Bruins Backes, Wagner Likely To Sit Out Game Seven

NHL: Stanley Cup Final-Boston Bruins at St. Louis Blues

(Photo credit: Billy Hurst-USA TODAY Sports)

By Carrie Salls | Follow me on Twitter @nittgrl73

Boston Bruins Coach Bruce Cassidy indicated on Monday that the lineup for Wednesday’s series-deciding seventh game of the Stanley Cup Finals will probably look just like the one that took the ice for Sunday’s 5-1 victory, with one possible exception that seemed even less likely as the week progressed. If those plans hold up, that means former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes will once again watch the game from the TD Garden press box.

Backes has been in and out of the lineup throughout the playoffs. He was a healthy scratch for game five when Cassidy opted to go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen in an effort to boost the strength of a banged-up blue line. Backes also was scratched for game six in favor of the speedier Karson Kuhlman.

The decision to insert Kuhlman in the second line left wing slot that Backes had been occupying paid off for Cassidy, with Kuhlman scoring a goal and helping the second line put forth a solid effort in the win. As a result, it makes sense for the coach to stick with Kuhlman for the final game. For his part, Backes seems to be glad to play whatever role he is assigned in the team’s quest for the Cup.

Chris Wagner is another season-long contributor who likely will not dress for Wednesday’s game. Wagner, who suffered an arm injury when he blocked a shot in the third game of Eastern Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes, somewhat surprisingly participated in practice leading up to Sunday’s game six. Wagner was a full participant in Tuesday’s final practice of the season, as well. However, Cassidy’s plans for game seven do not include inserting Wagner back into the mix, even if he is healthy enough to play.

With fourth liners Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari racking up first line-type minutes and contributing on the score sheet throughout the series, it would be difficult for Cassidy to justify sitting any of them in game seven to make room for Wagner. So, it appears as if the Walpole native will be joining Backes on the ninth floor cheering on his teammates on Wednesday.

That brings us to the player Cassidy dubbed “the wild card” when discussing his lineup for game seven: Matt Grzelcyk. Charlestown’s Grzelcyk was placed in concussion protocol following a hit that forced him out of game two.

Although Grzelcyk has returned to practicing with the team and with the Black Aces, most of that time, he has been donning a red non-contact jersey. Before the game on Sunday, it was announced that he had still not cleared concussion protocol, meaning he could not play in game six. Grzelcyk was still in the non-contact jersey for Tuesday’s practice, making any potential return to game action even less likely.

Even if Grzelcyk is cleared for game seven, Cassidy said there was no guarantee he would play. John Moore has been filling in during Grzelcyk’s absence, and either Moore or Connor Clifton would probably be relegated to a healthy scratch if Grzelcyk does play.

Here is the expected lineup for game seven, based on the lines at Tuesday’s practice.

 

Bruins Joakim Nordstrom Taking Large Strides in Stanley Cup Finals

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PHOTO CREDITS: (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj 

Tonight, the Boston Bruins have a chance to lead the Stanley Cup Finals three-games-to-one over the St. Louis Blues. Following a brief look at the roster, many can attribute the success found in the 2018-19 season to many different sources. Goaltender Tuukka Rask and the first line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak are four obvious choices while the defensemen of Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Zdeno Chara played equally important roles in not only getting to the postseason, but achieving the Prince of Wales Trophy.

Going back to October, one of the main topics of concern for the Bruins roster was the depth scoring, or lack thereof. Everyone was well aware of the powerhouse top line that dominated the previous playoff run, more specifically against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but after that, the consistent scoring was simply in question.

David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk had chemistry together but they had troubles gelling with a player on the right wing. Numerous players were tested with them, even Pastrnak at some points but the need for a top-six winger was on the Bruins’ radar. Further down the lineup, the third and fourth lines were decent, but they weren’t expected to produce numbers that are needed from your bottom-six in today’s NHL.

