7 Factors That Will Decide Game 7 Between the Bruins and Maple Leafs

Illustration for article titled Tuukka Rask Ruined The Maple Leafs' Best And Maybe Last Chance

(Claus Andersen-Getty Images)

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

Goaltending

I mean, of course this was going to be on the list. We’ve seen really strong, and really weak goaltending from both Tuukka Rask and Frederik Anderson over the past two series. Outside of a softy or two from both guys, the two have been really solid throughout the first six games of this series. Rask has a .921 save percentage with a 2.54 GAA and Anderson has a .925 SV% and a 2.70 GAA. With the potency of both offenses and some questionable defense by both teams, I can’t see this being a 1-0 game. There will be goals, it’s just a matter of who can make the saves when it matters.

Can the Offensive Stars Produce?

The superstars on both sides have been very on and off all series. Austin Matthews has lead the way for Toronto, scoring five goals in the six games (but in all honesty, hasn’t really dominated at any point). The Bruins top defensive pair of Charlie Mcavoy and Zdeno Chara have done an excellent job shutting down the John Tavares and Mitch Marner line, but with all of that talent, how long can that last?

The trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak have been very streaky throughout the series for the Bruins. We all know how dangerous they can be when they’re on their game (they all absolutely torched the Leafs last series) but something has been off with them this series and for the Bruins sake, that better change.

Leafs vs Bruins

(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Special Teams

We’ve seen how important special teams have been in this series and throughout the entire playoffs. The Nashville Predators just fell to the Dallas Stars, largely in part to their horrendous powerplay (going 0-15 in the series). Boston and Toronto both have very good powerplays, with Toronto converting on 21.4% of their PP chances and the Bruins scoring on a staggering 43.8% of their chances. There’s no question the game will be a chippy one and I’d assume the referees arms will stay down for most of the game, but when a penalty is called, converting on that opportunity will be huge.

Forechecking

In Game 7 last year, the Bruins hard-nosed forechecking was a big reason why they were able to come back and take the lead late. In the games the Bruins have lost this series, they haven’t been able to maintain consistent pressure in the Leafs zone. The Maple Leafs defense is very susceptible to making mistakes with the puck when pressured so that needs to be the Bruins #1 priority throughout this game.

Forechecking obviously isn’t just a component of the Bruins game, it’s just as important for the Leafs to keep the pressure on the Bs. Putting pressure on smaller guys like Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk will be huge for the Maple Leafs, they’re easier to out-muscle compared to the rest of the d-core and getting them to cough up the puck will lead to big-time chances for Toronto. Isolating Zdeno Chara is also just as key, as he certainly doesn’t have the legs to keep up with Toronto’s speedy forwards.

Depth Scoring

Depth scoring is a key component of every single game and it’s just magnified in the playoffs. Guys like Charlie Coyle and Andreas Johnsson (who both have had very strong series) have key roles with their respective clubs. If the big names aren’t able to step up, look for these middle-six guys to pick up the slack.

(Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

Maintaining a Lead

Scoring the first goal is massive, but keeping that lead is even more important. The team that has been ahead going into the third period has won every game this series and with every player fighting for their playoff lives, there’s sure to be a lot of pressure on both sides of the bench. Looking at the history between these two teams, the Maple Leafs have held the lead going in to the 3rd period in the past two game 7s, but have lost both after outstanding comebacks by the Bruins. If the Maple Leafs or the Bruins want to get to the next round, maintaining a lead will be the reason they get there.

Matchups

Despite having a combined -10 rating in the series, Nikita Zaitzev and Jake Muzzin have done a pretty good job at keeping the Bruins top line in check. Unlike last series, the Bruins top line hasn’t been nearly as good. They haven’t been able to maintain possession of the puck quite as much and their cycling game, which leads to the majority of their chances, is nothing like it has been all season long. If Toronto wants to keep this line at bay, trying to keep this matchup will be their best bet.

As I said before, Mcavoy and Chara have done an excellent job holding Tavares and Marner to minimal offense in this series. With last change and home ice advantage, coach Bruce Cassidy will have to be on his game to keep the matchups in he wants throughout his lineup.

Regardless of the outcome, this should be a great game as it always is. I’ve had Bruins in seven from the start and I’m sticking with that pick. Go Bs.

Bruins’ First Line Is Pivotal To The Bruins’ Success

 

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By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

The narrative for the Bruins over the past few seasons has been a significant lack of depth scoring. In last years playoffs, the Bs were lead by the trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak who combined for a staggering 16 goals and 53 points throughout the Bruins first two rounds. Following the first line, David Krejci (10 points) and Jake Debrusk (eight points) both had solid playoffs but after those five forwards, the next highest scorer was Rick Nash who had a measly five points and a -7 rating. The lack of depth was the downfall of the Bruins in last years playoffs.

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In last year’s first round, the Bruins top line was incredibly dominant and the graph above shows just that. For reference, anything over 50% was in the Bs favor so yea, the line was incredible all series (Bergeron was hurt game four). In game five (which the Bruins actually lost) the Bergeron line outshot Toronto 31-6 (84%) and out-chanced them 18-3 (86%). That dominance was the main reason the Bruins were able to make it past the Maple Leafs last season.

