Backes Appears Ready for Bruins Camp

Carolina Hurricanes v Boston Bruins - Game Two

(Photo Credit: Steve Babineau, NHLI via Getty Images)

By Carrie Salls | Find me on Twitter @nittgrl73

One of the most polarizing figures of the 2019 offseason, David Backes appeared on the ice at Warrior Ice Arena Wednesday morning for captains’ practice. A day earlier, it was reported by WEEI’s Matt Kalman that Backes’ agent said the veteran forward is “healthy and ready to go” for Bruins camp, which begins Sept. 12.

The controversy surrounding Backes’ continued tenure in Boston stems from the fact that he still has two years left on his contract, with $6 million owed this year, while his production has significantly declined. Last year, Backes put up just 20 points, including seven goals and 13 assists in 70 regular season games. He added five more points in 15 games during the Bruins’ playoff run, but spent a good bit of the postseason watching from the press box as a healthy scratch.

The contract issues, coupled with the fact that the team has yet to re-sign restricted free agents Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo, has left many fans calling for Backes to be dealt to another team willing to take on at least a portion of his contract to clear cap space. Rumors also abounded throughout the latter part of the summer that Backes would need surgery, possibly requiring the team to place him on long-term injured reserve and at least temporarily clearing his contract off the books. However, Backes’ camp put those rumors to rest.

If the reports from the 35-year-old Backes’ agent weren’t enough to satisfy skeptical fans, the alternate captain’s participation in Wednesday’s practice seemed to confirm that he is indeed ready for the season to begin. Backes was one of 31 players at that practice, a majority of whom were players expected to be in camp for the Bruins next week.

Now that it seems clear that Backes is staying in Boston at least to start the 2019-2020 season, it is fair to wonder just where he will fit in the Bruins lineup. A likely landing sport for Backes, who came to Boston in 2016 after several years with the St. Louis Blues, would be on the fourth line. Bruins general manager Don Sweeney even indicated in July that the fourth line could be a good spot for Backes given his past success there.

If Backes is to fill a fourth-line role, that means the Bruins coaching staff will have to make some difficult decisions about who to play and who to sit. Sean Kuraly is all but a lock to be the regular fourth-line center, although he showed last season that he can comfortably slide to left wing as well. That leaves a logjam of Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner, Brett Ritchie and perhaps Par Lindholm fighting for regular playing time in the one remaining slot.

One valuable attribute Backes brings to the team is his leadership and experience. His teammates have been quick to point out his role in their development. Most recently, Kuraly talked about Backes’ significant impact on his young career.

Of course, Backes’ leadership abilities are not alone enough to justify him earning a regular spot in the lineup over younger players who may be able to contribute more scoring. However, with a roster still heavily split between younger still-developing players and veterans, it will help the team as a whole.

Like last season, Backes may be asked to play a fill-in role and to step up in situations where a little extra fight is needed, or he may indeed be rotated in regularly on the fourth line. No matter what role he plays, it is becoming increasingly more certain that he will be in the Spoked B this season.

Do The Bruins Have Enough Coming Down The Middle?

( Photo Credit: Brandon Taylor/OHL Images )

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

The Boston Bruins, via Team President Cam Neely, identified a top-six winger as a position of need heading into the summer of 2019 following a largely successful 2018-19 campaign in which they finished in a tie for second overall in the NHL standings and advanced all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.  While the addition of a top-six winger clearly addresses a current need, should the Bruins be concerned with the long-term outlook at the center position?

The Boston Bruins have been blessed with a rock steady, 1-2 combination down the middle in Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci for the better part of the last decade.  Whilst there has been a revolving door of pivots on the third and fourth lines over that time, the Bruins have been led by one of the leagues’ top 1-2 center-ice combinations providing them with consistent scoring, defensive prowess, and abundant leadership.

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Patrice Bergeron is a future Hockey Hall-of-Famer, all but confirmed with the recent selection of Guy Carbonneau to the Hall.  Long regarded as one of, if not the best two-way player in the game, Bergeron is coming off a career season in points production having amassed 79 points in just 65 games played.  He scored an equal-career high 32-goals as he topped the 30-goal mark for the fifth time in his career.  He also garnered an eighth consecutive Selke Trophy nomination and finished third in voting behind winner Ryan O’Reilly and runner-up Mark Stone in a closely contested vote.  Bergeron has previously won the award in 2012, 2014, 2015, and 2017.