Fast forward to now and the Boston Bruins are being talked about for their resilient, hard-working depth that has carried them through the scoring droughts and struggles of the more well-known Bruin forwards. Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner, and Noel Acciari had a fantastic fourth line throughout the season. The addition of both Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson have been tremendous boosts for the team and Danton Heinen has found a success role on their wing.

When Chris Wagner fell out of the lineup this postseason due to an injury that resulted from a blocked shot, the Bruins turned to Joakim Nordstrom to help the bottom line with Kuraly and Acciari. Nordstrom had been bounced from the third line and fourth line all season long and was deemed a healthy scratch quite often during the regular season due to the poor play he had shown.

During those times of scratches and long (and I mean long) scoring droughts, many believed that the two-year signing of Nordstrom in the 2018 NHL Free Agency period was a waste of money. His lack of production and value to the team was mentioned everywhere and it was apparent that the coaching staff felt the same way. Yet, that did not and will not alter the mindset of the 27-year-old, Stockholm, Sweden native.

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PHOTO CREDITS: (Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

Nordstrom started off the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs against Toronto with one goal in the opening four games. In that span, he averaged only 11:33 of ice time and was a -2 rating. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy scratched Nordstrom for Game Five, a loss for Boston, then went back to Joakim with their backs against the wall in Game Six in Toronto. Nordstrom played less than nine minutes in the win, recording only one hit and sat in the box for two minutes.

Now on home ice, Nordstrom scored the first goal of the game in Game Seven and helped out later in the game with a secondary assist on Sean Kuraly’s third period goal. Joakim Nordstrom finished the series with 2-1-3 numbers – not fantastic, but a definte improvement from his sub-par season. Unfortunately, he failed to score a single point in the entire six-game series against the Blue Jackets and he ended the Eastern Conference Finals sweep of the Carolina Hurricanes with only one assist.

Then came the Stanley Cup Finals and a new Joakim Nordstrom. During his two-year stint with the Chicago Blackhawks, Nordstrom played in three games over the course of the entire playoff run, but did get to raise the Stanley Cup over his head with the 2015 Hawks. With the experience of hoisting the Cup in the past, 2019 became the first time that Nordstrom got the opportunity to play in the Finals and he has taken that chance and has ran with it.

In the opening three games of the best-of-seven series against the St. Louis Blues so far, Joakim Nordstrom has one goal and three assists for four points to go along with his six blocked shots and +5 rating. All of a sudden, Nordstrom is one of the biggest factors to Boston’s winning lineup. In Game Two, the forward recorded five blocks, including this remarkable effort on an extended penalty-kill late in the second period to keep the game tied.

Earlier in the same game, Nordstrom squeaked a clean shot five-hole past Jordan Binnington to restore Boston’s one-goal lead only forty seconds after Robert Bortuzzo tied the hockey game in the opening frame. While Boston lost the game in overtime later in the night, the quick goal from Nordstrom prevented the momentum from drastically being in St. Louis’ favor.

As mentioned previously, the Bruins are on the road for Game Four tonight. With a 2-1 series lead on the Blues, Boston can take a stranglehold on the series with a win – giving them a chance to win the Stanley Cup at home on Thursday. Coming off of a stellar 7-2 victory in St. Louis on Saturday night, the momentum appears to be in Boston’s favor now.

However, in order for the winning team on Monday night to be wearing Black and Gold, players such as Joakim Nordstrom need to continue the admirable efforts on the ice. Of course, the best of the best to wear the Spoked-B this season need to show up as well, but as the history has shown in 2018-19 – it all comes down to depth. Will Joakim Nordstrom continue to silence the doubters on this Stanley Cup run and help lead the B’s to another victory? Puck drop for Game Four is scheduled for 8:00pm EST from St. Louis, Missouri tonight.

