Bruins Look to Kuraly & Kuhlman to KO Leafs

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Photo Credit: Brandon Magnus/Getty Images

By: Cam McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter: @CSthinks

In a playoff series that features an excess of star-power and offensive prowess, an appreciation for roster depth can often go by the wayside. The Boston Bruins, despite boasting arguably the best forward line in hockey, have proven to fall short of the Toronto Maple Leafs when considering world-class skill at the forward position. The collection of Marner, Matthews, and Tavares, when supplemented by several players that could slot in as top-6 forwards on most teams (Johnsson, Kapanen, Nylander, Marleau, Hyman), has outshined the forward units of the Black and Gold for the better part of the series.

The Bruins have been able to string together enough bounce-back wins to even the series at three games apiece, and have been lucky to do so, as they have struggled to find a lineup that provides them with their best matchup against a high-skilled Toronto squad. However, Game 6 on Sunday might have sparked some hope for the Boston faithful as the series concludes after Tuesday’s Game 7 in Boston.

For the vast majority of Sunday’s Game 6, the Bruins maintained almost complete control. They out-chanced the Leafs. They out-worked the Leafs. They killed penalties. They rallied for three unanswered goals after surrendering the game’s first tally. They created their own energy with their backs against the wall in a game on the road. To say the least (apart from the final 10 minutes of the game), Sunday’s effort was largely encouraging for the Bruins and their fans. It showcased the team’s most complete effort throughout the course of a 60-minute battle, and did so in the face of adversity and immense pressure.

Why?

Here’s a fun fact for hockey fans everywhere: The Boston Bruins have, in their entire history as an organization, never lost a playoff game in which both Sean Kuraly and Karson Kuhlman were in the lineup for Boston.

There’s been a lot of speculation as to why this is the case. Is it because their last names begin with ‘K’? Is it because they both come from the Midwest? Is it because they both bring a workman style approach to each game?

These are all fair questions. Quite simply, the Bruins have never lost when both players take the ice in the playoffs (1-0-0, 1.00 Win %) because of the completeness of their game, and the versatility that each player provides.

While Kuhlman and Kuraly play somewhat different styles and have suited up among mostly different linemates during the 2018-2019 campaign, they both possess the necessary speed to compete with Toronto’s forward units. Their ability to get behind Toronto’s defensemen on the forecheck is invaluable in a series that, for the first four or five games, featured a Toronto defensive unit that broke the puck out of their zone with relative ease. While David Backes and Chris Wagner (the two Bruins relegated to the press box in lieu of Kuhlman and Kuraly) play a somewhat physical game, their deficiencies as skaters proved to be too much for Bruce Cassidy to continue to put them on the ice.

Kuraly’s game is mostly devoted to North/South trajectories and an ability to lug the puck from zone to zone, and Kuhlman’s game can also feature similar attributes. In a “grind it out” style of game, Kuhlman can use his legs and grit to be effective and keep things simple. However, in a more skill and creativity-centric game, Kuhlman also possesses the necessary skill set to make plays, and pass the puck well. The combination of puck possession and play-making ability between Kuraly and Kuhlman prove to bring much more to the table than the one-dimensional styles of both Backes and Wagner.

The Bruins’ lineup is deeper throughout with both Kuhlman and Kuraly on the ice. Cassidy has shown that he trusts both players in the later minutes of games, when he has shortened his bench during crucial minutes. The Bruins, especially in a Game 7, cannot afford to suit up forwards who can’t be trusted in crucial minutes and high-pressured situations. Wagner and Backes’s minutes in the late stages of their most recent playoff games reveal just how little Cassidy can trust their play, at least in this particular series. Having more bodies that can be effective on Cassidy’s bench is paramount in the latter stages of playoff games, as they will be able to provide Cassidy’s top players with adequate rest, so that they can continue to play at their highest level when the Bruins need them most.

 

It’s been said before, but it’s worth restating: The Bruins have never lost a playoff game in which both Kuraly and Kuhlman have been in the lineup for Boston.

I’m no rocket scientist (yet), but I don’t need to be in order to know that I wouldn’t bet against that combination of K’s as they look to KO Toronto in Game 7.

Kuhlman and Kuraly? That’s deep.

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