff and the Bruins entered the offensive zone. Pastrnak worked the puck from along the right side boards back to Kevan Miller at the point. Miller then slid a pass to his fellow blueliner, Torey Krug (1), who then fired a shot past Andersen as Nash was screening the Toronto netminder.

Krug’s goal, his first of the postseason, came 28 seconds into the matchup and was assisted by Miller (1) and Pastrnak (6).

Entering Thursday, the team that scored first in each game went on to win that game in the series. 

Shortly thereafter, things started to go Toronto’s way as Mitch Marner entered the offensive zone on a two-on-one with Patrick Marleau. Marner sauced a pass over Boston defender Charlie McAvoy’s stick and Marleau got off a one-timer that was denied by Rask.

Almost midway through the first period, Marner and Marleau played a vital role to Tomas Plekanec (1) scoring his first of the series. Marner stripped Riley Nash of the puck and moved it to Marleau.

The veteran NHLer in his first postseason with the Maple Leafs quickly moved the puck to Plekanec who fired a one-timer past Rask’s blocker side as the Bruins netminder was moving right to left.

Marleau (1) and Marner (4) were credited with the assists on the goal that tied the game, 1-1, at 7:43 of the first period.

Jake DeBrusk was guilty of the only penalty of the game when he hooked Maple Leafs forward, William Nylander, at 15:08 of the first period. Toronto failed to convert on the ensuing power play.

Boston and Toronto were tied, 1-1, entering the first intermission with the Maple Leafs leading in shots on goal (12-7), takeaways (3-1) and giveaways (5-1). The Bruins led in hits (18-13) and had yet to see time on the man advantage. Toronto was 0/1 on the power play.

Midway through the second period, Marner had a breakaway with speed and all but certainty of scoring a goal, except for the fact that his backhand shot was stopped by Rask.

Shortly thereafter, the Bruins were the ones on the charge after winning a faceoff near the end of a shift on an icing in their own defensive zone. Adam McQuaid cleared the puck off the wall and up to Pastrnak with Toronto defender, Jake Gardiner, overcommitting, Pastrnak burst through the neutral zone on a two-on-one with Marchand on his wing.

Nikita Zaitsev went to play the puck and disrupt a pass from Pastrnak but couldn’t get a handle on it as the young Bruins winger sent the puck across ice to Marchand.

With Andersen in desperation and fully committed to stopping what he thought would’ve been an oncoming shot from Pastrnak, Marchand (2) fired a shot into the gapping net behind the Maple Leafs goaltender and gave Boston a 2-1 lead at 16:55 of the second period.

The goal was Marchand’s second of the postseason and was assisted by Pastrnak (7) and McQuaid (1).

Through 40 minutes of play, the Bruins led, 2-1, on the scoreboard, as well as in blocked shots (13-7) and hits (32-20). Toronto led in shots on goal (22-16), takeaways (7-2) and giveaways (10-8) after two periods and had a slight advantage in faceoff win percentage (53-47). Boston still hadn’t seen any time on the power play and the Leafs were still 0/1 from their man advantage back in the first period.

After David Krejci broke up a play in Boston’s defensive zone, the Bruins were on a quick breakout reminiscent of Marner and Marleau’s two-on-one for Toronto back in the first period— only this time it was Krejci and DeBrusk for Boston.

Krejci sent a saucer pass to DeBrusk as Andersen again fell victim to making the first move and DeBrusk (2) fired a shot into the back of the net to give the Bruins a two-goal lead. Krejci (2) had the only assist on the goal that made it 3-1 for Boston at 4:17 of the third period.

Maple Leafs head coach, Mike Babcock, tried double shifting Auston Matthews throughout the remainder of the game and pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with about two minutes left in regulation. Toronto’s last ditch effort was to no avail, however, as the Bruins defense— and Rask— proved to be too much.

The final horn sounded at Air Canada Centre and Boston had won the game, 3-1.

Toronto finished the night leading in shots on goal (32-21) and faceoff win percentage (63-37), but Boston had the final result on the scoreboard, as well as the lead in blocked shots (27-9) and hits (40-26).

