Less Is More For The Bruins In Free Agency

CMAC

Photo Courtesy of Bob DeChiara – USA TODAY Sports

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

Many Bruins fans, as soon as the final horn sounded ending the 2018-19 Stanley Cup Final and the Boston Bruins and fans alike watched the St. Louis Blues celebrate on TD Garden ice turned to free agency to see how this team could be improved. There are many talented players hitting the market this year, and the Bruins have around 14 million dollars in cap space. Now, I know a lot of you are thinking that with that kind of money our favorite team in black and gold could get an elite player or two and this team who was one game away from being Stanley Cup Champions, would be in a great position to get back there. Now, I don’t mean to burst your bubble but the Bs should not, and probably will not be very active in free agency.

The first reaction some of you may have had seeing that news may be a bit on the reactionary side, but I’ll explain why you should temper free agent expectations. The major reason is the amount of restricted free agents the Bruins have both this year and next year that they will likely keep. Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Danton Heinen are all restricted free agents this offseason and all three need to be re-signed. Brandon Carlo had an excellent season and played in his first playoffs ever despite this being his third year in Boston. The young defenseman played extremely well during the run to the Stanley Cup Final. A longterm four or five-year deal will probably be reached, and it’ll likely be for over four million dollars a year.

Danton Heinen is a player who some fans have soured on a bit because his offensive numbers were down from last season. While this may be a cause for concern, something that some people fail to realize is Heinen is one of the Bruins best defensive and possession forwards, which is hard to see on a scoresheet. At any rate, the down offensive season may actually end up working in the Bruins favor because in contract negotiations he probably will not be able to command as much money as he would have. I definitely see the Bruins and Heinen working out a four-year deal worth anywhere from two to three million dollars a year.

That leaves our final restricted free agent Charlie McAvoy. This one is a little bit trickier because McAvoy definitely deserves a big payday, and the Bruins want him to be a cornerstone of the team and defense for many years to come. However, giving him that huge contract he deserves may not be in the best interest for the Bruins right away. Next season, the Bruins have Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk, Connor Clifton, and Karson Kuhlman who are also RFAs. All four of those players are ones you’d probably like to keep. On top of that, Torey Krug is going to be a UFA, and that is someone the Bruins may also try to keep. They need as much cap space as possible.

What the Bruins will probably try and do is sign McAvoy to a smaller “bridge” contract with the promise of a big payday after that. A major reason why this would work out in the B’s favor is after the 2020-2021 season the Bruins have David Krejci, Tuukka Rask, and David Backes all coming off the books. That will give the Bruins a little more than 20 million dollars to spend. If you give McAvoy a two-year “bridge” contract, you could line up his payday perfectly with that money coming off the books. The young Bruins defenseman seems to like Boston and wants to stay long term so I can see a “bridge” deal being agreed upon and then the big payday coming in a couple of years.

Ultimately, these are my thoughts as to why we shouldn’t expect the Boston Bruins to be too active in free agency. I think they have internal options to fill needs at the second-line right wing and I’d like them to keep their own guys. Despite losing in game seven of the Stanley Cup Final, the future is bright for the boys in black and gold. I think if they stay the course, and keep their own guys, the team will be in great shape going into next season. My biggest advice to Don Sweeney is no reactionary moves to the Stanley Cup Final loss. Feel free to send me any comments or questions on Twitter. I hope everyone has a fantastic offseason and enjoys the draft. As always GO, Bs, GO!

Check out this week’s Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 132 below!!

Relishing The Moment: Boston Bruins Brandon Carlo

Image result for brandon carlo(Photo Credits: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

By: Liz Rizzo | Follow me on Twitter @pastagrl88

For the last two years, bad luck has struck a certain 6-foot-5 Boston Bruins defenseman and as 2018-1019 regular season drew to a close, the reaction was to wrap him up in bubble wrap.  This time around though, Lady Luck has FINALLY come knocking (with fingers and toes crossed) and Brandon Carlo is more than ready to hit the ice as he plays in his first Stanley Cup Finals.

For Carlo, this season has been his best so far and he has become one of the most reliable defensemen on the roster. In this post-season run, the 22-year-old has averaged 20:00 minutes of ice time and so far has two points in 17 games. As a first-year player, Carlo had to work in finding out exactly what type of NHLer he would become and had a pretty promising good season. However, his pairing with Torey Krug late in the second season led to less than favorable results and Carlo seemed unable to make the right adjustments. This time around though, the Bruins are seeing a more physical and mentally prepared defenseman:

“Once I got more of my mental game under me throughout this year, I started taking strides forward. When I make a mistake, I don’t really think about it anymore. I brush it off and move on to the next play. That’s a big thing the coaches have talked to me about, the staff as well at the end of last season. Just learning from that experience has been really big for me. And watching other players in the league do it as well.”

