B’s Season Can Be Successful Without A Return Trip To Final

 

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Photo Courtesy Of NBC Sports Boston

By: Garrett Haydon | Follow Me On Twitter @thesportsguy97

Ideally, when you start a season in any sport the goal is to win a championship. That’s what you work for, what you put in so much for and what you hope to be rewarded for. The Boston Bruins are no stranger to knowing what it takes to win a championship and how much sacrifice it takes. Oftentimes in the NHL, one team’s overall success is often defined by the championships they win because of the nature of the postseason and the level of sacrifice it takes. In a city like Boston, championships are expected this day in age and when a team comes so close to winning a title and doesn’t get it done, words like failure get brought up. In this case it’s fair to label losing Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at home to be a failure because the Bruins lost to an inferior team and got blown out. As Boston fans, especially recently we expect our teams to win in those situations but sometimes it doesn’t work out and as much as it is hard, it’s what makes sports so captivating. Ideally, the Bruins are out for redemption this season as they look to finish the job, but even without a championship they can still have a successful season.

I’ll reiterate that ideally, the Bruins do want to raise the cup after coming so close about two and a half months ago but a championship doesn’t need to define their success for the upcoming season. Oftentimes we as Boston sports fan focus too much on winning championships that we lose track of a team’s progression. For example, when Bruce Cassidy took over for Claude Julien, the B’s were a team stuck in neutral and looking for a new direction. The Bruins had missed the playoffs for two straight seasons and were dangerously close to becoming a mediocre hockey club. Hiring Cassidy was the perfect medicine as he’s led the team to three consecutive playoff appearances including a Stanley Cup Final appearance. It’s not just the team that’s progressed so well, the front office has had a successful few years including really solid free agent acquisitions such as Riley Nash, Tim Schaller, and Chris Wagner. Don Sweeney has done a fabulous job drafting players like Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, and Brandon Carlo who are now a big part of the B’s core.

There are certainly ways the B’s can have a successful season including the continued success of the young players and prospects and whether they’ll be a part of the team’s future. It’ll be exciting to keep track of players such as Jack Studnicka, Trent Frederic, and Urho Vaakanainen just to name a few. It’s not crazy to think a few of these players play meaningful games for the B’s this season. Another player to be excited about is Charlie Coyle. The Weymouth native was acquired by the Bruins prior to the trade deadline and paid huge dividends with a great playoff performance. Coyle is playing for a new contract perhaps in Boston and could give the front office an option should they decide to move on from a player like David Krejci.

There’s a very good chance the B’s don’t return to the Final this season and personally I believe people need to be ready for that reality. The Bruins got some serious help in the playoffs last season with both Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh being swept in the first round. This isn’t to discredit the B’s at all because making it to the Final is a great accomplishment no matter how you get it done. However, it’s hard to believe the Bruins won’t have to go through at least one of those teams next spring, so the expectation to get back to the Final may need to be tempered a little bit. There’s a reason why teams often don’t repeat as Cup champions or don’t even return to the Final the following season. Only seven teams since 1990 have returned to the Final the following season. Not to say the Bruins can’t do it because looking at their roster there isn’t a ton of changeover from last season but it certainly isn’t easy and history is not necessarily in their favor. 2019-2020 will be an exciting year for the Boston Bruins but they shouldn’t be judged solely on whether they return to the Stanley Cup Final.

Bruins’ Sweeney Named GM Of The Year

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Photo Courtesy Of The Boston Herald

By: Garrett Haydon | Follow Me On Twitter @thesportsguy97

Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney won General Manager of the Year on Wednesday night in Las Vegas during the NHL Awards ceremony. Sweeney beat out Hurricanes General Manager Don Waddell and Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong for the honor, becoming the first Bruin to win the award since its inception in 2010. Since Sweeney took over as the General Manager in 2015, the B’s have compiled a record of 143-75-28 which ranks third in wins and points in the entire league over that span. Sweeney has been a part of the Bruins front office since 2006.

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Sweeney oversaw the construction of a squad that finished in second place in the Eastern Conference and tied for second in the entire league in 2018-19. The Bruins compiled a record of 49-24-9 this past season and advanced to the Conference Final for the eight time since the round was introduced in 1982. The Bruins also clinched a berth in the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in the last decade and first since 2013. Despite the Bruins losing over 250 man games this season due to injury, Sweeney was able to make the right moves to keep the team near the top of the league standings almost all year.

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His trade deadline acquisitions of Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson proved to be two of his best moves as General Manager as both players were outstanding during the B’s long playoff run. Coyle totaled nine goals and seven assists for 16 points in the playoffs after posting just two goals and four assists for six points in 21 regular season games. Johansson posted just one goal and two assists for three points in ten games in the regular season and then exploded for four goals and seven assists for 11 points in 22 playoff games.

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Sweeney was incredibly thankful for the award and credited the Bruins organization, “I really believe this is an acknowledgement of the Boston Bruins organization,” he said. “I was very fortunate that Mr. Jacobs, Charlie, and Cam gave me this opportunity. And the incredible, devoted coaches and players, people I get to work with every day should share this as well.”

Sweeney also credited his twin boys, Jared and Tyler as inspirations for the award. “From the time they were born at one pound and six ounces,” he said, harkening back long ago to the anxious days of their birth. “But most importantly, to my beautiful wife, she has been the rock of our family. She has selflessly supported all of my career aspirations and I share this with her tonight as the special person she is.”

Sweeney’s work this season was incredibly solid and while he did make a few moves that were head scratching to some people, those moves ultimately worked out. The signings of Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom last July turned out to be some of his better free agent signings in recent years. The addition of Jaroslav Halak was very helpful as he was able to play effectively enough to allow Tuukka Rask to stay fresh for the long playoff run. The additions of college free agents Connor Clifton and Karson Kuhlman proved to be very good moves especially in the playoffs as the two of them played very significant roles. We will see this offseason if Sweeney can pull off any more shrewd moves to get this team to bring some hardware back to Boston next June.

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

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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.