In David Krejci, the Bruins have a center who is also coming off a career season production-wise.  Krejci scored 73 points, equalling his previous career-high set all the way back in the 2008-09 season.   He hit the 20-goal plateau for the fourth time in his career.  Krejci also had 16 points in 24 playoff games during Boston’s Stanley Cup run.  Twice in his career, Krejci had led the NHL in playoff scoring, back in 2011 when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup as well as in 2013 when they fell to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Final.  Krejci had a solid all-around season in 2018-19 finishing with a CF % (Corsi for) percentage of 55.98.  Bergeron, as a comparison, finished just slightly better at 56.77.

So we know that the Bruins have enjoyed a decade long luxury at the top of the center depth chart and for the most part have made things work with various options at the center depth positions.    There is a reality that the Bruins and their fans must start to consider here very quickly, however.  Both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are 33 years old.   In fact, Bergeron turns 34 this month.  Let that sink in for a moment.  Reality tells us that both of these career-long Bruins are well into the back nine of their respective careers.  The question for Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney is, what is the succession plan as the end approaches for Bergeron and Krejci?  It’s not something that Bruins fans like to contemplate, but these players won’t be here forever, and that endpoint is now beginning to approach.

If we look at the players’ respective contract statuses, Bergeron is under contract for three more seasons at $6.875M per season.  Krejci has two seasons remaining at $7.25M per season.  There has been much speculation that this off-season is the right time to move Krejci in a salary dump to provide cap relief.  There may be some merit to that argument as his trade value is likely as high as it is going to get.  With the possibility of diminishing returns and production next season, not many 33-year-olds have career-best seasons after-all, the trade Krejci argument is understandable.  On the other hand, if the Bruins believe they are still in a championship-contending window, and most of their fans believe they are, then trading David Krejci likely weakens your team, depending on the return, and puts you further from contending at a time that your two best forwards in Bergeron and winger Brad Marchand continue to progress into their thirties.   If winning now is still the priority, unless you can bring in a top-six center to replace David Krejci, I have to believe you need to keep him.

Getting back to the question of what happens in two and three years when their contracts expire and their play has inevitably tailed off, whom do the Bruins see as their top-six centers of the future?  Have they already acquired those pieces through the draft or via trade?  Or is this an area of need that, although not pressing, will reach out and bite the Bruins if they don’t begin to plan for it now.

Let’s consider the centers already within the organization and see if any project as a Bergeron or Krejci replacement.  For the purpose of this exercise, this will consider prospects whose rights the Bruins currently control, be it under contract or not.

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Beyond Bergeron and Krejci, the current third-line center in Boston is Charlie Coyle.  Coyle is coming off a successful playoff after being acquired in a trade deadline move from the Minnesota Wild.  Coyle has one year remaining on his current contract at a reasonable cap hit of $3.2M.    Bringing good size and skating, the 6’3”, 220-pound Coyle slots well into the third-line center position and has been touted as a possible solution at second-line right wing heading into next season.  Such a move would put further pressure on the Bruins to find in-house options to fill out their center depth positions.    For the time being he gives the Bruins what they need centering the third line but his long-term future in Boston may well be tied to the type of dollars and term he seeks on a new contract as he heads towards unrestricted free agency next summer.

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The Bruins appear set for the foreseeable future at the fourth line center position with Sean Kuraly.  Kuraly is a key bottom-six forward for the Bruins, and his absence was noticeable for the first four games of Boston’s opening-round playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Kuraly’s return from injury in game five sparked the Bruins and helped stabilize the line-up as they went on to eliminate the Maple Leafs, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Carolina Hurricanes.  Kuraly could be an option to play in the third line center position if required, but his perfect role in the Bruins lineup would appear to be a fourth-line pivot.

The Bruins also appear to boast several depth centermen who appear capable of playing in the bottom six.  Some of their current wingers can also play center including Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner, and Karson Kuhlman.  None of these players are likely options to replace Bergeron or Krejci however.  The same applies to David Backes, a player who could fill a role as a center or a winger up or down the Bruins line-up but at this stage in his career, he doesn’t factor into the conversation at hand.

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The next place to look is at the Bruins current prospects who are yet to make an impact at the NHL level but maybe closer to earning that opportunity over the next couple of seasons.  The Bruins managed to get 15 regular-season games into Trent Frederic this past season.  While Frederic is still seeking his first NHL point, he may be the next Bruins prospect in line at the center position and will very likely see more NHL action in the 2019-20 season.    The question is how high in an NHL line-up does Frederic project?  While that remains to be seen, the common opinion seems to be that he projects to be a solid third-line center at the NHL level.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it doesn’t help solve the issue of replacing Bergeron or Krejci in the top six.