The Bruins now lead the series 3-1 heading back to TD Garden for Game 5 on Saturday night. Puck drop is expected a little after 8 p.m. ET and viewers can tune in on NBC in the United States and CBC, SN or TVAS across Canada.

In 2013, Boston went up 3-1 in the series before the Leafs stormed back to force a decisive Game 7 that culminated in a third period comeback by the Bruins leading to Patrice Bergeron’s game-winning goal in overtime to defeat Toronto, 5-4.

The Bruins hold an all-time series record of 18-2 when leading a series 3-1.

David is Goliath: Pastrnak’s hat trick; 6 points too much for Leafs

 

 

 

 

 

If Pastafarianism wasn’t already a religion, Boston would definitely be trying to make it one. (But seriously, it is already a religion. Look it up. It’s a hoot.)

It was a rocking night at TD Garden, with Rene Rancourt bringing his two-game fist pump totals to 8 (kid’s on a roll) and the Boston crowd (that included our own @nlanciani53) was thunderous.

After having the proverbial sand kicked in their faces in Game 1, it was expected that Toronto would come into Game 2 looking for redemption, and prove they were the threat they were made out to be. Sure they’d have to do it without Nazem Kadri (serving the first of his 3 game suspension, replaced by Andreas Johnsson playing his first career NHL playoff game) in the lineup, but Boston would be without Tommy Wingels (the one who received the suspension-worthy hit, replaced by Ryan Donato also playing his first career NHL playoff game) so that should even things up, right?

It, uh…it didn’t.

The first solid action kicked off just 1:30 into the game, as Jake DeBrusk sprung Rick Nash on a breakaway with a beautiful stretch pass, but Nash would fire just wide of the net.

Soon after, it was Tuukka Rask making the game’s first notable stop, grabbing a redirect off the stick of William Nylander. On the following shift Rask covered up another puck and took a snow shower from young Kasperi Kapanen, drawing the ire of…basically everyone wearing black and gold. This seemed to be when the troubles really started for the Leafs, actually.

First it was Kevan Miller absolutely freight train-ing James van Riemsdyk in the corner to Rask’s right, igniting the Boston crowd and giving a jolt of energy to his team.

Just over 30 seconds after the big hit, the Bruins’ top line started zipping the puck around, capped off by Torey Krug firing a hard pass to a streaking David Pastrnak. The pass caught a Toronto stick and deflected up in the air, but Pastrnak somehow managed to corral the puck and settle it on his tape while doing a 360 past a Leafs defender and tucking a backhand past the outstretched pad of Frederik Andersen to take the 1-0 lead at 5:26. If you haven’t seen this goal yet, go find it.

Krug would make the church bells ring a few minutes later, firing one off of the post, shortly before Toronto took a penalty. Early in the penalty kill it looked like Toronto was going to tie the game, as Kapanen broke in alone and deked Rask out of his pants, but fired the puck right off the post and sent the play in the other direction where shortly after DeBrusk would tip in a centering feed from Krug (who had pinched all the way to the goal line on the right wing boards) to score Boston’s 4th power play goal of the series to put his team up 2-0 9:46 into the game.

Less than two and a half minutes later Boston would find the back of the net again, with another defenseman, this time being Kevan Miller from the left wing boards, would fire a pass to the middle of the ice from along the goal line. Miller’s pass hit the skate of Leafs defender Nikita Zaitsev and beat Andersen, putting Boston up 3-0 with 7:47 to play in the first.

Mike Babcock decided he had seen enough, and rather than burning a valuable timeout, he chose to make a goaltending switch to get the attention of his team, pulling Andersen in favor of Curtis McElhinney, who made just the second playoff appearance of his entire career.

Unfortunately for Babcock and the Leafs, the Bruins were having none of this attempt to slow things down. Tim Schaller made sure the building stayed in it by flattening Mitch Marner on the forecheck, leading to a fight with Ron Hainsey.