This is a new year, and a new Bruins team. The Bruins AREN’T relying solely on their top line. Their third unit has arguably been their best line this entire series. Charlie Coyle has shown why he was so popular in Minnesota and has impressed all of Boston with his strong play the series. Danton Heinen hasn’t slumped as he did last playoffs with a goal and two assists in five games and Both David Backes and Karson Kuhlman have played pretty well, giving the Bruins a legitimate 3rd line unlike last playoffs.

(Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports)

Despite the strong play of the 3rd line the Bruins are still down 3-2 in the series. What was most apparent after their 2-1 loss to the Leafs on Friday was the lack of dominance, or dare I say it, poor play shown by the 1st line. Playing primarily against the line centered by John Tavares and the pair of Jake Muzzin and Nikita Zaitzev, the “perfection line” has been far from perfect. The trio has scored just three even strength goals this series and, especially in game five, have really struggled to generate offense.

After the line was stymied again in game three, Bruins Coach Bruce Cassidy said “they’re having a tougher time getting to the net, and as a result I think they’re trying really hard one-on-one to get there. I think they need to use each other a little bit more to get there. [Maybe] get an old-fashioned goal whether it’s a center lane drive, a puck to the net or a second chance. They’re pretty determined guys.” While the line bounced back to have a solid Game Four, it clearly didn’t carry into Game Five.

Like Cassidy said, the line just needs to simplify their play. I’ve seen Marchand and Pastrnak carry the puck into the zone and attempt to finesse through three Toronto players too many times. The line is just too good to continue to get stifled by the Leafs D.

Brad Marchand David Pastrnak Patrice Bergeron Bruins

(Amy Irvin/ The Hockey Writers)

In the three Bruins losses this series, the Bergy line has scored once, which was a powerplay goal in game one. Maybe Bergeron is playing through an injury and Pasta’s hand is still not fully recovered but a line consisting of an 100 point player, a four time Selke winner, and a guy that was on pace for 45 goals this season shouldn’t be struggling this much, especially against a team that they have all had incredible success against in the past.

Now it’s do or die for the Bruins and their 1st line. The Bergy line MUST come out strong and replicate the success they were able to sustain in last years matchup. If they continue to play poorly in the 1st period, Cassidy needs to do his job and break them up, there’s no more time to wait for them to produce, it’s now or never. Maybe Danton Heinen or Marcus Johansson find their way to the first line or maybe David Krejci, who played incredible with Marchand and Pasta when Bergeron went down with an injury, slides up in the lineup. It’s time to see why this has been the best line in hockey over the past two years.

Bruins vs. Maple Leafs Part 3: How These Two Combatants Are Different

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By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

Boston Bruins

In: Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle, Joakim Nordstrom, Karson Kuhlman, Chris Wagner, Jaroslav Halak, Connor Clifton, Steven Kampfer, John Moore, Brandon Carlo (injury)

Out: Rick Nash, Adam Mcquaid, Tim Schaller, Tommy Wingles, Ryan Donato, Nick Holden, Brian Gionta, Anton Khudobin

Injuries: Sean Kuraly, Kevan Miller, John Moore

(Photo Credit: Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Just looking at who the Bruins have added and subtracted from their roster since last season’s matchup, it’s clear that this is a better roster than last year. Marcus Johansson and Charlie Coyle have both been very solid pickups at the deadline. While they haven’t been lighting up the scoresheet, they have provided much-needed stability to the middle-six group of forwards both offensively and defensively. Neither has had incredible playoff success (Johansson with 30 points in 72 games and Coyle with 15 points in 44 games), but the experience is almost just as important as success in the playoffs.

One major addition (which isn’t technically an addition) is Brandon Carlo. Injured the last two post-seasons, this will actually be the first playoff action Carlo will play in his career. Last season, Charlie Mcavoy and Zdeno Chara shut down Auston Matthews, and the Leafs first line but other players like Mitch Marner and Patrick Marleau were still able to have very successful series matched up against guys like Adam Mcquaid and Kevan Miller, who were better suited for a 3rd pairing role.

(Photo Credit: Matt Kincaid/Getty Images)

Karson Kuhlman and Connor Clifton have both had very successful rookie stints with Boston and will look to continue that in the playoffs. Kuhlman’s speed should fit well when playing against the high-flying Maple Leafs squad and Clifton’s physicality is a perfect fit for the playoffs. Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom have both been pleasant surprises and have improved the Bs’ depth considerably.

In all honesty, the Bruins didn’t lose too much. Rick Nash had just five points in 12 playoff games last season. Wagner and Nordstrom have filled the roles of Tim Schaller and the rest of the depth the Bruins lost admirably and with the depth at D, Mcquaid and Nick Holden won’t be missed too much.

Toronto Maple Leafs

In: John Tavares, Jake Muzzin, Trevor Moore, Frederic Gauthier, Michael Hutchinson, Tyler Ennis, Igor Ozhiganov

Out: Tyler Bozak, James Van Riemsdyk, Thomas Plekanec, Roman Polak, Leo Komarov, Dominic Moore

Injuries: None

John Tavares led the Maple Leafs with 47 goals this season.