Aside from developing his mental game, Carlo has had the advantage of being on a team steeped with a veteran core that boasts the likes of  Chara, Bergeron, and Backes. And as the team gears up for tonight’s Game One against St. Louis, he recently touched on the subject of chemistry and how it has affected this team:

“Everybody loves one another. I think that’s a strong word, but overall it’s true. This group is all about playing for each other. Hanging out off the ice, doing everything. From top to bottom, whether you’re 42-years-old…to 20-years-old, just the chemistry between this group mixes really well and it correlates onto the ice as well.”

Image result for brandon carlo(Photo Credits: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

The time is here and Carlo (along with many that are playing in their first Playoffs) is soaking up the excitement as well as heeding advice from those core veterans. As the Colorado Springs-native explained about the mindset going into tonight:

“Just not to overthink things. You can get ahead of yourself and start to think about all the possibilities and whatnot. But they’ve done a really good job of letting us take some time away from hockey as well, and regroup as individuals mentally.”

Things have certainly changed for the Krug-Carlo pairing and both have been steady as a defensive duo, as the Bruins have been dealing with an injured Kevan Miller. Even Coach Bruce Cassidy has found ways to not break up the pair when Boston saw McAvoy suspended for a game and Chara dealing with an injury.

When it comes down to it, no one can predict the outcome of this series, which will undoubtedly be physical, but one thing’s for sure: this team will be putting everything on the line.

 

Bruins Post-Game Recap: ECF Game 3: Boston at Carolina

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(Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty

Home: Carolina Hurricanes

Away: Boston Bruins

Boston’s Lineup

Forwards

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

DeBrusk – Krejci – Backes

Johansson – Coyle – Heinen

Nordstrom – Kuraly – Wagner

Defense

Chara – McAvoy

Krug – Carlo

Grzelcyk – Clifton

Goalies

Rask

Halak

Carolina’s Lineup

Forwards

Svechnikov – Staal – Teravainen

Niederreiter – Aho – Williams

Foegele – McKegg – McGinn

Ferland – Wallmark – Maenalanen

Defense

Slavin – Hamilton

Pesce –  Faulk

Fleury –  de Haan

Goalies

McElhinney

Mrazek

First Period

Round one in PNC Arena came with high stakes for both teams. Would the Bruins go up 3-0, or would Carolina put the pressure on?

Things started off on a sour note for the Bruins, as the Canes established offensive pressure early, and Teuvo Teravainen somehow missed a wide-open Bruins net. Brandon Carlo then inadvertently gave them a power play as a result of a delay of game call. The power play came just 55 seconds into the period.

The first scrum of the game came after the first whistle on the power play as some real estate in the Bruins heads could be beneficial in making this series interesting. The Bruins killed off the power play in large part thanks to two huge saves by Tuukka Rask in front of the net at the end of the power play on Micheal Ferland and Justin Williams

Carolina’s power-play struggles continued, moving to 5 for 46 after the conclusion of their first man advantage of game three. But, the Canes definitely pushed the pace early on, and Rask stood tall.

The shots were 11-1 Canes through about six and a half minutes. That’s not what you want if you’re the Bruins. At this point, Torey Krug and Justin Williams went off on matching minor penalties, holding for Krug, roughing for Williams, 4-on-4 hockey commenced for two minutes.

The Bruins started to see some good chances come their way at the conclusion of the 4-on-4. The energy was high on both sides in the first period. The high-danger shots were there for Carolina, tasking the Bruins with limiting those going forward if they wanted any chance of winning.

A scoring chance from David Backes, a scrum, and a video review ensued around the halfway point of the period. The principal point of discussion was how the puck crossed the line, but the call stood in favor of the Canes. Shortly after, Williams ate another poop sandwich and was the only one in the penalty box after another altercation with Krug.

Just 45 seconds into the power play, Jake DeBrusk went off for slashing, creating a 4-on-4 for 1:15. That wasn’t all, as six seconds later, David Krejci made it 4-on-3 thanks to a high-sticking penalty. Even after the man advantage became a 5-on-3 for a little bit, the Canes failed to convert, and Rask looked solid again.

A big scrum ensued after another huge save from Rask, keeping with the trend, on Maenalanen. Former Minnesota Wild teammates Charlie Coyle and Nino Niederreiter even went after it. Coyle, Krug, and Maenalanen went to the box following the scrum, Carolina came out with a 5-on-4. Stop if you’ve heard this before, Rask played awesome on the penalty kill and held the Canes scoreless.

The Krug and Williams fiasco extended into the final two minutes, as Williams intentionally went up high and Krug and sat for two as a result.

The Bruins failed to score on the man advantage before the end of the period, but had the 27 remaining seconds bled into the second period for the Bruins. Overall, it was an ugly period, with the final shots sitting at 20-6.

Here’s a visual:

Not great, despite the Bruins winning 61% of the faceoffs. I can’t imagine Bruce Cassidy was very happy with anyone in the locker room, besides Rask.