How College Hockey Has Impacted The Boston Bruins Roster

( Photo Credit: Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images )

By: Lucas Pearson  |  Follow Me On Twitter @lucaspearson_

College hockey just continues to grow and grow. Not only the popularity, but the quality of play has been incredible as of late, and it’s really starting to show with more and more NCAA players entering the NHL. In 2003, the NHL was made up of 21% NCAA alumni. That number has risen considerably since then, reaching 33% this season.

As a Bruins fan, the rise of the NCAA is incredibly evident when looking through this Bruins team. 12 out of 22 skaters for the Bruins have come out of college and played a game for the Bruins in these playoffs.

( Photo Credit: Jim Pierce )

The BU Boys

Charlie Mcavoy, Matt Grzelcyk, and Charlie Coyle all played their college hockey at Boston University. While Grzelcyk was just a year away from playing with Coyle, he was able to pair with Mcavoy on BU’s top defensive pair when he was captain of the team in 2015, combining for 48 points and a +27 rating. While the two aren’t a pair anymore, they are still on the second powerplay unit, and it seems their chemistry hasn’t skipped a beat with each having two PP goals apiece to go along with nine combined assists. We all know

The Minnesotaians

The Bruins have a pair of players from Minnesota that played hockey in their home state in David Backes and Karson Kuhlman. The veteran Backes played three seasons at Minnesota State University, averaging above a point per game in all but one year (where he has 37 points in 39 games) and just as many other players you will see on this team, was team captain for his final year there. Moving on to the youngster in Kuhlman, he played four seasons at the rival Minnesota Duluth, captaining the team in his final year while leading the team to a national championship.

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( Photo Credit: Jack Fredricks )

The Bottom Six

The Bruins bottom six consists of four products of NCAA (including Coyle) and a healthy Chris Wagner would make that five. Danton Heinen is one of a handful of active NHL players that played for the University of Denver, where he was electric, averaging over a point per game in the two seasons he played there. That success has carried over to the NHL as we’ve seen Heinen pair up with Coyle and Marcus Johansson to form the best third line we’ve seen in years.

Sean Kuraly spent four years at Miami University (Ohio), right near where he grew up in Dublin, Ohio. The former captain at Miami has made a name for himself as a clutch performer throughout the three playoffs he’s been a part of. Another member of the 4th line, Noel Acciari spent four seasons at Providence College and served as the captain for a season just as Kuraly had. The hard-nosed Rhode Island native has made a name for himself these past few years as a dependable 4th liner. The last member of the former WAK 4th line, Chris Wagner, spent his college days at Colgate University, playing two seasons in upstate New York. He had an incredible second season for Colgate, scoring 17 goals with 51 points in just 38 games played for the club.

March 19, 2016: Quinnipiac Bobcats defenseman Connor Clifton (4) skates with the puck as Harvard Crimson forward Brayden Jaw (10) tries to defend during 2016 ECAC Tournament Championship game between Harvard University and Quinnipiac University at Herb Brooks Arena in Lake Placid, NY. (John Crouch/J. Alexander Imaging)

( Photo Credits: John Crouch/J. Alexander Imaging )

The Back End

The Bruins starting six (with a healthy Matt Grzelcyk) consists of four guys that played hockey in college. Torey Krug spent three years in his home state of Michigan at Michigan State University, captaining the team for two of the three. Steven Kampfer is yet another Michigan native that got to spend college in his home state however he played at the University of Michigan for four seasons before coming to the NHL. Connor Clifton has come onto the scene out of nowhere after four seasons at Quinnipiac University and is really making a name for himself with his play these playoffs. He’s yet another former captain on the Bruins, and it’s starting to really make sense how this team is doing so well.

Other Bruins that have contributed this season that played NCAA hockey were Jacob Forsbacka-Karlsson (Boston University), Trent Frederic (University of Wisconsin), and Paul Carey (Boston College).