(Photo Credit: BRIAN BABINEAU / NHLI VIA GETTY IMAGES)

So obviously the Maple Leafs won the John Tavares sweepstakes. With JT, Austin Matthews, and Nazim Kadri, the Leafs now boast arguably the best 1-2-3 center punch in the league. Along with improving their center core, the growth and success of the Leafs’ youth can really be seen as a major addition. The last series, we saw glimpses of the skill that youngsters Andreas Johnsson and Kasperi Kapanen possess but throughout this regular season, they took major strides. They both had career years, boasting almost identical stat-lines with Johnsson notching 20 goals and 43 points in 73 games and Kapanen scoring 20 goals and 44 points.

Arguably more game-changing than the Tavares addition was the addition of Jake Muzzin. The Leafs traded for the former Kings defenseman at the end of January and has really solidified the Maple Leafs D-core. In 30 games in Toronto, Muzzin has scored five goals, adding 11 assists with a plus-11 rating.

Boston Bruins vs. Toronto Maple Leafs - Game Four

( Photo Credit: Claus Andersen/Getty Images )

These additions didn’t come without a cost. The Leafs lost a lot of really good pieces that hurt their depth, but more importantly, it hurt their special teams. Losing guys like James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak has hurt their powerplay considerably. JVR’s 11 goals and 20 points, as well as Tyler Bozak’s 13 points, left considerable holes on their PP, dropping to 21.8% from their previous 25% success rate.

Along with that, the Leafs lost many of their best face-off men, which is crucial in the playoffs. Dominic Moore (54.3), Tyler Bozak (53.6) and Tomas Plekanec (57.9) all proved to be very valuable on the face-off dot and again will leave big shoes to fill. With this, the team’s penalty kill has also slipped from 81.4% to 79.9 and losing the veteran leadership from these guys, and Leo Komarov will certainly hurt come when they meet.

So have both teams improved since last year? Yea. Will the results change? Only time will tell. I still got Bruins in 7.

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The Anomaly Of Boston Bruins Patrice Bergeron

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By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

The NHL is getting faster and younger. Long gone are the days of Joe Sakic, Nicklas Lindstrom and Marty St. Louis continuing to dominate the league in their mid-30s. The league is now driven by youth, guys like Connor Mcdavid (22), Nikita Kucherov (25) and Nathan MacKinnon (23) have taken the league by force with their speed and skill. The infusion of young talent has transcended the NHL from a league that favored bigger, stronger players into a league that benefits the speed of the youth.

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In an incredibly well-done article on the aging curves in the NHL, we see that the average NHL player peaks around the age of 24 and continues to decline into their 30s. To back this up, let’s take a look at the 2003 draft class (where the majority of draftees are 33 years old as of now). Former Bruin Loui Eriksson, once a great two-way forward with three 70+ point seasons, has floundered these past few years and is on pace for just about 30 points this season. Corey Perry scored 50 goals in his age 25 season but like others has regressed to just ten points and a minus-14 rating in an injury-filled 29 games. Ryan Kesler, who Bruins fans know all too well, has fallen off the face of the earth after many seasons of incredible two-way, hard-nosed play. There are so many other players from that draft that have followed in very similar footsteps, David Backes, Jeff Carter, Dion Phaneuf, and Brent Seabrook among others.

And then we get to the anomaly of the bunch, the man, the myth, the absolute legend that is Patrice Bergeron. Despite the majority of his draft class falling off a cliff in these past few years and the league being as fast as ever, Bergy has done everything but decline. He’s actually having the best year (offensively at least) of his career.

Patrice Bergeron at practice in his rookie season.

( Photo Credit: BARRY CHIN/GLOBE STAFF FILE )

Patrice Bergeron has always gone above and beyond what was expected of him. The 45th overall pick in the 2003 draft surprised all when he immediately jumped into the NHL, and at the ripe age of 18, was the youngest player in the league at the time. He had a great rookie season, scoring 16 goals, 39 points and finished 9th in the Calder Memorial Trophy voting.

The next season, even amidst the lockout, held even more achievements for Bergeron. He led the Canadian World Juniors team to a gold medal with a staggering 13 points in just six games. The following year, still at just 20 years old, led the Bruins in scoring with 73 points and set a career high that wasn’t matched for 12 seasons. But for whatever reason, after 12 years of great season after great season, after four Selke trophies, after battling injury after injury in the regular season and the playoffs, this was the year Bergeron has turned into overdrive.

Boston MA 02/03/18 Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron (37) celebrates his goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during first period action at TD Garden. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe staff) topic: reporter:

(Photo Credit: Matthew J. Lee/Boston Globe staff)

The 33-year-old has exploded this year, lighting the lamp 32 times and adding 45 helpers to set a new career high in 77 points in just 62 games. Without his injuries, he could’ve reached the 100 point plateau and would certainly be in the heat of the MVP race.

Oh, and don’t act like this season has put a damper on his incredible two-way prowess. He continues to be one of the top faceoff men in the league, winning 56.5% of draws this year. His Corsi sits at 57.5, good enough for 11th in the NHL (for players with over 30 games played) and continues to marvel day in and day out with the way he sees the ice both with and without the puck. I’d say what he did in the Winter Classic in a span of 30 seconds or so sums up his season pretty well.