Score: 0-0

Second Period

The Bruins gave themselves and Rask a pick me up early in the second period. Joakim Nordstrom took a hit to make a play, leading to Sean Kuraly finding Chris Wagner out front to give the Bruins a one-goal lead. The goal made Wagner and Matt Grzelcyk the co-leaders in goals for the series, on both teams — just as everyone expected. Wagner’s second was assisted by Nordstrom (3) and Kuraly (2). What a shift from the fourth line.

Good fortune continued to come the Bruins’ way in the form of a Niederreiter high-sticking penalty on Krejci.

The Bruins made no mistake this time on the power play. Brad Marchand walked into the slot and backhanded on off of Calvin de Haan and in. Marchand’s sixth made it 2-0 Bruins, assisted by David Pastrnak (7) and Krejci (6). The effort level in the second period took a big leap for the Bruins. Krejci’s assist gave him his 100th career playoff point, tying him with Rick Middleton and Johnny Bucyk for third-most in Bruins history.

Just seven seconds before the halfway point, Backes was high-sticked by Ferland to give the Bruins another power play.

Don’t let de Haan’s goal distract you from the fact that Rask did this. But that’s one that Rask wants back. 2-1 Bruins with 6:12 to go.

This happened too.

Things went much better in more areas than not for the Bruins this time around. The final shots for the period were 18-6 Bruins in the second, moving the totals to 26-24 Carolina overall. A huge third period awaited both teams

Score: 2-1 Boston

Third Period

This time, de Haan found his way into the spotlight for a tripping penalty 3:43 into the period. The Bruins were 1/4 on the power play heading into this one, with eight shots.

A point hammer from Krug found its way in, but DeBrusk made contact with McElhinney as a result of a collision with Jaccob Slavin as McElhinney was headed towards the outside of the crease. This had to have been a tough call for the officials, but they ruled in favor of the Canes. The score remained 2-1.

Make of that what you will.

The misfortune continued for the Bruins as Grzelcyk went off for interference with 14:22 to go in the period. Rask continued to make big saves and the Bruins killed off the penalty, making the Canes 0/5 on the power play.

Things were pretty back-and-forth for the rest of the period, at times. Wagner took a Justin Faulk slapshot off his hand and went to the locker room in the final three minutes of the period.

McElhinney was pulled for the extra attacker just around the two-minute mark. The final shots were 36-31 Canes, 10-7 in the period. The final tally was 35 saves for Rask in an epic showing from him, yet again. The Bruins take a three-game lead in the series in a hectic one. Next up is game four on the road again on Thursday at 8 PM ET.

Final Score: 2-1 Boston

Hypothetical: Losing McAvoy Might Shake Up Bruins’ Pairings Quite A Bit

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( Photo Credit: Claus Andersen/ Getty Images )

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

The Bruins, for the second time in the span of two weeks, closed out a hard-fought playoff series against a solid, skilled playoff opponent. The hard-earned victory did not come without its share of physicality, an aspect of the series in which Bruins’ defenseman Charlie McAvoy was more than involved.

Examining the series as a whole, McAvoy’s game has been elevated as the playoffs have progressed. McAvoy’s one outlier (performance-wise) came in Game 2, in which some questionable pinches and late-game defense by McAvoy found Boston relying on Tuukka Rask to make some saves that were not only large but were also in charge (I am hilarious, big credit to me). Aside from that one game, McAvoy has made a consistent case to be considered as the Bruins’ top defenseman…and if Brandon Carlo had chosen to be a basketball player as a young man, McAvoy would indeed be the Black and Gold’s top blue-liner. Fortunately for the Bruins, Carlo stuck with hockey.

At any rate, McAvoy’s aforementioned physicality led to him taking a brief dip in some hot water. McAvoy’s hit on Josh Anderson at the end the second period of Monday’s Game 6 against Columbus warranted a penalty, and many a Jackets fan (and hockey fan) thought warranted even more of a response.   Regardless of McAvoy’s meeting with the Department of Player Safety on Tuesday afternoon, the scenario that McAvoy misses some time is a difficult one that the Bruins need to be ready for (regardless of how his absence comes about). While the Bruins have used defensemen Steven Kampfer, John Moore, and Connor Clifton at different times as members of the team’s third D-pairing, the absence of McAvoy might shake up the lineup much more than a fluctuating third-pair.

 

For instance, McAvoy has been crucial to the lineup as a partner for Zdeno Chara, who (as much as it pains me to say) has begun to look more and more his age as the playoffs have progressed. Having McAvoy’s athleticism, skating ability, hockey sense, and physicality on the back end provide a much larger safety net for Chara than, say, Steven Kampfer might. I’m not bashing Kampfer, and I’m not bashing Chara. But it’s important to recognize the limits and capabilities of each defenseman in order to adequately address any potential lineup shifts.