On the power play resulting from Hainsey’s instigator penalty, the Bs extra man unit improved to five-for-eight in the series when Rick Nash cleaned up the garbage from a ricocheting Pastrnak shot just 11 seconds into the man advantage, giving the Bruins a 4-0 lead at the 15:00 mark.

Toronto did manage to somewhat stop the bleeding for the final five minutes, and mounted a bit of a counter-attack, but never got a serious scoring opportunity out of it and went to the room trailing by four with little in the way of positives to build on. Boston scored four goals on eight shots, including the last three on consecutive shots.

Early in the second, Toronto finally found life, with Zach Hyman and Mitch Marner pouncing on a David Krejci turnover to set up a two-on-one, where Marner would bang in the back door goal to make it 4-1 just 1:22 into the middle frame.

Again, it took no time at all for Boston to push Toronto’s faces right back in the dirt, coming out on the very next shift and responding with two thundering hits. First it was David Backes stapling Zaitsev to the end boards behind his own net, then just a few seconds later Leo Komarov tried to step into Miller and instead ended up laying on the ice seemingly unsure of his whereabouts. Or identity. (He’d return only briefly on a power play shift a few minutes later, taking the ice for about 10 seconds before immediately returning to the locker room and never reappearing)

Then just 2:24 after the Marner goal, it would be Krejci making amends for his costly turnover by tipping a Pastrnak shot past McElhinney as he skated across the front of the net, restoring Boston’s four-goal lead 3:46 into the second.

The Leafs would get a power play soon after, but the only real opportunity they’d have was a hard wrist shot by Auston Matthews labeled for the glove side corner that Rask seemingly lackadaisically snagged out of the air.

Rick Nash and Auston Matthews traded breakaway opportunities, both on terrific power moves through defenders, but both were turned aside by the respective netminders.

Toronto again pulled within 3 when Tyler Bozak tipped home a nice spinning feed from below the goal line by Connor Brown with 10:57 remaining. They managed to build a little momentum off of this, having a few good scoring chances (Gardiner one-timer out of a netfront scramble, Marleau getting his own rebound off the end boards and nearly beating an off-balance Rask) turned aside in the next few minutes. Rask continued to be the story for most of the dying minutes, making two of his best stops with just over 4 to play, first on Matthews walking out from behind the net, then stretching out the opposite side pad to deny Patrick Marleau on the rebound. Shots were evened up at 22 at the end of the second period.

Boston defenseman Matt Grzelcyk spent the last part of the second and the third period nursing an apparent leg injury of some sort, often limping noticeably, but finished the game.

The early minutes of the third passed without incident, until Brown and Tomas Plekanec jumped on a loose puck after Charlie McAvoy tripped near his own blueline for a two-on-one, but Rask again turned it aside. On the following shift at the opposite end it would be McElhinney stopping a Patrice Bergeron one-timer on a feed by Brad Marchand.

With 8:26 remaining Boston would strike again, Marchand turning the puck over from Gardiner and walking in on a breakaway that Gardiner somehow managed to get back and poke check away at the last second, but before Toronto could regroup Bergeron had already retrieved the puck in the corner and handed it to Pastrnak, who walked to the front of the net almost uncontested and roofed a shot over the blocker side of McElhinney for the 6-2 lead.

JVR managed to again cut the defecit to 3 with 5:07 to play when he banged home a rebound past Rask, who had little help on the play, after a hard forecheck by Bozak caused Zdeno Chara to lose his stick, leaving him unable to tie up van Riemsdyk in front of the net.

Just to make sure the winning margin was four goals, and just because he could, Pastrnak took a Marchand pass from behind the goal line, toe dragged it between his own legs, then backhanded the puck into the net past a prone McElhinney to scored the hat trick, bring his point total to six on the night (nine in the first two games of the series), and drive the dagger firmly into the hearts of the Toronto faithful with 1:36 to play. ‘Pasta’ became the first player in franchise history to score 3+ points in each of the team’s first two playoff games of the year.