Whether his incredible season is due to an increase in scoring throughout the league, his amazing line-mates, or he just found a new pasta recipe, this may be the best we’ve ever seen Bergy. Well, I guess until the playoffs, where we all know that #37 turns into another animal.

I’m excited.

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Bruins Re-Sign Zdeno Chara To One-Year Contract

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By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

The big man isn’t retiring anytime soon.

The Bruins have announced that they have re-signed defenseman Zdeno Chara to a one-year deal worth $2 million with another $1.75 million in performance incentives. He will receive $1.25 million at ten games, $250  thousand for making the playoffs and another $250 thousand for winning the Stanley Cup.

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( Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports Photo )

Even at age 42, the future Hall-of-Famer is still having a very productive season. In 55 games this season predominantly featured on the top pair with Charlie Mcavoy, Chara has scored four goals and tallied seven assists to go along with a plus 16 rating. He continues to be great in the possession metrics as well with a 53.7 CF% and 54.7 FF%. He’s a huge asset to Boston’s 10th-ranked penalty kill and continues to be an incredible leader on, and off the ice.

Chara was originally drafted by the New York Islanders in the 3rd round of the 1996 NHL Draft. Crazily enough, there’s actually another active player from that draft in fellow 42-year-old Matt Cullen (the only other player older than Chara). In 2001, Chara was apart of a massive trade with the Ottawa Senators that sent Bill Muckalt, the 2nd overall pick in the NHL draft (which was used to draft Jason Spezza) and Chara for Alexei Yashin. In 2006, the Bruins signed then UFA Chara to a massive deal for five years at $7.5 million per year.

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Chara continues to amaze after 21 seasons in the NHL. He is immensely important to this Bruins team. He’s proven to be an incredible role model to the entire Bruins organization, but especially to the growth of the crop of young d-men, the Bruins have, namely Charly Mcavoy.

There’s no questioning if the Slovakia-native will be Hall of Fame bound. Chara has been in the top five in Norris Trophy voting eight times, capturing the award in the 2008-2009 season. He set a career high of 19 goals that season and was a plus 23 in 80 games.

USA - Sports Pictures of the Week - June 20, 2011

(Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

He, of course, doesn’t just have regular season success. He led the Bruins to their first Stanley Cup in almost 40 years in 2011 where he was a league-leading plus 16 and was on the ice for almost half the game, averaging 27:39 minutes of ice-time a game. He was a hug factor in the Bruins 2013 cup appearance where he actually averaged even more ice-time than the previous cup run at 29:32 a game and tacked on 15 points in 22 games.

While his legs have slowed down, this deal is still a bargain for the captain. He continues to be the heart-and-soul of this Boston team, and it shows how much he values the team in this deal. While the thought of Chara leaving is unfathomable, he certainly could’ve gotten a bigger deal due to his importance to the roster. His small cap hit allows the Bruins to allocate more of their cap to their upcoming RFAs with Danton Heinen, Brandon Carlo, and Charlie Mcavoy all looking for significant raises next season.

The man just never ceases to amaze and will stay the “C” of the black and gold for at least one more run.

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What Will The Bruins Forward Lines Look Like With Pastrnak Healthy?

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By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Danton Heinen

Jake Debrusk-David Krejci- Karson Kuhlman

Joakim Nordstrom- Trent Frederic- David Backes

Sean Kuraly- Noel Acciari- Chris Wagner

These were the not-so-impressive lines from when the Bruins played the Sharks on February 18th. The Bs still managed to get a big win (albeit controversial) with this group of forwards. In a few weeks, the Bruins will have their all-star forward back in David Pastrnak. Pasta, along with the trade-deadline additions of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson will make the Bruins forward depth incredibly deep and dangerous. The question remains still, what does this lineup look like with a healthy roster?

There’s a lot of things to take into account. Could Pastrnak slide back in on the 2nd line with Jake Debrusk and David Krejci? Johansson seemed to have immediate chemistry in his first game with Krejci and Debrusk on the 2nd line. He played very well, and that line generated a lot of really good scoring chances throughout the game, including a pretty tic-tac-toe goal from the trio. If that line continues to gain more chemistry, it’s probably worth keeping them together.

Danton Heinen Bruins

(Photo Credit: Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Maybe Cassidy decides to reunite the super-line. Obviously, the combination of Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak is arguably the best line in hockey but with Danton Heinen finally finding his game and the 1st line still producing at a high level, it would be interesting to keep the line together and try out Pastrnak on the 3rd line.

Pastrnak on the 3rd line? How do can you put a PPG player on the 3rd line and still expect him to produce? Well, a man by the name of Phil Kessel did that and look where it got the Penguins. The notorious HBK line consisted of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Kessel, and was a huge reason why the Penguins were able to win their 2016 Stanley Cup. The ability to have three lines that can score at will is very hard to come by, especially in the playoffs.

It’s very likely the Bruins will end up playing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round of the playoffs. The Leafs also tout a very effective 3rd line, with former 30 goal scorer, Nazim Kadri centering rookie Andrea Johnsson, who has 19 goals and 36 points in 56 games and William Nylander, who’s coming off of back to back 61 points years. I’d say a line of Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle and David Backes (who looks a lot better playing with Coyle) would be a match-up favorable to the Bruins.