It’s clear to see just looking through these players college careers that there’s a big reason aside from skill that this Bruins team is doing so well. Their locker room is filled with tons of leaders and former captains of very successful college teams. I think this influx of college talent will only continue to grow not just for the Bruins, but for the entire league with highly touted prospects like Cole Caufield, Trevor Zegras, Alex Turcotte and many more high profile players committing to schools to play hockey. With all the success the Bruins have had with these players, let’s hope they draft another few this year.

Three Hometown Heroes Looking To Etch Permanent Place In Bruins History

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Columbus Blue Jackets at Boston Bruins

Photo credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

By Carrie Salls | Look for me on Twitter @nittgrl73

If the Bruins win the Stanley Cup this year, Matt Grzelcyk, Chris Wagner and Charlie Coyle will be the first Massachusetts-born Bruins to have their names inscribed on the coveted hardware since Myles Lane did so in 1929.

Regardless of the outcome of this year’s Cup quest, the three current hometown heroes appear to have already cemented their spots in Boston sports lore. Charlestown, Mass.-native Grzelcyk has been a Bruin the longest of the three, having been drafted by Boston. Wagner, dubbed by teammates as “the Mayor of Walpole,” was signed by the Bruins as a free agent in the summer of 2018, and E. Weymouth’s Coyle was acquired just before the trade deadline in February in a deal that sent Bruins prospect, and another Boston native, Ryan Donato to the Minnesota Wild.

During the regular season, Wagner thrilled fans with his hard-nosed, tough play on a fourth-line that has come up big for the Bs time and again throughout the 2018-2019 campaign. He was rewarded for his efforts when the fans voted him as the recipient of the 7th Player Award at the end of the season.

Wagner was forced to leave game-three of the Eastern Conference Finals after suffering an apparent arm injury on a pivotal shot-block. He has yet to appear in a Cup finals game. His spot has been occupied by Noel Acciari, a native of Johnston, R.I.

During Wednesday’s game, Grzelcyk was hit from behind when retrieving a puck, sending his head into the boards, and he had to be helped off the ice by teammates. Bruins Coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed Thursday that Grzelcyk has been placed in concussion protocol and is officially listed as day-to-day.

Grzelcyk has been lauded by fans and the coaching staff for his toughness and strong performance throughout the playoff run. His best game was highlighted by two goals scored in a Mother’s Day matinee during the ECF.

Coyle has made his presence known on the ice since the playoffs began, as well. His primary contribution has come with healthy points production throughout the post-season.

Although more National Hockey League players still hale from Canada than any other country on the planet, statistics provided by quanthockey.com show that America is closing the nationality gap long-dominated by its neighbor to the north. A total of 435 active players on NHL rosters are Canadian, according to those statistics, followed by 286 Americans.

The Boston Bruins’ current roster is no exception to that trend, as 14 active players are Americans. In fact, only four members of the current Bruins squad are Canadian-born.

In addition, five members of the so-called “Black Aces,” a small group of prospects and players who spent the majority of the season playing for the team’s AHL affiliate in Providence and have been practicing with the NHL club during the deep playoff run, also were born in the United States. Among the Black Aces, Paul Carey, Trent Frederic, Lee Stempniak, Kyle Keyser, and Zane McIntyre were born in the United States.

In addition to Grzelcyk, Wagner, Coyle, and Acciari, U.S.-born Bruins who have appeared in 2019 playoff games include David Backes, Karson Kuhlman, Sean Kuraly, Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, Steven Kampfer, Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy and John Moore. Injured defenseman Kevan Miller, who played college hockey at the University of Vermont, is also American.

Miller and Acciari are not the only current Bruins to have played college hockey in New England. Coyle, Grzelcyk, and McAvoy all attended Boston University. Bruins assistant coaches Jay Pandolfo, and Joe Sacco also played at BU.