The simple fact in this series is that Toronto has yet to find any answer for the Bruins’ top line (14 points between them in Game 2). Should they be able to, they could find success, as the rest of the Boston lineup is not supremely dangerous (New Jersey has found a way to keep the Miller/Stamkos/Kucherov line quiet, but can’t match the Bolts’ ridiculous depth). But the Toronto defense looks almost helpless at times, and Rask has simply been too good for Toronto to rely upon their offense to solve all their problems.

Mike Babcock and his team will search hard for an answer, I’m sure, and will hope for a little reinvigorating energy from an energetic home crowd at the ACC. Game 3 will come to you on Monday night at 7 p.m. Eastern with DTFR coverage brought to you by shameless Boston homer @nlanciani53

April 3 – Day 174 – Five days later…

For those wondering: yes, the title was supposed to be read in the SpongeBob SquarePants time card voice.

A trio of games (the New York Rangers at New Jersey, Philadelphia at the New York Islanders and Detroit at Columbus) get the honor of getting the night underway at 7 p.m., and they’re followed by another three showdowns (Winnipeg at Montréal [RDS/TSN2], Boston at Tampa Bay [NBCSN/SN1/TVAS] and Nashville at Florida) half an hour later. 9 p.m. marks the puck drop of Arizona at Calgary, while Vegas at Vancouver waits an hour before starting. Finally, Dallas at San Jose (SN1) closes out the night with a 10:30 p.m. tilt. All times Eastern.

Previously in the season, I’d marked the Battle of the Hudson River as a potential featured matchup. And, even though the Rangers fell off this season, it is still an important rivalry considering it very well could be the game that clinches a playoff spot for the Devils.

However, the fixture that draws my attention for the second time in five days has to be the Bruins-Bolts showdown atop the Eastern Conference.

 

Having climbed all the way to the top of the Eastern Conference with a 49-17-12 record, the Bruins have more than earned the right to be discussed first in today’s preview. Boston is currently on a solid nine-game run, boasting a 5-0-4 record to close the second-half of March with 14 more points.

During this run, no team in the East has been playing defense quite like the Bruins. Led in large part by D Kevan Miller, who has averaged 2.1 blocks per game and managed a team-high seven takeaways since March 17, Boston has allowed only 27.78 shots against per game – a mark that’s well better than Detroit’s 29.38 shots allowed per game since March 17 that claims second-best in the conference and is just behind St. Louis’ 27 shots against per game that tops the NHL in that time.

Head Coach Bruce Cassidy can try to claim that he’s the happiest person in the organization about his club’s defensive success, but that gent would actually be 34-11-5 G Tuukka Rask, who’s been confirmed to be starting tonight’s game to the surprise of no one.

With a .919 save percentage and 2.28 GAA (fifth-best in the league among qualified goaltenders) for the entire season, Rask has been having his best campaign since the 2014-15 season. However, when we take a closer look at his last six starts, Rask boasts an even more impressive .937 save percentage and 1.82 GAA – due in large part to that incredible defensive effort.

Regardless of where they finish this regular season in the standings, a defensive zone as bolstered as the Bruins’ will be a tough egg to crack for any opposition. Over their past nine games, Boston has yielded only 2.33 goals against per game, the fourth-lowest mark in the NHL in that time.

As for trying to crack that egg tonight, we turn to the 52-23-4 Lightning. Tampa Bay might be experiencing its worst point of the season right now, as it has only a lowly 1-4-0 record to show for its last five games.

Unfortunately for the Bolts, their biggest struggle of late has been on the offensive end. Even with D Victor Hedman averaging a point per game over this run with 1-4-5 totals (15-45-60 overall), the Lightning have averaged only 2.4 goals per game since March 24, the (t)sixth-worst mark in the NHL in that time.

The two gaping holes in the Lightning’s last five scorecards involve some longtime members of the club: C Tyler Johnson and C Steven Stamkos. With 21-28-49 totals on the season, Johnson is riding a five-game pointless skid and has managed only one goal in his last 10 outings.

Of course, Stamkos’ struggles are the most surprising of the two. The captain claims 27-59-86 totals on the season to rank second on the team in points, but he’s failed to find the scoreboard in his last four games. He missed the tilt against Arizona on March 26 with a lower-body injury, and that ailment is surely the leading cause of this skid – to the point that he’s being held out of tonight’s game in hopes that he can recover for a deep playoff run.