With that top 9, and a 4th line that coach Bruce Cassidy can throw out against almost any other line, Cassidy can pick and choose his match-ups and expect great results. There may not be a deeper forward group in the NHL.

(Photo Credit: Christopher Evans/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

In all honesty, I think Cassidy will end up resorting to putting Pasta back on the top line, but I really do think it’s at least worth a shot to test Pastrnak on the third. Even with the super-line, Cassidy can just pick and choose who he wants in the lineup. They have so many options with the additions at the deadline. Coyle can end up playing with Krejci or continue to play well at 3C. Johansson had a lot of success in Washington with Nick Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin, so maybe he’s another guy to try out on the top line. Rookie Karson Kuhlman and Peter Cehlarik both looked at home in their handful of games with the Bruins and played on the 2nd and 3rd line but look to be healthy scratches as of now. Even Joakim Nordstrom has seen looks all throughout the lineup this year and continues to be a speedy, defensively reliable player. The Bruins have options galore.

Now at the end of the day, whatever group of forwards the Bruins throw out will be a really good one. The acquisitions at the deadline give this team a brand new feel and make them a real Stanley Cup contender. Oh boy, are playoffs going to be fun.

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Bruins 4th Line, Merlot 2.0?

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By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

4th lines across the NHL have changed quite a bit over the recent history of the NHL. The 4th line used to always be full of grinders and guys willing to drop the gloves. They didn’t play as much, but would always be a highly physical group of players that would change the tone of the game immediately.

While some of that stays true today, a look around the league’s 4th lines would show that the 4th lines of old don’t rear their heads much in the NHL now. One big exception to that is the 4th line of the Bruins, the “WAK” line consisting of Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari, and Chris Wagner. While the trio hasn’t been together all season long, their recent stretch of play has raised a lot of eyebrows and getting them the greatest compliment they could ever receive, do we have a new Merlot Line?

(Photo Credit: Jared Wickerham)

The Bruins Merlot Line boasted three absolute fan-favorites that put together an instrumental part of the Bruins Stanley Cup runs a few years ago. Left-winger Daniel Paille was a skilled, speedy winger that was a tremendous fore-checker. Shawn Thorton was an incredible leader both on, and off the ice. He was never afraid to stick up for a teammate but also had a lot more talent than people gave him credit for. Gregory Campbell centered the two and might be the toughest player I’ve ever seen play. He didn’t drop the gloves quite as much as Thornton (as if anyone did) he was just incredibly hard-working and again, had more skill than many thought. Also, who can forget when he finished a shift after breaking his leg.

This trio combined for 29 goals in the 2010-2011 season (with Paille missing half the season) and continued to play a very important role throughout the Bruins Stanley Cup winning season.

I’ve seen a lot of striking similarities between both 4th lines. The current “4th line” now has honestly been by far from just a 4th line. While the tendency to fight has gone down considerably in the league, all three guys are willing to chuck em’ to give the team some energy but again, they aren’t just a typical energy line. Coach Bruce Cassidy often has them playing against team’s top lines and they continue to do nothing but impress.

(Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

One reason why the line has been really successful is one that you might not think to be all that important. All three members have played a lot of center in their careers, which is huge considering they start over 67% of the time in the Bruins’ zone. If one gets kicked out during a big defensive zone faceoff? Another member (well both actually) can come in and take it, rather than forcing a winger to do something unnatural to them.

All three are usually relied upon to kill a lot of penalties as the second unit and have done a good job at that as well. They’ve helped the Bruins have the 12th best penalty kill in the league at 80.7% and is only 1.7% behind the 5th place Vegas Golden Knights. That number is even better considering the poor start to the season where the Boston held a 77.8% in December. Much of that can be attributed to the increase in the quality of play these guys have had.

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(By reading lips you can tell how much Don Sweeney loves this 4th line as well)

The line isn’t just good at keeping goals out of the B’s net, they have generated a lot of offense despite starting in the defensive zone over 67% of the time. The offensive leader of the bunch is Sean Kuraly, who’s having an impressive breakout season. His 17 points in 63 games put him on pace for 22 points, which is incredible from a 4th liner. Not far behind that is FA signing Chris Wagner, who is also having a break-out year, leading the line in goals with nine with another seven points on top of that. Noel Acciari certainly isn’t as offensively gifted as the other two, but still has a modest eight points in 55 games.

The Merlot Line proved that having a great 4th line is pivotal to a long playoff run. We even saw this as recent as last season where 4th liner for the Capitals, Devante Smith-Pelly, scored seven huge goals in the playoffs, three coming in the finals to lead Washington to it’s first ever Stanley Cup. Now we wait and see if the “WAK” line has what it takes to go down in Boston history with a Stanley Cup victory.

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Did the Bruins Give up on Ryan Donato too Early?

NHL: MAR 19 Blue Jackets at Bruins

(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

With the trading frenzy over, one of the Bruins’ new toys is Weymouth native Charlie Coyle. Now without getting too into the trade, I think the Coyle is a good fit with the Bruins; he checks a lot of boxes that Boston needs. He can play center and wing, he plays a heavy game, he’s still young at 26 and on a good contract for another year. Getting a quality player like Coyle comes with a price, and that price for the Bruins ended up being the young Ryan Donato.