Changes

With that being said, what would a potential Chuck-less lineup look like?

Certainly, Bruce Cassidy would be wiser than to put a seventh or eighth defenseman alongside Zdeno Chara. It is likely that this means Brandon Carlo or Connor Clifton see themselves flanking the big man in the event that McAvoy is sidelined (press-boxed).   While Kevan Miller would be a more than serviceable replacement for any right-handed defenseman in the lineup currently, his health remains an issue. This leaves Cassidy taking his pick of potential insertion into the lineup from Steven Kampfer or John Moore. While Kampfer might be the logical choice to fill the void of a missing right defenseman, I am of the camp that the best players should play, regardless of their handedness (a reason why I was baffled that Chara remained on the ice for the final minutes of Game 5… which is neither here nor there).

 

Unfortunately, I don’t think John Moore has separated himself as a better replacement than Steven Kampfer. For as much depth as the Bruins have in terms of actual bodies, the depth of their ability on the back-end is somewhat limited. And, while the Bruins have a considerable amount of Black Aces ready to play from Providence, the fact remains that Kampfer’s playoff experience, though limited, trumps that of any potential young prospect fresh out of Providence.

In the event that McAvoy does come out of the lineup for any reason (suspension, injury, etc.) I think it’s fair to expect Cassidy to go with the following pairings on the back end:

Krug-Carlo
Chara-Clifton
Grzelcyk-Kampfer

These pairings, while limited in their offensive capabilities, bring about the least amount of change to the lineup (Carlo pairing remains untouched) while balancing the amount of skating ability, defensive commitment, and experience to field an effective defensive corps.

 

As much as I’d like to be positive about the hypothetical pairings I just created in response to a potentially negative scenario, there’s no getting around that Charlie McAvoy’s removal from the B’s lineup hurts.

A lot.

Bruins Hope Rest Will Re-Awaken Top Dogs

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( Photo Credit: Gregory Shamus/Getty Images )

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

The Boston Bruins are in absolutely no position to panic or feel worried about the state of their team, and as such, neither are the fans. The unexpected truth of the series is objectively more encouraging than worrisome, and this truth is that the Bruins have outplayed the Columbus Blue Jackets, despite Boston’s best players being somewhat invisible through two games.

Ideally, the Black and Gold’s entire roster should be firing on all cylinders at this point in the spring. However, to find themselves in an even series with a second-round opponent despite getting subpar play from almost every single one of their leaders (aside from Tuukka Rask, who has been stellar), is a testament to just how good this Bruins team is and will be when they can put together a full effort.

Picking Up Slack/Depth

There are several things to smile about (from a Bruins’ perspective) when examining the facts of how the B’s have gotten to this point in the series. The first and foremost of which is the aforementioned notion that they have objectively been successful despite being without the “A-games” of their best players. Not only does this allow the mind to wander when imagining how much more effective Boston will be when things start to click, but it affords observers an opportunity to appreciate the depth that the Bruins are employing on the ice.

As depth—particularly at the forward positions—had been a prominent issue identified by management (and many a Bruins fan), it is enthralling to see that when deadline acquisitions and bottom-six forwards are playing to their capabilities, they are able to carry the load when their leaders are sluggish.

With this being said, anticipating a resurgence among the Bruins leading scorers—Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, DeBrusk—might indeed be a justified line of thinking. While most players are prone to periods of quiet play and ineffectiveness from time to time, very seldom have Bruins fans come to see the play of their leaders falter so simultaneously. As troublesome as the decline in their effectiveness has been, to expect it to continue for much longer would truly be hoping for a longshot, especially given the pedigrees of the respective Bruins’ leaders.

 

If the series has been even with the Bruins top-six forwards playing some of their worst hockey, then it would be well within reason to expect the Bruins to take control of the series with just a small improvement in the efforts of their top-scorers.

Defensively

The Bruins’ efforts defensively have somewhat mirrored the play of their forwards, though in perhaps a less salient manner. Simply, they have been unable to put together a game in which all members of their D-core are playing to their capabilities.

Aside from Brandon Carlo. He has been flat out impressive.

Game 2 saw a decent performance from most members of the Bruin’s defensive units, yet individually there are, in most cases, things to point to that highlight inconsistency. Defensively, Carlo, Clifton, and Krug played relatively mistake-free hockey.

Krug, however, “quarterbacked” a first powerplay unit that was at best underwhelming. In moments where the prowess of the powerplay (Prowerplay?! I’m so sorry…) was needed most—specifically a three-minute advantage following the surrendering of an absolute giveaway of a goal—they failed to piece together any sustained pressure or scoring opportunities. As such, an energized and motivated Columbus team seized the momentum of the man-advantage.