Even though the Lightning spent almost the entire season atop the NHL, they’re still looking for their first victory against Boston in their fourth try.

The Bruins claimed a 3-2 victory at TD Garden on November 29 (D Torey Krug provided the game-winner at the 5:59 mark of the second period, then setting the score at 3-0) which they only improved upon March 17, winning 3-0 at Amalie Arena (Rask earned the shutout, thanks in large part to his defense limiting the Lightning to only 23 shots on goal). Most recently, Boston claimed another home victory at TD Garden, this time besting the Bolts 4-2 only five days ago on March 29 (C Patrice Bergeron managed a three-point night that included the game-winning goal).

With Toronto already locked into third place in the Atlantic Division, both Boston and Tampa Bay have clinched home ice for at least the first round of the playoffs. Of course, there’s a vast difference between hosting those Maple Leafs and the East’s second wild card in the first round, and that’s what tonight’s game is all about.

Currently trailing the Bruins by two points, the Lightning are currently slated to be hosting those Leafs when the playoffs begin next week. While a win tonight would go a long way towards resolving that issue, Tampa will not see an immediate change in the standings due to the Bruins’ game in hand. In other words, a Bruins loss tonight could be inconsequential if they win their remaining three games this week.

Beyond the Eastern Conference, both the Lightning and Bruins are both still eligible for this season’s Presidents’ Trophy. However, odds of ripping that award out of Nashville’s clutch are growing slim, as the Preds have 113 points coming into tonight’s tilt with Florida. A Predators win tonight – regardless of how Tampa performs – eliminates the Bolts from the competition for that trophy. Meanwhile, a Bruins win paired with a Nashville regulation loss puts Boston in control of its own destiny for claiming its first regular season championship since 2014.

A struggling offense without its fearless leader is no form to assume when squaring off with the Bruins. Because of that, I think Boston cruises to the season sweep of the Bolts tonight.


In yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day, the Los Angeles Kings beat the Colorado Avalanche 3-1 at Staples Center.

This was a win the Avalanche desperately needed, but Los Angeles squelched those hopes with two first period goals. F Torrey Mitchell (F Nate Thompson and D Drew Doughty) provided the Kings’ first tally on a wrist shot 9:29 into the game, followed by a shorthanded wrister by Second Star of the Game W Dustin Brown (C Anze Kopitar and First Star D Alec Martinez) that proved to be the game-winner.

Shorthanded goals are almost always a result of a turnover by the team on the power play, and this tally is no exception. RW Mikko Rantanen fed an unwise pass to F Tyson Jost between Kopitar and Martinez, but Jost’s botched attempt to reset the play to D Tyson Barrie at the point resulted in Brown ending up with possession and screaming down the ice. Using Barrie as a screen, Brown ripped his wrister through the defenseman’s legs and over G Jonathan Bernier‘s glove.

With Mitchell in the penalty box for tripping D Samuel Girard, F Alexander Kerfoot (W Sven Andrighetto and F Colin Wilson) buried a power play wrister at the 4:31 mark of the second frame to pull Colorado back within a goal, but the fact that the Avs couldn’t muster up another goal – paired with LW Kyle Clifford‘s (F Trevor Lewis and F Adrian Kempe) backhanded shot two minutes into the third period – left the Kings with a relatively stress-free win.

Third Star G Jonathan Quick earned the victory after saving 27-of-28 shots faced (.964 save percentage), leaving the loss to Bernier, who saved 22-of-25 (.88).

Home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series now have a 99-54-21 record that is 46 points superior to that of the roadies.

March 29 – Day 169 – To the top of the East

It’s Thursday in the NHL, so you know what that means: games galore!