Now while I like the acquisition of Coyle, I don’t like how early they gave up on Ryan Donato. Obviously, he’s far from a perfect player, but I really think he has what it takes to be a successful forward in the NHL.

Ryan Donato - Ryan Donato goes back to school after standout performance at Winter Games – what a difference a few days make

(Getty Images)

Donato has clearly shown what he can do when he’s on his game. In the 2018 Winter Olympics, the 2014 2nd rounder averaged a goal-per-game in the five games he played overseas. In college, he was an incredible player and ended up being a Hobey Baker nominee at Harvard. Even in his first 12 games in the NHL, he had 5 goals and 9 points. Not too shabby.

Entering his first full season in the pros, there was a lot expected of Donato. Coming off of a year full of accomplishments, the 22-year-old did not impress. After 11 games and just one goal, Donato was sent down to Providence.

After his month stint in the AHL, Donato was recalled, and it was clear the time in the minors helped him. He was a lot stronger on the puck, and his confidence started to emerge yet again. He was still inconsistent but still, put together a string of really good games. In the end, the Bruins front-office decided it was more beneficial for Donato to continue his growth in the AHL.

GOLD STAR:

(Credit-nbcsports.com/boston/bruins)

In Boston, Donato really never had a real shot to prove himself. Earlier in the season when the B’s needed some more depth scoring, I brought up the idea to split up the first line and put either Danton Heinen or Donato for a chance to showcase their skills with two. After a great rookie season, Heinen struggled to find the score sheet earlier this year. Similar to Donato, Heinen was still playing solid hockey (notably a better two-way game), but nothing was working for him. Much of that can be attributed to the revolving door of 3rd liners he was playing with. 

Obviously, the Bruins ended up giving Heinen a shot on the 1st line, and the experiment ended up being a great idea. Heinen has now found his game and (before his injury) Pastrnak elevated the 2nd line’s play; the Bs started to look like a real force in the league again.

Speaking of Pastrnak, he’s another player that followed similar footsteps as Donato had. Pastrnak’s first two seasons were filled with inconsistencies. There was no questioning his skill, but he was really shaky defensively and clearly needed to get a lot stronger. In the 2016 offseason, his second offseason with the Bruins, Pasta bulked up and definitely grew as a player. The next season, he got his chance with Bergeron and Marchand on the top line, and we all know how that ended up working out.

Nov 25, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Boston Bruins center Frank Vatrano (72) celebrates is game winning overtime goal against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Boston won 2-3 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

(Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports)

Another player I tend to compare Donato to is former Bruin, Frank Vatrano. He’s another local kid that plays a very similar style. The two are both relatively small, agile players that rely on their great shot to elevate their game. Now Vatrano wasn’t a great Bruin by any means, but similar to Donato, he showed a ton of potential. In the AHL he scored 36 goals in just as many games in the 2015-16 season. Last year, after a tough start with the Bruins, Vatrano was traded to the Florida Panthers for a 3rd round pick. Now that he’s gotten a legitimate shot with legitimate linemates, Vatrano has a chance to hit the 30 goal mark this year.

Prospects TAKE TIME. Not every 21-year-old is going to light up the league in his first full season. Last season at around this time, everyone was clambering over how amazing Ryan Donato was going to be. Now that he hasn’t blown anyone away in his first true season with the big club, he gets traded. The kid is still only 22 years old. I’m not saying he would’ve been a 40 goal scorer just because he got a chance on the top line, but it was definitely worth a shot this season, or even next year after he gets stronger and grows as a player even more over the offseason. Maybe Donato never fit into the Bruin’s future, but at the end of the day, trading him now is NOT capitalizing on his value. The Bruins just gave up too early on him.

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Could The Bruins Have Matched An Offer On Stone?

(Nils Petter Nilsson/Ombrello/Getty Image)

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

The prize of the NHL trade deadline has been dealt. Mark Stone ends up in Las Vegas with the Golden Knights. The cost? Erik Brannstrom, Oscar Lindberg and a 2020 2nd round pick.

Stone is well-regarded as one of the best two-way wingers in the entire league and is still just 26 years old. This season he has already set a career high in goals (28) and is two points away from his career high of 64. Another major factor about Stone is the fact that, soon after the trade went through, he signed an eight-year extension worth $9.5 million annually.

(Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The main piece the Senators got in return was 19-year-old defenseman Erik Brannstrom. Brannstrom was drafted 15th overall in 2017 and is widely considered as an A+ level prospect. The general consensus during “TSN Tradecentre” was that Brannstrom is easily a top-ten prospect in the league right now.

The young Swede has played well in his first season in North America, totaling 28 points in 41 games in the AHL as a D-man. The year prior, he posted 15 points in 44 games playing as a kid against men in the SHL. Brannstrom has also had a lot of international success. Last year, he was paired with phenom Rasmus Dahlin on Sweden’s World Junior team and was a big reason why the team got to the finals. This past World Juniors, he led the Swedes in goals with four. While the comparisons to Erik Karlsson may be a bit far-fetched, there’s no question Brannstrom will develop into a great NHLer when the time comes.