Zdeno Chara’s failed clear on a second-period penalty kill was costly, and (like the laughable Charlie Coyle turnover that would come later in that same period) provided Columbus with both a goal and a surge of energy they would ride throughout the rest of the game.   Charlie McAvoy’s play featured significant lapses in judgment in some of the most important moments of the game, specifically in the overtime periods. The most notable of these blunders were an ill-advised pinch which led to a high-percentage scoring chance by Jackets captain Nick Foligno, and another play in which McAvoy got WALKED (dangled, breezed, torched, take your pick) by Foligno on his way to another grade-A scoring chance. Fortunately for McAvoy, in both instances Tuukka was equal to the task*, robbing Foligno of both would-be game-winners.   *Big credit to me for not rhyming “Rask” with “task” there.

 

Albeit concerning, these faults in the performances of key members of the Bruins point to an evident truth: with some tightening of the screws, and a commitment to playing the style of hockey that made them successful all year, the Bruins should be right back in the driver’s seat of this series.

With the AUX cord. In complete control.

Rest

Columbus came into the series with much more than a week of rest. The Bruin’s entered the series with barely over one day of rest. The Bruins have outperformed a well-rested and relatively healthy Columbus team despite Boston’s tired and beaten up roster, whose best players have yet to shine in the postseason. While many might point to the idea that perhaps Columbus had “too much rest,” the effects of being out of competitive situations for so long likely wouldn’t last longer than a period or two. Quite simply, the Bruins have outplayed Columbus without once having more than a day in between games to recharge…until now.

 

The Jackets are about to get a rested Bruins team in Columbus, something they haven’t seen since Game 80 of the regular season. The Bruins won that one 6-2, by the way.

 

I’m not sure if the Columbus players or fans wear boots. But if they do, then now might be a good time to start shaking in them.

Boston Bruins: Four Games, Two Wins, Three Lines

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Photo Credit: Frank Gunn/AP

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

It doesn’t take a brilliant hockey mind to understand that the Bruins stole Game 4 from Toronto thanks to some big games from big names.

 

The Bruins, despite twice going up by two or more goals in the game, never seemed to have complete control, and their feeble attempt at staving off a Toronto comeback effort demonstrated how unstable their leads can be. Tuukka Rask allowed a bad goal, but he also played an outstanding hockey game. Game 4 was probably the strongest offensive effort the Leafs put together, pouring in four goals and matching their series high. Yet even as they were charging late having stolen every ounce of momentum, Rask was equal to the task (I hate that I just used that line), slamming the door on both the Leafs and Game 4.

The Bruins got solid games from their top defensive pairing and Brandon Carlo on the back end, with their top line and Charlie Coyle playing well up front. Outside of this group (and Rask) the Bruins played a “meh” hockey game. Maybe even “meh-minus.”

For the third time in four games, Toronto played a better hockey game than the Bruins. If not for the grace of Boston’s top dogs, the Bruins would be coming back to Boston down 3-1 with their backs secured firmly against the wall.

What’s encouraging about this scenario for Boston, is that they’ve essentially played four games (winning two of them), with just three lines. Butch Cassidy’s fourth forward unit of Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari, and Chris Wagner has been, to put it nicely, disappointing. While Nordstrom was able to score an empty netter with the game already decided last night, and even drew a critical penalty in the opening minutes of the game (which lead to a Charlie McAvoy BINGO), the unit as a whole put together another underwhelming game.

 

Kuraly, Please.

The string of playoff performances that this fourth line has compiled sheds a lot of light on just how valuable Sean Kuraly is to not just the fourth unit, but also the team as a whole. Sean Kuraly is the straw that stirs the fourth line drink. With Kuraly in the lineup, his speed makes the entire fourth unit faster and opens up the ice North/South. His ability to carry the puck with speed through the neutral zone drives offensive zone possession for Boston, something that is invaluable, especially coming from a fourth unit. Kuraly’s speed also allows him to be first on a lot of pucks that are dumped behind defensemen. While certainly this bodes well for Boston’s offense and scoring chances, it also (and almost more importantly) creates tougher minutes for Toronto’s defensemen. Forcing Toronto to play in their own end limits their energy and ability to bypass the Bruins’ forecheck with smooth and simple breakouts. Without Kuraly, the Black and Gold forecheck has been noticeably weaker (aside from Game 2). When examining the forechecking efforts of the fourth line specifically, they seem to lack the necessary speed to apply pressure in certain spots (Wagner, Acciari), and lack the necessary physicality to disrupt possession in others (Nordstrom). Kuraly will bring both physicality and speed to Toronto’s front door, and Game 2 showed just how important that is for the Bruins to succeed. To paraphrase the great Destiny’s Child, I don’t think they’re ready for this jelly.

 

Kuraly’s role might be as significant to this team’s success as any fourth liner that I can remember. His presence on the fourth line makes the entire lineup deeper, and it opens up chances for other lines because it forces opponents to play tougher minutes. Toronto has shown that it is incapable of playing 60 solid minutes when presented with physicality and aggressiveness.