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Jack Studnicka is coming off a successful junior career as a member of the Oshawa Generals and Niagara Ice Dogs.   This past season he scored 83 points in 60 regular-season games and represented Canada in the World Junior Championships where he tallied four points in five games played.  Studnicka has many upsides but again, his ceiling is difficult to project.   The 2017, second-round selection will benefit from the opportunity to develop at the AHL level in Providence but has the potential to grow and develop into an option to challenge for a top-six role one day at the NHL level.

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Boston’s most recent first-round draft pick, John Beecher, selected 30th overall from the US National Development Team in last month’s NHL Amateur Draft, may signal a recognition by the Bruins management that there is a need to address their lack of long-term options at the center position.  Beecher has tremendous size at 6-3” and 209 pounds and impressed onlookers with his speed and skating ability at the Bruins recent development camp.  Bruins fans shouldn’t get too giddy and hopeful of seeing Beecher in the black and gold anytime soon, however, as he has committed to play at Michigan this upcoming season and he should benefit greatly from playing in the NCAA ranks.    Beecher does, however, represent perhaps the glimmer of hope that the Bruins may have a bona fide center prospect who can play a meaningful and successful top-six role one day in the future.   Bruins fans have to temper the expectations on the 18-year-old Beecher however and realize he is likely at least a couple of years away and possibly more from a role in the NHL with the Bruins.

While there is hope that the Bruins may already have prospects that may one day fill the top six roles that have been held down for so long by Bergeron and Krejci, the reality may be that the Bruins may need to look outside their own organization to acquire at least one future top-six center, whether that be via free agency or trade.  It’s no secret that the Bruins’ depth strength is on the back end.  The Bruins may be best served by utilizing their depth on the back end to address their need at center.  This does not have to happen immediately.  The smart play, however, would be to have replacements ready to assume those roles once their existing contracts expire.  The reality is that Bergeron and Krejci can’t play forever, however, and the Bruins need to improve their organizational depth at the center position in order to be prepared for that inevitable day when they are no longer contributing at the level we have been accustomed to for such a long time.

Richardson: Ideal Bruins Lineup On Opening Night: Version One

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(Photo Courtesy of Winslow Townson / USA TODAY Sports)

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

Earlier this week fellow Black N’ Gold writer Mike Cratty had the idea to give out his ideal lineup Opening Night. He then posed the question to the rest of us and it’s turned into a nice series. Other Black N’ Gold writers Garrett Hayden, Max Mainville, and Yanni Latzanakis have followed suit giving their lineups. I have linked their respective articles at the end of this one so you can check them out if you have not yet.

First Line: Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

I am starting out pretty standard here with the Boston Bruins top line. When all three players are healthy this is one of the best lines in the entire league. While keeping this trio together seems obvious, there has been some debate amongst fans whether Boston should or not. This is because at times during this past season Pastrnak has been moved down to the second line with Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci.

David Pastrnak is arguably the most important player on the Bruins offense. In the past, I have been an advocate for moving him down to the second line. My reason for this was that I felt the team needed to spread the wealth and scoring between lines. However, the simple fact is the chemistry this trio has on the ice is unmatched by any line in the NHL. Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak set the offensive tone for the team and produce too much to break-up.

Second Line: DeBrusk – Krejci – Coyle

The second line right-wing has been a position that the Bruins have been looking to fill for a few years now. Despite the carousel of players that have played on the right-wing, both DeBrusk and Krejci have produced at high levels. My solution is one that may be outside the box but I think Charlie Coyle is the answer to fix the right-wing. Coyle was acquired by the Bruins before the trade deadline last season in a deal that sent Ryan Donato to the Minnesota Wild.

Since then, he played excellently for our boys in black and gold especially during their run to the Stanley Cup Final. Adding him to the top six will strengthen it tenfold. DeBrusk and Krejci are locked into their position on the second line. Krejci, finally fully healthy had one of his best seasons in a long time. DeBrusk has proven to be very good in his first two seasons with Boston. Despite a less than stellar postseason that due in part to a concussion sustained in the first round, I fully expect him to bounce back and have a great 2019-2020 campaign. These line combinations would give the Bruins one of the best top six’s in the NHL.