LAS VEGAS, NV - OCTOBER 24: Oscar Lindberg #24 of the Vegas Golden Knights skates with the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks during the game at T-Mobile Arena on October 24, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Jeff Bottari/NHLI via Getty Images)

The only other player Vegas gave up was forward Oscar Lindberg. Lindberg hasn’t quite replicated his successful rookie season with the New York Rangers where he tallied 13 goals and 28 points in 68 games but has been a reliable two-way forward since then. At 27, he still has time to grow into a better player.

A lot of Bruins’ fans were salivating at the potential of Stone being in the black and gold, and there’s no doubting he would be a perfect fit for Boston, but the biggest problem was clearly the price. Seeing what Stone was able to get in return, what would be a similar return from the Bruins?

Despite having a great farm system, the Bruins don’t tout an A+ prospect like Brannstrom. The closest player to would be fellow 2017 1st rounder, Urho Vaakanainen. While Vaakanainen doesn’t have the offensive pedigree that Erik has, he is still a highly touted two-way defenseman with a ton of upside.

(Photo Courtesy of NBCSports)

When Vaakanainen was drafted, Jamie Langenbrunner, Boston’s player development coordinator, had a lot to say about the young Fin. “I think Scott mentioned to me … which I thought was high praise for a guy that could effortlessly skate around the rink,” Langenbrunner said. “[Vaakanainen] seems to have a little bit of those tendencies that he kind of floats on his skates a little bit, and it’s something that I don’t believe you can really teach.” Any comparison to a Hall-of-Famer is a good thing.

The Bruins clearly think highly of the 20-year-old. When the Bruins D-core was riddled with injuries, the Bruins decided to call up Vaakainanen despite being just 19 at the time and within his first season in North America. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see much of the defenseman as he suffered a concussion in just his second game in the NHL. When healthy. Vaakanainen went on to win the gold medal in this year’s World Juniors, tallying four assists in seven games with a +5 rating for team Finland.

Since Vaakanainen isn’t quite the player that Brannstrom projects to be, you’d think a pick would need to be added to even out their hypothetical values there. Maybe exchanging the 2nd rounder that Vegas gave up for a 1st and adding a lower pick, let’s say a 4th.

Boston Bruins v Anaheim Ducks

(Photo Courtesy Of CBS Boston – CBS Local)

So at this point, the deal is Stone for Vaakanainen, a 1st round pick, and a 4th round pick. I’m sure Ottawa wanted a roster player in return, preferably a younger player with a bit of room to grow (just as Oscar Lindberg was), so maybe a guy like Peter Cehlarik would also go the other way.

Cehlarik, 23, is a smart player with a great work ethic; however, he doesn’t have a massive ceiling. With that said, he has shown quite a bit of promise throughout his brief stint in the NHL. This season, he has four goals and six points in his 14 games with Boston.

So would a realistic offer for Mark Stone be Urho Vaakanainen, a 2020 1st, 2019 4th, and Peter Cehlarik? I’d say it’s pretty similar in value to what Vegas gave up, but I’m not sure either team would end up doing it. According to @BruinsNetwork on twitter, it was what Vegas offered, not what the Bruins didn’t in regards to Stone so maybe he was destined to never be a Bruin.

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Bruins 2015 NHL Draft: Grading Sweeney’s Selections

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

After taking a look at every trade by Bruins GM Don Sweeney, we now dive into his draft history. We begin with his first and most controversy draft, the 2015 NHL Entry Draft.

In grading the picks, I’ll look at: where they were projected to go, what they have done so far, what players before and after have done so far, their fit to the Bruins at the time, among other aspects. These grades can easily change in a years time, some prospects take longer to groom before being. This entire grading as a whole is still way too early, you can really only grade a draft a decade down the line and see what impact (or lack thereof) the players have made.

Round 1, 13th Overall: Jakub Zboril

Grade: D+

It was well documented that the Bruins wanted to flip a couple of picks and move up in the draft to select the slick two-way defender Noah Hanifin. Obviously, they weren’t able to do that, and the Bruins also ended up missing out on similar D in Ivan Provorov and Zach Werenski to take the rains from Chara. Rather than go for a more offensive guy in Thomas Chabot (hindsight is 20/20) the Bruins ended up picking a more reliable, hard-working defenseman in Zboril. The young Czech D has slowly been developing in the AHL and has grown both offensively and defensively. While he didn’t play much (averaging 10:56 in his two games), he didn’t look out of place in his brief stint with the big club. He’ll carve a role the NHL at some point, there’s no questioning that, it’s just a matter of when and where.

(sportingnews.com)

Round 1, 14th Overall: Jake Debrusk

Grade: B+

Already a fan favorite in just his second season with Boston, Debrusk has been exactly what the Bruins’ management wanted him to be. The 22-year-old shows his work ethic every single shift he’s on the ice and is really starting to develop into a big goal scorer. If he wasn’t injured earlier on, he had a very good shot of hitting the 30 goal mark on the season. You can compare him to guys like Matthew Barzal or Brock Boeser who were drafted behind him, but Debrusk had embodied what it means to be a Bruin from the get-go.