Having #52 rejoin will not only signal Kuraly’s return to the lineup, but it also signals the return of the fourth line to the Bruin’s rotation. Having Kuraly back means that Bruce Cassidy will have another line he can trust to put on the ice regularly, which will save the legs of the Bruins top scorers and open up the game for them to play as they are capable of. We got a glimpse of how good they can be in the playoffs on Wednesday night in Game 4. Imagine how good they will be when Kuraly’s line eats up some of their tougher minutes.

Put your Kuraly caps on! (I’ll see myself out.)

Moving Forward

As far as what the fourth line will look like upon Kuraly’s return, I think it’s anyone’s guess. While the Wagner-Acciari-Kuraly line had a lot of success during the year, it will be interesting to see if Cassidy doesn’t leave Nordstrom in for either Acciari or Wagner. While Nordstrom did outplay both of them, Acciari and Wagner’s chemistry with Kuraly might prove to be too significant to ignore.

If it were up to me, the fourth unit would feature Kuraly-Acciari-Kuhlman. Admittedly, while part of me thought that a “KKA” (pronounced “Ca-Caw”) line would have a cool nickname and be fun for Cassidy to shout when their time had come to grace the ice, I also think that this grouping brings the best balance of speed, skill, and physicality to the fourth line. And that’s a combination that the Bruins have been in dire need of for more than a week now.

In all likelihood, we will probably see either the WAK line or Nordstrom with Kuraly and Acciari. Either way, there’s no scenario in which Sean Kuraly returns and the Bruins’ fourth unit isn’t immediately miles ahead of where it was just days before.

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Photo Credit: Brad Penner/ USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins just got their swagger back. And are back on Garden ice. Uh-oh.

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

( Photo Credit: JEFF CHEVRIER/ICON SPORTSWIRE VIA GETTY IMAGES )

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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Bruins Clinch Home Ice Advantage-Time To Rest?

( Photo Credit: Canadian Press )

By: Jack McCarthy  |  Follow Me On Twitter @73johnnymac 

By virtue of their 6-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena, the Boston Bruins have secured second place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and more importantly, home ice advantage in their opening round playoff series against their division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Bruins were led by winger Jake DeBrusk’s three-point game and Brad Marchand’s two-point night, becoming Boston’s first 100-point player since Joe Thornton in the 2002-03 season.  The six-goal outburst was hi-lighted by balanced scoring with goals coming from three of the four lines.

The Bruins victory coupled by Toronto’s 4-1 defeat on home ice to the Carolina Hurricanes wrapped up second place in the Atlantic Division for the Bruins and guarantees they will open at TD Garden against the Leafs when the NHL playoffs begin in just over a week.

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The significance of clinching home ice with two games to spare should not be overlooked.  Coach Bruce Cassidy now has the luxury of resting some of his key players who may be nursing minor injuries that players often deal with having reached game 80 in the regular season schedule.  Look for Cassidy to deploy some unfamiliar looking line-ups over the final two regular-season games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay.  For a change, this is a luxury situation and not a crisis caused by the injury bug.  The question becomes which Bruins are in line for a game off over the last two?  Coach Cassidy will attempt to balance health and rest with keeping players playing well and not disturbing chemistry.

Candidates to receive a night off over the final two games include:

Zdeno Chara:  The 42-year old Chara will be relied upon heavily against the Maple Leafs in a shutdown role most likely against the Auston Matthews line, as well as on the penalty kill.  Having suffered a knee injury in Colorado back in November, Chara has only appeared in 61 games this season, low by his standards, but the opportunity for a night off to refresh and recharge for the playoffs makes perfect sense.

Charlie McAvoy:  McAvoy has had a good season and has been especially solid over the last 25 games or so for the Bruins while earning seen key situational ice time including an increased role on the first power play unit while Torey Krug was out of the lineup.

Brandon Carlo:  The third-year defenseman has blossomed this season and is having the best campaign of his young career.  Carlo has become a key defender and is being deployed in matchup situations as well as on the penalty kill.  Bruins fans are all too familiar with the devastating season-ending injuries Carlo has suffered in each of his first two seasons.  After compiling relatively injury free seasons, Carlo was lost in the final regular-season game two years ago and missed the entire 6-game playoff series against the Ottawa Senators.  Last season, Carlo went down with just over a week remaining in the regular season and missed the entire playoffs yet again.  The Bruins would be wise to sit Carlo for the final regular season game and have him wrapped in cotton balls in the press box for good measure!

The remaining key Bruins defenders, namely Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and Kevan Miller have all recently returned from injury.  Provided all are now fully healthy and wouldn’t stand to benefit from a game off, are likely best suited to play the final two games to continue getting back into game fitness heading into the playoffs.

 Patrice Bergeron:  Bergeron is on the cusp of cracking the 80-point mark for the first time in his illustrious career.  Whilst it would be nice to reach that mark, Bergeron being the consummate professional would likely value the opportunity to rest prior to going to battle with their bitter divisional foes next week.