Third Line: Heinen – Studnicka – Senyshyn

I know that some of you may think that I am absolutely insane for saying this. However, this line has the potential to be very good. Jack Studnicka is one of the Bruins top offensive prospects even though he’s only 20 years old. In 60 games in the OHL last season, he netted 36 goals and dished out 47 assists for 83 total points. He also played in Providence’s four playoff games netting one goal and dishing one assist for two points. He has the potential to be very good for Boston, and I think he takes a big step forward this year.

Zach Senyshyn is another guy who is debated a lot amongst fans. He’s spent two full years in Providence and some people are ready to call him a bust. I am not one of those people. I think the young speedster could make a huge impact on the Bruins this season. He has a ton of scoring ability (114-63-177 in 195 games in the OHL) while that hasn’t quite translated into the AHL or NHL yet, I think it will. He was able to get in two games with the big club last season and he looked good scoring a goal in one of the games. His speed combined with Studnicka’s ability could be lethal for Boston. Heinen was recently re-signed to a two year deal with Boston. He’s one of their best defensive forwards and he would pair nicely with this young line.

Fourth Line: Nordstrom – Kuraly – Wagner

This fourth line has the potential to be one of the best in the NHL. Joakim Nordstrom proved to be extremely valuable especially during their deep playoff run. He’s very good defensively, while also providing some offense when the opportunity presents itself. Sean Kuraly is one of my favorite current players. He had an excellent regular season and when he came back from injury in the playoffs, it was a spark the Bruins needed. He’s tenacious and a really good hockey player. He will be the one that makes this line go.

Chris Wagner’s production was a welcomed surprise for Bruins fans this past season. He also played well in the playoffs, but an injury cut his postseason short. He’s another guy who is always around the puck creating opportunities for Boston. As I said earlier, this line has the potential to be the best fourth line in hockey. They grind the opponents down and are quick to capitalize on any mistakes made by their opposition.

Extra Forwards: Lindholm – Ritchie

Par Lindholm and Brett Ritchie were both signed once free agency opened earlier this month. Lindholm will provide good depth off the bench in case of injury. He has some decent offensively ability and can also play on the penalty kill which may end up being important this season. Brett Ritchie will likely provide some size for the lineup if it is needed throughout the season. At 6’4″ and 220 pounds he’s a big body that can throw a hit or two across the ice.

First Pairing: Chara – McAvoy

This is another one of those no brainers in the Bruins lineup. Zdeno Chara has been the number one defenseman and captain for over a decade. Even at the age of 42, the native Slovakian provides top-line minutes and ability. McAvoy, on the other hand, is the future number one defenseman for the Bruins. You could even argue that the way he played in the playoffs, that the torch has been passed and the Long Beach native is already the number one guy. Either way, this will without a doubt be the top pairing.

Second Pairing: Krug – Carlo

This is a perfect second pairing for the Boston Bruins. Brandon Carlo has been very good for the Bruins in his first three years as a true defensive defenseman. The Colorado Springs native really proved himself during his first taste of the playoffs. He was excellent and played a pivotal role in getting Boston to the Stanley Cup Final. Krug, on the other hand, is one of the better offensive-minded defensemen in hockey. The former Michigan State Spartan also runs the power play unlike anyone else. He perfectly complements Carlo’s game and completes the second pairing.

Third Pairing: Grzelcyk – Clifton

Matt Grzelcyk has proven to be one of the most consistent defensemen for the Bruins in every facet of the game. He had an excellent 2018-19 season and played very well during the run to the Stanley Cup Final. After being arguably the most improved playing in Providence this season, Connor Clifton emerged during the 2018-19 playoff run. The New Jersey native, like Grzelcyk, is very good in every facet of the game. These two young defensemen will make a great second pairing for the Boston Bruins.

Extra Defensemen: Kampfer – Moore – Miller

Steven Kampfer signed an extension at the end of last month. The Michigan native provides really good depth for the Bruins. The good thing about Kampfer is that he can sit out a few games, and be very solid starting when needed. John Moore will likely not be ready to start the season due to shoulder surgery he had once the season ended. Kevan Miller is another guy that likely won’t be ready to start the season due to a bad knee injury he sustained last season.

Goaltenders: Rask – Halak

Tuukka Rask was one of the main reasons why the Boston Bruins were one win away from being Stanley Cup Champions in 2018-2019. The Finnish goaltender was superb throughout the playoffs. One of the big reasons why he was so good during the postseason run was that he was able to rest a lot of games in the regular season because of how good Jaroslav Halak was. Tuukka Rask is at the top of his game come playoff time when he can start under 50 games during the regular season. Having Rask and Halak was essentially split the regular-season workload is something that makes Boston’s goaltending so good.