The action finds its start at 7 p.m. with three games (Tampa Bay at Boston [SN/TVAS], Detroit at Buffalo and Pittsburgh at New Jersey), followed half an hour later by Florida at Ottawa (RDS). 8 p.m. marks the puck drop of two tilts (San Jose at Nashville and Dallas at Minnesota [NBCSN]), while Winnipeg at Chicago waits 30 minutes before following suit. Columbus at Calgary is next up at 9 p.m., with Edmonton at Vancouver (SN1) waiting until 10 p.m. and Arizona at Los Angeles closing up shop at 10:30 p.m. All times Eastern.

I’d love to beat around the bush and act like I considered every game for tonight’s distinct honor of being the DtFR Game of the Day, but there’s only one game the entire hockey world should be focusing on this evening.

 

A lot of people outside of New England may not want to hear this, but this looks like another one of those magical runs by a Boston-based sports team.

Oh wait, and the Celtics are good too?

Accurate representation of DtFR meetings when @nlanciani53 shares Boston sports news.

The 47-17-11 Bruins’ current run is an excellent example. After managing only 22 points by Thanksgiving – the NHL’s cutoff, at least statistically speaking, playoff qualification – to claim 11th place in the conference, Boston has posted a league-best 38-10-7 record to climb all the way into second place in the East.

But second place is not good enough for these Bruins, as evidenced by the six-game point streak they’re currently riding that has pulled them within one point of top spot in the East.

While the Bruins’ offense has been their strongest weapon all year (Boston’s 3.28 goals per game for the entire season is fifth-best in the NHL), it has taken a major blow in production lately due to the numerous injuries plaguing the roster. In fact, the 2.83 goals per game the Bruins have averaged over their past six showings is (t)13th-worst in the league since March 17.

So how are the Bruins winning?

The answer can be found in some incredible defensive play. Since March 17, Boston has allowed only 27.83 shots against per game – the fifth-lowest mark in the NHL in that time. D Kevan Miller (three hits per game and 2.5 blocks per game since March 17) and F Riley Nash (five takeaways in his past six showings) have been the brightest stars in that effort, but holding the opposition under 30 shots against is usually an indicator of the entire club’s effort and not just the results of two or three stellar players.

Of course, there’s nothing that makes a goaltender happier than a solid defense in front of him, even if it is one that likes to listen to Finnish death metal. 32-11-5 G Tuukka Rask has thrived with the limited work load coming his way, posting an impressive .93 save percentage and 1.97 GAA over his past four starts. This solid run has improved his season stats to a .918 save percentage and a 2.32 GAA that is fifth-best among qualified goaltenders – numbers befitting the goalie with the (t)sixth-most wins this season.

Between Rask and his defense, the Bruins have allowed only 2.33 goals against per game since March 17, the eighth-fewest in the league in that time.

Boston’s point streak is bad news for the 51-21-4 Lightning, because their last two outings at New Jersey and at home against the Coyotes haven’t exactly been confidence builders, as they lost both by a combined score of 6-2.

As evidenced by only averaging a goal per game, Tampa’s offense over its past two showings is a major issue, especially since it has averaged a league-leading 3.51 goals per game all season.

The Lightning are hoping that the return of C Steven Stamkos to action should be just the fix for these offensive ails. The captain was held out of Monday’s game against the Coyotes with a lower body injury, but Joe Smith of the Tampa Bay Times has indicated that Stamkos – as well as D Victor Hedman, who took a nasty hit late against Arizona – should be available for tonight’s important tilt.

With no disrespect to Hedman and his 14-42-56 totals in 71 games played this season, Stamkos will certainly be the most anticipated injection into the lineup tonight. Having posted 27-59-86 marks in his first 75 games of the season, Stamkos has already ensured his second-straight season of averaging more than a point per game. If that trend continues this evening, the Bolts should be able to hang at least two goals on the Bruins in this game, right?

With the average team in the NHL having only five games remaining on its schedule, it’s baffling that the season series between these clubs has only reached its halfway point. In the same turn, it just makes today and April 3’s meetings all the more dramatic!

So far, the Bruins have looked like the better of these squads in their previous two meetings, as they’ve earned four points at the expense of Tampa. They earned their first victory against the Bolts on November 29 with a 3-2 score (D Charlie McAvoy earned First Star honors with a one-goal, two-point effort) at home and followed it up with an impressive 3-0 win (Rask made 23 saves in the shutout) on March 17 at Amalie Arena.