Round 1, 15th Overall: Zachary Senyshyn

Grade: D

I like Senyshyn a lot. Despite being behind in development compared to some of his fellow draftees, he’s the type of player that the Bruins need. He’s got great speed, solid size, and being a right shot power-forward, it’s exactly the kind of player that would look great on the right side of David Krejci. My biggest problem with this pick is that the Bruins didn’t trade down in the 1st round to get him. Because he was projected to go early to mid 2nd round, you would think that if the Bruins wanted the player so badly, they could’ve moved down in the draft with one of these picks similar to what Toronto did in trading their 1st rounder (24th overall) to the Flyers for a 1st rounder (29th overall) and a 2nd rounder (61st overall). With all of the talent in the 1st round, there were bound to be other teams with the wish to move up in the draft to select a guy like Matthew Barzal or Kyle Connor. I have no problem with the player, I think at some point he will certainly become a consistent middle-six forward, but if Sweeney managed his assets a little better, maybe they come out of the draft with another talented prospect along with Senyshyn.

 

(Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Round 2, 37th Overall: Brandon Carlo

Grade: A

The Bruins hit a home-run with this pick. After playing just seven games in the AHL in the previous season, Carlo made the jump to full-time NHLer in 2016 as a 19-year-old. He played the entire 82 game season but definitely looked shaky at times. Since then, Carlo has really started to carve out a role on the Bruins back-end. I think he’s the Bruin that has improved the most since last season. He’s been an outstanding penalty killer and overall great shutdown defenseman while adding a lot more grit to his game. If Carlo could work on his offensive skills a bit more (just three points in 41 games this year), I can see him on the top pair for the Bruins for many years to come.

Round 2, 45th Overall: Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson

Grade: B+

Now while calling him “Patrice Bergeron 2.0” is a bit far-fetched at this point in his career, there’s no doubt that the young Swede has the skill-set to be a full-time NHLer. We’ve seen flashes of brilliance both offensively and defensively in his 28 games with the Bruins, but the consistency just isn’t quite there yet. At times, JFK looks a bit lackadaisical and not giving his full effort, but if he can work out his quirks, his two-way prowess will allow him to be a very good NHL player.

 

(Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports)

Round 2, 52nd Overall: Jeremy Lauzon

Grade: B+

With the ridiculous amount of injuries the Bruins’ D-core had, we got to see a lot of Lauzon in the NHL. He looked very comfortable in his 15 games in the NHL, there was nothing not to like. His 6’1, 205 lbs frame, combined with his puck-moving ability, makes him a two-way threat from the back-end. I’d say he deserves to be a regular NHLer next season, although he’s is unlikely to be that with the amount of depth the Bruins already have on D.

Round 3, 75th Overall: Daniel Vladar

Grade: B-

Goalies are always hard to judge after they’re drafted. So many of them are busts, but so many of them are late bloomers. Only two goalies (Mackenzie Blackwood and Adin Hill) have seen an NHL game from the entire draft. Vladar has been solid in the AHL but not outstanding. I’d expect him to challenge for the Bruins backup goalie position after Jaroslav Halak’s contract expires but the 6’5 Czech-man will have to wait a while until he gets his shot with the Bruins.

 

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(dobberprospects.com)

Round 5, 105th Overall: Jesse Gabrielle

Grade: C

Gabrielle is a very confusing player. After the Bruins drafted him in 2015, he went on to have two very good seasons in the WHL, lighting the lamp a total of 75 times in those two seasons. He’s got a bit of snarl to his game and some silky hands, but it just hasn’t clicked for Gabrielle in his pro career as of now. This year, he has a -22 rating in the ECHL and hasn’t even been given a look in the AHL. I’m not ready to call the player a bust just yet because he’s still just 21 years old, but something needs to change, whether it’s mentally or physically, if he wants a shot at making the NHL.

Round 6, 165th Overall: Cameron Hughes

Grade: B

A really good find late in the draft by the Bruins. After a so-so draft year at the University of Wisconsin, he progressed very nicely, upping his goal total each following season and eventually being named “captain” in his senior year in the NCAA. He’s continued on this path and has been a really solid player in the AHL this year, totaling 10 goals and 25 points in 45 games.

 

(Pioneer Press: Ben Garvin)

Round 7, 195th Overall: Jack Becker

Grade: C+

Now the chances of a 7th rounder making the NHL are slim, but there’s actually quite a bit to like with Becker. Now at the University of Michigan, Becker has had a decent year with 10 points in 25 games. He plays the game hard, but the best thing about Becker is his size. He’s 6’3, and with that frame, I won’t be surprised if he’s able to challenge for a bottom 6 role in the NHL at some point down the line.

So even with the controversial 1st round, there’s no questioning that the Bruins came out of this draft with a lot of talent. Many of the players have already sniffed the NHL and have very good chances to be everyday players with the Bruins. Sweeney’s average grade on this draft is just under a B- which is fairly accurate in looking at this draft. I do want to say again that these draft picks really can’t be properly judged until many, many years down the line but it was a fun thing to do as I’m continuing grading Don Sweeney’s tenure with the Bruins so far.

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