Other Black N’ Gold Writers’ Ideal Lines

Check out Mike’s article HERE.

Check out Garrett’s article HERE.

Check out Max’s article HERE.

Check out Yanni’s article HERE.

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Boston Bruins: Keys to Win Game 7 Over St. Louis

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PHOTO CREDITS: (NHL.com)

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

How are your nerves? Are your fingernails still intact? No? That’s alright, it’s normal – expected at this time of year. Tonight, the Boston Bruins will meet the St. Louis Blues for the final game of the 2018-19 NHL season with a chance to win the Stanley Cup on home ice while the Blues look to lock in their first ever Stanley Cup in their 52-year history.

Before the best-of-seven series began, it was well noted that these two franchises were near exact mirror images of one another. Great goaltending, solid players on the blueline and a forward core that brought a combination of toughness, hitting and goal scoring throughout all four lines. Many people, including myself, felt that this series was destined to go the distance and as we found out on Sunday, it sure will.

In Sunday’s Game Six in St. Louis, Missouri, Boston took a huge 5-1 win on the road to force this seventh game. Tuukka Rask was beyond stellar in net for the Bruins while third period goals from Brandon Carlo, Karson Kuhlman and David Pastrnak sealed the deal before Zdeno Chara’s empty-net goal. The Bruins managed to quiet the roaring St. Louis crowd once again and made the series a true toss-up again.

Following Game Five, the Bruins had lost their second-consecutive game in the series and due to the fact that it was heading back to the Blues home arena, it seemed like the momentum was in St. Louis’ favor. Now, once again, there is no real momentum nor favorite to win Game Seven in TD Garden.

The entire series so far has been fascinating to watch. Boston overcame a two-goal deficit to win Game One only for the Blues to take an overtime win in Game Two. The B’s exploded back when the series debuted in the Enterprise Arena with a crushing 7-2 victory only for the Blues to win both Game Four and Five to take a 3-2 series lead. After the Game Six performance where the top-six of Boston finally woke up and played at the level that we are used to seeing while Rask continued to be elite – a reoccurring theme in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

All across the spectrum, the Bruins and Blues have an equally strong chance to hoist the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night in Boston. Neither team has let set downs hold them down long-term. As we know, the Blues were once dead-last in the National Hockey League on January 2nd and look where they are now. So, for the Boston Bruins, what needs to happen during the three periods (and maybe more) in order to win Stanley Cup number seven?

1. Tuukka. Rask.

As previously mentioned, Tuukka Rask has been one of the sole reasons for being Eastern Conference Champions and having three wins in the Finals as of this point. Going way back to the first-round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Rask was key in numerous wins including a dominate Game 7 performance, stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced to send Boston to the second round.

Against the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals, Rask finished the six-game series with a .948 save percentage and a 1.83 goals-against-average, closing out the series with a phenomenal 39-save shutout in Game Six. That dominance continued in the Conference Finals over the Carolina Hurricanes, allowing only five goals in four games with another shutout in the final elimination game.

In every game during the Stanley Cup Finals, Rask has allowed over one goal but no more than three goals except for Sunday’s win where he allowed only one goal against on 29 shots. Tuukka was by far Boston’s best penalty-killer in Game Six and crushed the momentum for the Blues. Rask is now 3-0 in elimination games in the 2019 postseason with a 1.34 GAA and .953 save percentage.

St. Louis has had great success with their forecheck against Boston’s defense and that is likely to continue, but if Tuukka Rask can be as dominate as ever, he will be the biggest factor to a Bruins win if it does happen and they need him to perform at that extreme level.

2. Shut Down The Neutral Zone

Part of the reason for the success in the 5-1 win three days ago was the strength in the neutral zone. The Bruins did an excellent job at making the Blues offense work hard for their zone entries and make it a difficult task to dump the puck in deep. Boston’s second line of Jake DeBrusk, Karson Kuhlman and David Krejci did a particularly good job at that while the defensive pairings managed to retrieve the loose pucks on the dump-ins.

Boston’s third goal of the game came from Kuhlman, but was created off of a neutral zone turnover by St. Louis. For the majority of the game, the Boston players were quite aggressive on pucks and gave the Blues very little room to work. This was evident on this goal as DeBrusk goes after his man who turns it over to David Krejci. Krejci quickly brings it into the zone and feeds Kuhlman who snipes one far-side.