Brad Marchand: Marchand is an interesting option and likely gets a game off as well.  It would have been really interesting to see what approach Coach Cassidy and the Bruins might have taken in the final game of the season if Marchand was sitting on 98 or 99 points.  Whilst the team certainly comes first it would have been difficult to deny a player the opportunity to achieve such a huge personal milestone, one that has only be seen in black and gold twice in the last 25 years.   Needless to day, Marchand reaching the 100-point mark with two games remaining in the regular season makes the decision a much easier one.  There is the slim opportunity to reach 40 goals (Marchand would need 4 over the last 2 games) or 100 penalty minutes (Marchand would also require 4 over the last two games), but milestones aside, sitting one of the final two games is a good bet.

David Pastrnak:  Having missed 16 games in the second half of the season with a broken thumb, Pastrnak should be relatively refreshed heading into the playoffs.  That said, if there are any ill effects of the injury still being felt, the opportunity is there to give Pastrnak a game or two off heading into the weekend.

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David Krejci: Krejci is the only Bruin to have played in all 80 games this season and has probably earned the right to make his own call as to whether he sits a game in the final two or not.  Krejci has had an outstanding season and is expected to be a key contributor against Toronto in round one.  Krejci has an opportunity to establish a career high in points, needing just two in the final two games to match his high of 73 points achieved all the way back in 2008-09.

As for the others, the opportunity is there for Coach Cassidy to sit any players who may be dealing with minor, undisclosed injuries over the final two games of the regular season.  The Bruins have gotten the job done, securing home ice advantage, which has proven pivotal against Toronto in their two previous meetings, both decided in Game 7 on TD Garden ice.  The rest that may be given out over the final two games has certainly been earned.

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How to Treat Bruins Defensemen As Playoffs Approach

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Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara/ USA TODAY Sports

By: Cam McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter @CSthinks

The Bruins have been hurt all year. You’d be hard pressed to recall a game in which their regular roster was 100% healthy. If you can in fact recall such a game off the top of your head, then you are likely someone with a strangely strong memory who would probably weird me out if we were to meet in person. The point is, these games have been few and far between.

No one position in the lineup has been immune to these injuries. The list of injured Bruins players includes… well, just about everyone. Big ups to David Krejci for not only staying healthy all year, but for staying positive when all his friends were licking their wounds and putting band-aids on their boo-boos.

But as we approach the playoffs, an area that draws significant focus in terms of game management and recovery for players is the defensive unit of the Bruins. The man-games lost to injury among Bruins defensemen alone has been astounding. So much so that I used the word astounding just now, and I took a vow to never use that word without just cause.

At the tail end of a pretty significant stretch of games where the Black and Gold have been undermanned at the defensive position, things are starting to look hopeful at the right time. Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and Kevan Miller are all rejoining the Bruins’ lineup within one week of each other. Undoubtedly, some rust is to be expected out of these three as they return (Krug only had 2 assists in his return from injury, yuck). But on the whole, the Bruins will be a much better and more well-rounded team with half of their regular defensive unit back in action.

A dilemma that Bruce Cassidy might be faced with, however, is how to treat the other half of the defensive unit. This would be the half that has helped keep the team afloat when a weaker team might have folded. This is the half that has been tasked with playing significant minutes in the absence of their compatriots, in order to minimize the amount of pressure and responsibility placed on the defenseman mitigate the negative affects of a beaten up D-core replete with AHL callus and press box regulars.   Specifically, it will be interesting to see how Cassidy will handle the playing time and workloads of Charlie McAvoy, Zdeno Chara, and perhaps most importantly Brandon Carlo over the final five regular season games.   Chara is 42, and despite being in remarkable physical condition, some rest might be crucial to entering the postseason in top form. Carlo has been solid all year long, yet went down in the later part of the regular season last year, and his absence was more than noticeable against Tampa Bay. McAvoy, despite being relatively healthy for at least the latter half of this season, has been tasked with shouldering the load as far as ice time is concerned, averaging around 23 minutes throughout each of his past five games.

 

Unfortunately, there McAvoy struggled in the third period of a game against Tampa Bay on March 25th, a result that could very well be linked to fatigue and overuse (McAvoy played nearly 27 minutes in that game).

All this to say, the balance between effective rest and harmful idleness is one that Cassidy will have to find for the three aforementioned D-men. Certainly any coach would like to rest the legs of those on whom he will have to rely in the playoffs (as well as protect them from injury), but it is important to keep them fresh and primed as the postseason approaches. This balance is one that is going to have to be found by calculating the right amount of minutes per night for each of the defensemen, as well as how many games they will actually dress for.

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Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara/ USA TODAY Sports

What does coach Cam do?