Career Year for Bruins’ Chris Wagner

( Photo Credit: AP Photo/Michael Dwyer )

By: Chris Greene  |  Follow me on Twitter @cgreenesports

Boston Bruins forward Chris Wagner’s season seems to have ended last week, after he blocked a Justin Faulk slap shot, injuring his forearm in the process. If that is the case, the 27-year-old had himself a solid first season for the Black and Gold.

The Walpole, MA native signed a two year deal with the Bruins last summer, after spending most of his NHL career in Anaheim. The rugged forward was drafted by the Ducks in 2010 and remained part of the organization until he was traded to the New York Islanders in February 2018.

The Bruins had been criticized for lacking physicality after the 2017/18 season, and Wagner was bought in to address that. He’d been credited with 253 hits that season, the third-most in the NHL. Boston GM, Don Sweeney, cited the winger’s energy and physicality as the main reasons for adding him to the roster. Nicknamed the ‘Mayor of Walpole,’ Wagner certainly lived up to his side of the bargain, he led the Bruins with 247 hits during the regular season.

After showing some promise during his time with the Ducks, Wagner had been given an opportunity to shine for one of the best teams in the league, and boy did he take it. Not only was he the Bruins most active hitter, but the tireless fourth-liner bagged a career-high 12 regular season goals. He also added seven assists, taking his regular season points tally to 19, another career-high.

After being labeled a ‘depth signing’ by some, Wagner quickly won the fans over. Like most supporters, the Boston faithful appreciate hard work, something he displays every time he is on the ice. His energy, work rate, and physicality earned him NESN’s 7th Player Award, presented to the Bruin who exceeds fans expectations. Local players have not always worked out in Boston, but with the help of fellow New Englanders Charlie Coyle and Noel Acciari, Wagner is bucking that trend.

The 2018/19 regular season was undoubtedly Wagner’s best, but he didn’t stop there. He featured in 12 playoff games for the Bruins before his injury, scoring two goals, both in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. This was not Wagner’s first postseason rodeo, he had 21 playoff appearances for the Ducks, adding vital experience to the Bruins lineup. The B’s will certainly miss his tenacious presence and will look to the likes of David Backes, Zdeno Chara, and his replacement Noel Acciari to match his physicality. The fourth line has been a useful weapon for the Bruins all season, and Wagner was a key part of the ‘energy line.’

It looks almost certain that the injury to his forearm will end a fantastic season for Wagner. He will be very unlucky to miss out on the Stanley Cup Finals, but the Bruins are there, thanks in part to his efforts throughout the season. He is thriving in Boston and will be eager to return to the Bruins lineup as soon as he can. One thing is for sure, as first seasons with new teams go, they don’t get much better than this.

Boston Bruins’ Chris Wagner Out

usatsi_12703775.jpg(Photo Credits: USA TODAY Sports photo)

By: Liz Rizzo | Follow me on Twitter @pastagrl88

Next man up: It’s a phrase that’s been thrown around the locker room and after last night, the Boston Bruins will once again be tested as they look to sweep the Carolina Hurricanes.  In an all-too familiar scenario, the boys in Black and Gold are down a fourth-line grinder. Bruins Head Coach issued an update this afternoon on Chris Wagner as further testing will be done in Boston.

Late in the third period, as Carolina’s Justin Faulk attempted a slap shot towards a brick wall (aka Tuukka Rask), Wagner instinctively blocked the shot. Unfortunately the puck would end up hitting his exposed arm/wrist,  sending the 27-year-old down on the ice, writhing in pain. The injury sent the forward to the bench initially before heading back to the locker room. Wagner did not return to the game and was seen leaving the arena with an arm sling after the 2-1 win.