Boston cannot back down when the Blues go for their zone exits and rushes up the ice. St. Louis has big forwards such as leading scorer Ryan O’Reilly who can blast down the ice and get hard drives to the net that create scoring opportunities. Limiting the space that St. Louis has to exit the zone will force more mistakes and allow Boston to pounce on the resulting chances.

However, Boston cannot make mistakes of their own while doing this. If a player misses a check and gets them self out of position, then the Blues could have an odd-man rush going the other way. Calm, but tenacious hockey in the neutral zone is what will win this for Boston.

3. Win The Smaller Battles & Trust Leaders

Once again, the Bruins found the success that they did in Game Six because of the smaller plays. It was not until the third period where Boston scored goals two, three, four, and five. From the 8:40 mark of the first period to just over two minutes into the third, Boston managed to maintain a one-goal advantage on the scoreboard. That was in part, due to the victory of smaller battles throughout the entirety of the game.

As showed above, Boston did a much better job controlling the neutral zone to adequately shut down the chances St. Louis had coming down the ice. Also, Boston did a solid job winning the battles along the boards, in both the offensive and defensive zones and that allowed the Bruins to score goals and also keep the Blues to the outside and forced them to take point shots that were either blocked, intercepted, or stopped by Rask in between the pipes.

On David Pastrnak’s goal that gave the Bruins a 4-1 lead in the third, forward Sean Kuraly used that same concept to drive into the zone, pressure the St. Louis defence, make a clean pass to Marchand who made an equally impressive feed to an open Pastrnak to beat Binnington. The rest of the players in the blue jerseys were unable to come back and defend the play because they were expected a pass up the ice and because they were finishing up a change. The tenacious effort on pucks will be crucial for Boston to claim victory.

In addition to that, the 2018-19 Boston Bruins are much different from the 2010-11 Bruins that won the Stanley Cup. The 2011 Bruins were filled to the rim with veterans of the game who had the experience to guide them to the championship. This time around, a lot of the key players – David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Karson Kuhlman, Jake DeBrusk, etc. – are leading the team. However, they will need to listen to the guidance and expertise of Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Brad Marchand who have been there before and have won before. Every piece of advice and knowledge may be the ultimate difference maker.

Regardless of the outcome, at the end of the day, very few individuals in the hockey community expected the Boston Bruins to be one win away from the Stanley Cup this season. The same could be said for the St. Louis Blues as well. After all, the Tampa Bay Lightning were by far the best team in the regular season and they were swept early. When the final buzzer rings tonight, the winner will be the 2019 Stanley Cup Champions. The only question remains – will it be the Bruins or Blues hoisting the Stanley Cup above their heads?

Bruins’ Fourth Line Look To Lead The Bounce-Back

( Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, AP )

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

As the Stanley Cup Final shifts back to Boston for Game 5 on Thursday night at TD Garden, the Boston Bruins will be looking to recapture the momentum in what’s been a back-and-forth series through four games.  While the Bruins will need much better performances across the line-up, you can bet the fourth line will be itching to lead the bounce-back as they played nowhere near their usual standard in Game 4’s loss.

The fourth line of Sean Kuraly,  Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari can usually be relied upon to drive possession and help tilt the ice in the Bruins favor.  The line starts the majority of its shifts in the defensive zone and quite often skates to the bench having earned an offensive zone face-off.  That’s exactly what you’re looking for from your fourth line.

There has been an added bonus from the line so far in the Stanley Cup Final-production.  Kuraly (2G-2A-4Pts, 2GWG’s), Nordstrom (1G-3A-4Pts), and Acciari (1G-1A-2Pts) have combined for 10 points in the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final.  The worrying trend for the line, however, is that their 5-vs-5 Corsi percentage has been steadily declining as the series has progressed and culminated with some horrendous numbers in Game 4.

Let’s take a closer look at what the line has produced over the first four games.   As a reminder, Corsi % is a reliable possession metric which measures shot attempts for against shot attempts against, expressed as a percentage and for 5-on-5-play.  A measure of 50% means a team is generating an equal number of shot attempts for and against while that player is on the ice.  Therefore, as a baseline, positive Corsi is viewed as a percentage greater than 50, and more often than not, players and teams generating Corsi percentages greater than 50 are more successful.

Corsi % through four games, stats courtesy of hockeyreference.com:

CF % (5v5) Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4
Kuraly 45.0 28.6 53.8 15.0
Nordstrom 44.4 32.0 31.2 9.5
Acciari 45.5 34.8 34.8 10.5

As the table above shows, the trend has been going the wrong way, and that’s a worry if you’re the Bruins.  Game 4 was a particularly rough night for the trio as they were held off the score sheet for the first time in the series and gave up the game’s opening goal on their first shift at the 0:43 mark.