With these teams separated by only one point at the top of the conference, a regulation win by either is a major step towards clinching home ice throughout the Eastern playoffs.

However, the Bruins can do far more damage this evening by earning two points as compared to Tampa Bay, due in large part to Boston’s game in hand. Because of the game against the Panthers that had to be postponed until the day after the originally scheduled regular season finale, the Bruins can claim first place in the conference with any variety of win tonight.

Of course, the Lightning have grown quite fond of their spot on top of the mountain, so don’t expect them to give it up easily. The Bolts cannot afford to allow Boston to earn even one point tonight, or else they risk blowing the window through which the Bruins can surpass them even wider than they have with their two-game losing skid.

Tampa has chosen a very inopportune time to struggle on offense, because Boston isn’t planning on allowing many goals by tonight. Fortunately for the Bolts, the Bruins’ offensive injuries should slow them down enough to keep this game manageable for the Lightning’s defense. However, I still feel like Boston comes away with the victory tonight in this extremely important contest.


The Florida Panthers showed great resolve in yesterday’s DtFR Game of the Day at Air Canada Centre, but they couldn’t complete their comeback and fell 4-3 to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The biggest reason Toronto was able to win this game was because it completely caught the Panthers off guard by scoring three goals in the first period. First Star of the Game F Mitch Marner (D Morgan Rielly and C Tomas Plekanec) began the onslaught with a wrist shot 3:05 into the frame, and C Auston Matthews (F William Nylander and D Jake Gardiner) followed suit only 6:19 later with a snap shot to set the score at 2-0. With 6:05 remaining in the period, F Patrick Marleau (Marner) completed the Maple Leafs’ blitz with a tip-in, giving the hosts a 3-0 advantage.

While the net result of the first period was the domination of the Leafs, the entire frame didn’t belong to the club in blue. In fact, Second Star F Jonathan Huberdeau (F Denis Malgin) was able to score a snapper 2:11 before the first intermission to pull the Panthers back within two goals.

That positive energy paid massive dividends for the visitors, as the Leafs’ lead was trimmed to one by the second intermission. Huberdeau (F Vincent Trocheck and D Mark Pysyk) once again provided the important play for Florida, scoring a snapper with 4:52 remaining in the second period to set the score at 3-2.

If only the Panthers would stop waiting until the waning moments of the frame to score, they just might have won this game. Instead, their struggles early in frames led to their downfall, as Third Star LW James van Riemsdyk (C Tyler Bozak and RW Connor Brown) was able to score what proved to be the game-winning goal with 8:12 remaining in regulation.

Somewhere in New Jersey, there might still be a midget hockey coach grinning from ear-to-ear after van Riemsdyk scored, as the ninth-year pro earned every bit of his 200th regular season NHL marker after exhibiting some serious commitment and sticktoitiveness. After receiving Bozak’s pass from below the goal line in the slot, van Riemsdyk one-timed a snapper towards the gaping cage to G Roberto Luongo‘s glove side. The netminder was able to block the initial attempt with his glove, but the rebound fell right back to van Riemsdyk’s stick, and he backhanded a successful shot into the back of the net while he was getting pushed from behind by F Maxim Mamin and tripping over Luongo’s glove.

However, the Panthers weren’t ready to give up hope yet, as W Evgeni Dadonov (D Keith Yandle and D Aaron Ekblad) buried a backhander 6:46 after van Riemsdyk’s marker to pull Florida back within a tally. However, that left only 1:26 remaining in the game for the Panthers to level the game, and they weren’t able to do so.

G Frederik Andersen earned the victory after saving 30-of-33 shots faced (.909 save percentage), leaving the loss to Luongo, who saved 31-of-35 (.886).

Can home teams in the DtFR Game of the Day series do no wrong? The 95-53-21 hosts have now won five-consecutive tilts in the series, not to mention riding a seven-game point streak. As such, they now have a 41-point advantage on the roadies in the series.