Boston Bruins' Chris Wagner (14) and Brandon Carlo (25) celebrate Wagner's goal against Carolina Hurricanes goalie Curtis McElhinney during the second period in Game 3 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup Eastern Conference final series in Raleigh, N.C., Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)(Photo Credits: AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

As expected, the Walpole, MA native was not on the ice at this morning’s practice in Raleigh, North Carolina. Noel Acciari was slotted alongside Jaokim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly. Acciari, like Wagner, has had much success on the fourth-line, which has been a key component in the Bruins success post-season. The 27-year-old Rhode Island native has one goal and one assist this post-season and has not played in the last five playoff games. Prior to the announcement, Coach Cassidy spoke about Wagner:

“I thought he was terrific tonight… Right now I don’t have an update. Not good right now. He came off in a lot of pain”

With Acciari getting the nod to return to the lineup, the injury comes at pivotal time for the Bruins as they could potentially sweep the ‘Canes this coming Thursday at the PNC Arena.  Amidst all the  injuries that have plagued this team all season long, Boston’s resiliency is one of the many reasons why they are one game away from the Stanley Cup Final. Wagner, along with Kuraly, Acciari and Nordstrom have been somewhat the unsung heroes of this team. Unlike last season, where most of the reliance was on the first line, the Bruins have finally found the recipe for their recent success. As Hurricanes Coach Rod Brind’Amour noted:

“I kind of wish they were going off, to be honest with you. I wish we were sitting here going, ‘Man, how do we stop ‘em?’ Because you know eventually they’re going to get on the board and that is a little bit worrisome.

But that’s why they’re a good team. That’s why they’re still playing, that’s why they’re who they are because it’s not really about one line.

Even though they have a great line, they’ve got four good lines that they can roll out there and they’re not afraid to put anyone against anybody and that’s when you know you’ve got a team that’s cooking.”

With Thursday looming and a desperate Hurricanes team waiting in the wings, the Bruins will once again (as Coach Bruce Cassidy perfectly summed up) “need to create the storm”.

 

Bruins Look to Kuraly & Kuhlman to KO Leafs

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Photo Credit: Brandon Magnus/Getty Images

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Kuhlman and Kuraly? That’s deep.

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 Could Really Use…Sean Kuraly?

(Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP)

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

The Boston Bruins skated off the ice at Scotiabank Arena last night, left to lick their wounds and contemplate what it will take to recapture the momentum in their best-of-7 opening round playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Much of the attention following the loss was focused on the lack of production from the top-line trio, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.   Having opened up last year’s opening round series with a combined 20 points in the first two games at TD Garden, the line has only managed to amass a combined 6 points through three games in the series.

With much of the fan base and media speculating that the answer is now to split up the top line by moving Pastrnak down to David Krejci’s right wing, a close look at some of the indicators through three games suggests the Bruins true woes may be found a lot further down the lineup.  One of the Bruins strengths in the regular season was the relatively effective play of its fourth line, a line that when healthy features Sean Kuraly centering Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner.  Kuraly went down with a hand injury suffered on a blocked shot in a game against the New Jersey Devils on March 21st.  The Bruins had indicated that Kuraly was expected to miss at least 4 weeks with the injury.

As the Bruins made their way through the regular season and skated to the second best record in the Eastern Conference, they were buoyed by the solid play of their fourth line.  Often sent out to match up against the opposition’s top line, the Kuraly line has proven particularly effective at hemming opposing teams into their own zone, being strong on the puck and providing valuable wear and tear on opposing defense corps.  In turn, by spending their shifts 200 feet from their own goal, despite often starting in the defensive zone, they were effective in neutralizing opposing scoring threats while creating favorable matchups for the Bergeron line.

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With Kuraly currently sidelined, that line now finds Acciari centering Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom.  Through three games of the current series against Toronto, the play and effectiveness of the so-called fourth line have been highly effective in Boston’s Game 2 win and far from it in their two losses.

One indicator of a player’s effectiveness (I won’t debate the merits of the metric here, but it is generally accepted as a reasonable measure despite some limitations) is his Shot Attempts Percentage (SAT%, also known as Corsi).  The SAT% is the percentage of shot attempts that the team takes out of total shot attempts.  The calculation of SAT% = SAT For/(SAT For + SAT Against).  As a general indicator players are looking to be above the 50% mark in this metric, considered to be above average.  As mentioned there are limitations but generally speaking, the indicator is reliable.