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St Louis took full advantage of home ice to get the match-ups they were looking for in Game 4.  The Bruins started with the Bergeron line and St Louis interim-Head Coach, Craig Berube, countered with his fourth line.  After a stoppage, 29 seconds in, Bruins Coach, Bruce Cassidy, sent the Kuraly line over the boards for a defensive zone face-off.  The Blues countered with the Ryan O’Reilly line, and they quickly capitalized with an opening minute goal that energized the building and the Blues.  All in all, not the start the Bruins were looking for or needed on the road in a hostile environment.

As the Corsi numbers show, the Bruins fourth line was over-matched all night in Game 4, generating just 2 shot attempts for, while giving up 12 (14.29 CF%) in 7:58 of 5-on-5 ice-time.  The Bruins as a whole were out-attempted 49-30 during 5-on-5-play.  The difference can be somewhat attributed to the negative numbers put up by the Kuraly line, but you can’t hang the loss entirely on them.  The reality is that the Bruins need more across their line-up.  They are yet to receive a goal at 5-on-5-play from anyone in their top two lines.

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There is no question that the Bruins have enjoyed a significant special teams advantage through four games of the Stanley Cup Final.  Boston has gone 6 for 16 with the man-advantage, good for a 37.5% clip, and have added a short-handed goal.  The Blues, on the other hand, are just 1/12 on the man-advantage, translating to an 8.3% rate with a short-handed goal allowed.  The reality is, however, that as the Stanley Cup Final goes deeper and deeper, history has shown that players adjust and as the pressure amps up, discipline is preached, often leading to fewer power play opportunities.  The Bruins are going to need to be better at 5-on-5-play moving forward as they may not be able to count on receiving four or five power plays per game.

All is certainly not lost, and the Kuraly line has proven it’s worth time and time again in the regular season and playoffs and certainly with its contributions in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final.  Coach Cassidy will be expecting a bounce-back performance from the trio in Game 5, and they will play an important role if the Bruins are to overcome adversity and go on to win the Stanley Cup.  The fourth line is in no way the scape-goat here, the Bruins need the contributions to come from the top.  This is something they are aware of, but if the fourth line can rebound and help tilt the ice Boston’s way, that in itself will be a major contribution.  Helping the top lines get offensive zone starts may be just what the Bruins need to turn this around.

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No one said it was going to be easy.  The Bruins find themselves in an enviable position, heading into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final tied 2-2.  It’s now a best of three, and they have two games at home to get the job done.  A win in Game 5 will go a long, long way to making that happen.   The Bruins’ fourth line has been vital throughout this playoff run, ever since Kuraly returned from injury for Game 5 of the opening round series against Toronto.  A strong performance from Kuraly, Nordstrom, and Acciari will help send this series back to St Louis with a chance to clinch the Bruins’ seventh Stanley Cup championship.

From Peaky Blinders to Soccer-Tennis: Bruins’ Team Chemistry Shines Through

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( Photo Credit: Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images )

By Carrie Salls | Follow me on Twitter @nittgrl73

Bruins fans have been pretty spoiled this year. In addition to NESN’s long-running “Behind the B” series, which offers a more candid look at the team, the NHL produced a program leading up to the Bruins/Blackhawks New Year’s Day Winter Classic game at Notre Dame Stadium, and the Bruins have been featured in numerous special series and segments throughout the team’s long playoff run.

One thing that has been obvious from the abundance of behind-the-scenes footage made available this season is that this particular Bruins’ team has strong chemistry – both on and off the ice. Comprised of a core of veterans who have battled alongside each other for years and a group of future stars who grew up together, if you will, in development camps, the AHL and now on the NHL-level, the team as a whole seems to have found the secret to coming together as one cohesive unit.

This chemistry has also been quickly recognized and adopted by newer players like Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johanssen, who were acquired near the trade deadline, and 2018 free-agent signings Chris Wagner, John Moore, Joakim Nordstrom and Jaroslav Halak.

In fact, Wagner played a key role in the team-unifying phenomenon that seems to have started it all. On Nov. 1, 2018, Wagner posted a Halloween-themed photo on Instagram that featured him, six of his teammates and Torey Krug’s wife dressed up in the style made popular by the television show Peaky Blinders.