If it were up to me (and it won’t be), I would play all 6 of my regular defensemen in the final game of the season. Sure, this game comes against Tampa, whose run-and-gun style is one that could potentially place some stress on the Bruins defensively. While this might factor into a potential decision to use the game as a rest for some of the B’s defensemen, I would leave them all in. Toronto is a lock for the Bruins as a first round matchup, and the closest thing that resembles the star-power the Bruins defensemen will be facing in the first round is the star power of Tampa’s forwards in Point, Kucherov, and Stamkos.

For the four games leading up to the (regular) season finale, I think it would be wise to play Miller, Grzelcyk, and Krug as much as possible. Conversely, Bruce Cassidy would be wise to allot 3 games to Chara, McAvoy, and Carlo as the season comes to a close. Apart from the final game, find two others for each defenseman to skate in, and have Connor Clifton and Steven Kampfer fill in as needed. If all goes well, maybe John Moore will even be healthy by the time playoffs roll around.

 

This is all speculation and opinion from someone who writes with more confidence than he ever played hockey with. But to me, it seems pretty clear that the Bruins D-core could benefit from some balance and rest as the season comes to a close, so that they are not decimated by injuries as was the case at the heartbreaking end of last season.

 

Don’t worry. I’ll have my guy talk to Butch. They text a lot.

 

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My Pick for Bruins’ 7th Player Award

carlo

( Photo Credit: NHL.com )

By: Yanni Latzanakis  |  Follow Me On Twitter:  @yanlatz

The NESN’s 7th Player award is presented annually to a player on the Bruins roster who has performed above and beyond expectations this season. The award has been given out since the 1968-69 season when Ed Westfall won the award that season according to Fandom.com.

The award has been given out to Bruins players who have turned into legends. To name a few: Terry O’Reilly, Cam Neely, Barry Pederson, and Rick Middleton. Recently, the award has been given to Bruins players like Tim Thomas, Milan Lucic, David Pastrnak, Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, Brad Marchand, and Charlie McAvoy.

This year, the Bruins have been one of the best teams in the league and one of the most dominant at times. Their dominance has been in part from incredible performances from up and down the lineup. Of course, the Bruins top line made up of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak is a constant threat night-in-night-out. But, part of the Bruins success comes from unlikely heroes in the forward group, the defensive core, and both goaltenders. Also, a plethora of injuries this year has caused many different players to be called upon through the “next man up” mentality.

 

With the Bruins so successful, we can easily make a case for 4 or 5 players who deserve the 7th Player Award. Jaroslav Halak has been a huge surprise as a strong backup sharing the net with Tuukka Rask. David Krejci has not missed a game this season and is having his second best season based on points with 65 through 76 games. Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly could also be in the conversation who have both become fan favorites in the bottom 6.

My pick, however, is Brandon Carlo. In his third season, he has been a big part of the Bruins success this season. He has not done it in a flashy way though. He has been doing the right things in the defensive zone and neutral zone and at times jumped in the offense. He might not be the clear-cut frontrunner for the player who has gone above and beyond this season because his numbers are not outstanding. But, if you watch Brandon Carlo play on a nightly basis, his shutdown play can’t be missed. There have been so many times this year where I have said to myself “wow, Brandon Carlo has really stepped it up this season.”

Carlo has had a couple of good seasons before this one but nothing too incredible. He hit a couple bumps in the road towards the ends of the last two seasons. On April 8, 2017, Carlo suffered a concussion after a collision with Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin. This knocked him out for the playoffs as he missed all 6 games against the Senators in the 2017 post-season. Right before the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Carlo suffered a broken fibula in the third period of a game against the Florida Panthers. For the second straight season, Carlo would miss the entire playoffs.

These injuries have definitely hurt the Bruins defense in the playoffs and have set back Carlo’s development into a top-tier defenseman. This season, he has come back from the injuries stronger, better, and more confident. He is making the right plays and using his size to eliminate opponent scoring chances. But it’s not just his defensive abilities. He also has the awareness and confidence to jump into the offensive rush at the right times and contribute to scoring chances in the attacking zone.

 

Carlo is averaging just about 21 minutes of ice time this season. He has scored two goals and six assists for eight points this season while also compiling a +18 rating. His hockey IQ and his defensive awareness has made him into a top shut down defenseman for the Bruins who is really growing into his top-four role for the B’s. He has been arguably the most consistent Bruin this season. He did miss a few games earlier this season but has not let it hinder his play or his confidence.

If Brandon Carlo stays healthy for the Bruins throughout the playoffs, it will be huge for the team defense in their quest for the Stanley Cup. Whether Carlo wins the 7th Player award or not, he is still a huge force for the Bruins this season and is vital for the Bruins defense to combat the high-flying Maple Leaf offense that the Bruins will almost certainly face in the first round. Either way, the Bruins have multiple candidates for the 7th Player Award which is a great thing, and any of those candidates can take home the hardware.

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