A look at this analytic through three games in the series tells an interesting story about the Bruins fourth line.

Regular
Season SAT%
Playoff SAT%
Through 3
Games
Game 1 Game 2 Game 3
Acciari 49.96 50.00 36.4 64.3 30.4
Wagner 49.78 48.57 42.3 73.9 27.6
Nordstrom 50.04 45.31 43.5 53.6 22.7
Kuraly 49.74

(Stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com and NHL.com)

Nordstrom’s regular season SAT% is slightly higher than that of Acciari, Wagner, and Kuraly and this is attributable to his having played further up the line up for much of the season and a higher percentage of offensive zone starts.  Nordstrom starts in the offensive zone for 49.17% of draws compared to the others taking only about one-third of their draws in the offensive zone, averaging 34.51% between them.  Starting shifts in the offensive zone gives a greater chance of accumulating shot attempts for, hence their effect on this statistic.

So What Does It All Say? 

In a nutshell, the Bruins success in Game 2 was in direct correlation with the effectiveness of the fourth line.  Coach Cassidy’s decision to start them against the Tavares, Marner, Hyman line had Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock pulling his line from the ice in the opening seconds and setting a tone that would have the game played on the Bruins’ terms all night.  The Corsi numbers for the Boston’s fourth liners was off the charts in Game 2, Acciari at 64.3, Wagner at a mind-boggling 73.9, and Nordstrom at an above average 53.6.  As a result, the Bruins exerted pressure on the Maple Leafs defense all game long, forced turnovers, and forced their best players to play far more in their defensive zone than they would prefer.  By playing with the lead most of the night, all three players were able to log minutes in line with their regular season average.

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In Boston’s two losses in this series, however, the fancy stats are far less glamorous for the fourth line.  In Game 1, Acciari was at 36.4, Wagner at 42.3 and Nordstrom at 43.5.  The result as we all know was a game played very much on Toronto’s terms.  The Maple Leafs were able to overcome an early deficit to play with the lead most of the night and used their highly publicized speed to create several breakaways and odd-man rushes that kept the Bruins chasing the game most of the night.

In game three, the effectiveness of the fourth line was even worse.  Acciari led the line with a SAT% of 30.4, Wagner was 27.6, and Nordstrom was 22.7.  Those numbers are simply not going to get the job done.  If the Bruins are going to be successful, I would argue that the key is not going to be breaking up the top line.  Rather, they need a more effective contribution from the bottom of their forward group.  If the fourth line can re-establish their identity as a hard-working, effective, forechecking group and force the Maple Leafs back into their own zone, effectively helping tilt the ice, the Bruins are going to be just fine in this series.  The middle forward lines have been effective thus far, and you have to feel that the top line is not going to be held in check much longer, they are simply too good.

A return to the line-up of Sean Kuraly would go a long way to getting the fourth line back on track.  Kuraly combines speed and strength and a bull-like tenacity to hunt the puck and contain it.  His energy is infectious and is arguably what has been lacking on the fourth unit in the two losses against Toronto.  If the Bruins are to regain momentum and bring this series back to Boston on even terms, the fourth line needs to lift.  It is unknown when Kuraly may return to the line-up, but he will unquestionably be a welcome addition when he does.  In the meantime, the Bruins are looking for an effort reminiscent of the one provided in Game 2.  Anything less and the return of Kuraly to the fold may be too little, too late.

Bruins Post-Game Recap: ECQF Game 3: Boston at Toronto

Image result for bruins maple leafs

(Photo Credit: Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty

Home: Toronto Maple Leafs

Away: Boston Bruins

Boston’s Lineup

Forwards

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

DeBrusk – Krejci – Kuhlman

Heinen – Coyle – Backes

Nordstrom – Acciari – Wagner

Defense

Chara – McAvoy

Krug – Carlo

Grzelcyk – Kampfer

Goalies

Rask

Halak

Toronto’s Lineup

Forwards

Hyman – Tavares – Marner

Johnsson – Matthews – Kapanen

Marleau – Nylander – Brown

Moore – Gauthier – Ennis

Defense

Muzzin –  Zaitsev

Reilly – Hainsey

Gardiner – Dermott

Goalies

Andersen

Hutchinson

First Period

After a crazy game two from start to finish, the series shifted to Toronto for game three in what could be a pivotal game in the series. Big news came ahead of the game in the form of a series-long suspension for Nazem Kadri, forcing William Nylander to the third-line center position for Toronto.

A fast and loud start set the tone for game three from the beginning and it was another physical bout. Tuukka Rask made a lot of big saves early on in the period. He really needed to be as Toronto came out hard. A late interference call on Ron Hainsey put the Bruins on the man advantage in a game, to this point, that was up-for-grabs. Unfortunately for the Bruins, they couldn’t grab it.

Toronto got their chance not long after the conclusion of the Bruins power play with 38.8 seconds left, as Charlie McAvoy took a holding the stick penalty. The puck went nearly untouched into the Toronto net as Chris Wagner guarded it in hopes that it would go in. It was a pretty funny sequence that almost ended well for the Bruins. 1:21 remained on the McAvoy penalty bleeding into the second period. The shots were 15-10 Bruins.

Score: 0-0

Second Period

The Bruins were able to kill off the remaining 1:21 of the McAvoy penalty, avoiding danger in the first minute. Toronto struck first 2:38 into the period off of a Trevor Moore rebound. They managed to outshoot the Bruins 8-2 in the first three minutes.

The Toronto lead didn’t last long as David Krejci buried a bouncing puck to even things back up with his first of the playoffs. The goal gave Krejci his 69th career playoff point, third most in Bruins history. Jake DeBrusk and Karson Kuhlman had the assists, their firsts of the playoffs.

A John Tavares scoring chance led to a collision with McAvoy in which Tavares made contact with Rask. After taking some time to recover, Rask stayed in the game.

Exactly halfway through the period, David Backes sat for two thanks to a high sticking penalty. Auston Matthews potted a cross-crease pass on the man advantage to give Toronto the lead past the halfway point of the period.

A questionable hooking call on Matt Grzelcyk gave Toronto another opportunity to convert on the power play and they did. It was 3-1 Toronto with 2:48 left. Shortly after, Jake Muzzin went off for holding within the final two minutes of the period.

A resilient goal on the power play came from Charlie Coyle’s second of the series in the final minute, cutting the lead to two with 37.7 seconds remaining. Danton Heinen and Grzlecyk had the assists, Heinen’s was his first of the playoffs, Grzelcyk’s was his second.

Toronto took over on the score sheet and in the shot department, outshooting the Bruins 16-11 in the period and holding a one-goal lead heading into the third period. Overall, the shots were even through two periods.

Score: 3-2 Toronto

Third Period

Just past the 15-minute mark, Nikita Zaitsev went off for delay of game. The Bruins held possessed the puck fairly well for a good chunk of the man advantage, but couldn’t convert.

Toronto way breaking the puck out of their own zone too easily at times. There just wasn’t much of an offensive x-factor. Some poor decisions with and without the puck made things even more difficult. They needed to channel more of what they had in game two.

Bruce Cassidy pulled Rask in the final two minutes and took a timeout with 1:05 to go. John Tavares was killing Patrice Bergeron on the dot late, winning five straight in the final six and a half minutes. The Bruins’ effort late simply wasn’t enough, and Frederik Andersen came up huge for the Leafs. The final shots 36-34 Bruins. Next up is game four on Wednesday in Toronto at 7:00 PM.

Final Score: 3-2 Toronto

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