Two months later, the entire team donned Peaky Blinders garb to make a decided fashion statement as they entered the stadium for the Winter Classic. The look was so popular, a “Peaky Bruins” poster was created and handed out to fans at a game at TD Garden later in the season.

A poll conducted on Twitter indicated that many Bruins fans agreed that the Peaky Bruins was their favorite display of the team’s chemistry so far this season.

Of course, good chemistry on any team comes from good leadership. Captain Zdeno Chara has long-preached an everyone is equal attitude, from the most seasoned veteran to the greenest rookie. Chara also calls on each member of the team to support the others, and he leads by example.

The 42-year-old captain has demonstrated his team-first mentality several times throughout the season. The most memorable examples came in the clinching game four of the Eastern Conference Finals, when the injured Chara put on his uniform and came onto the ice to celebrate with his team, as well as when he sat on the bench in a full-face shield in the third period of game four of the Stanley Cup Finals Monday to support the team after being knocked out of the game. His teammates certainly took notice.

After Wagner left game-three of the ECF with an apparent arm injury, he returned to Boston for medical tests while the rest of the team remained in Carolina for what turned out to be the series-clinching game. Still, the team made sure to include Wagner in the post-game locker room celebration.

And, that brings us to soccer-tennis. Lots of hockey players warm up before the games with spirited games of “no-touch.” However, this Bruins team apparently has upped its game to a hybrid sport that can be played in the locker room, the weight room, or just about anywhere.

The long list of unique moments from the 2018-2019 version of the Boston Bruins also included the legend of “the fishbowl.” The full-face shield seemed to give both Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari a scoring touch when injuries forced them to wear it. In Kuraly’s case, teammates teased him about the powers of the plexiglass. The tables were turned when Steven Kampfer, who had made fun of Kuraly’s choice of protective gear, suffered a mouth injury in the next game that left him wearing the same shield.

Of course, the ultimate team-bonding moment will occur if the Bruins win this series and hoist the Stanley Cup. However, win or lose, this team promises to hold a special place in fans’ hearts for years to come.

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.

Bruins Post-Game Recap: SCF Game 2: St. Louis at Boston: 5/29/19

Alexander Steen of the St. Louis Blues mixes it up with Jake DeBrusk and Connor Clifton of the Boston Bruins during the second period in Game 1 of the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on May 27, 2019 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

(Photo Credit: Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

By Mike Cratty | Follow me on Twitter @Mike_Cratty

Home: Boston Bruins

Away: St. Louis Blues

Boston’s Lineup

Forwards

Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak

DeBrusk – Krejci – Backes

Johansson – Coyle – Heinen

Nordstrom – Kuraly – Acciari

Defense

Chara – McAvoy

Krug – Carlo

Grzelcyk – Clifton

Goalies

Rask

Halak

St Louis’s Lineup

Forwards

Schwartz – Schenn – Tarasenko

Blais – O’Reilly – Perron

Fabbri – Bozak – Maroon

Barbashev – Sundqvist – Steen

Defense

Edmundson – Pietrangelo

Bouwmeester –  Parayko

Gunnarsson –  Bortuzzo

Goalies

Binnington

Allen

First Period

A game one win for the Bruins that had featured plenty of fireworks set up for an epic game two. David Backes got right into the fray after a bust game one, this time with Patrick Maroon just 2:04 in front of Tuukka Rask.

The first power play came following a Sammy Blais collision with Rask. Charlie Coyle made it hurt and scored 49 seconds into the power play. Coyle’s seventh of the playoffs was assisted by Jake DeBrusk (5) and David Pastrnak (9). Their power play struggled in game one, but set the tone early thanks to Coyle’s five-hole goal.

The Blues didn’t waste too much time before they responded off of a Robert Bortuzzo shot that snuck by Rask and in. The puck deflected off of Matt Grzelcyk before finding its way to the back of the net.

But wait, there’s more. Joakim Nordstrom buried one on the backhand. Another five-hole goal, Nordstrom’s third of the playoffs, was a product of Sean Kuraly’s fifth assist.

Yet another response goal came with around five minutes left. Rask made the save initially, as did Chara afterward, but Vladimir Tarasenko buried the third chance to tie the game at two.

Oskar Sundqvist went off for two minutes as a result of an iffy hit from behind on Matt Grzelcyk and a large scrum ensued. Grzlecyk left the ice and went to the locker room with the assistance of his teammates and Head Athletic Trainer Don DelNegro. The Bruins failed to convert on the power play before the end of the period.

The Blues outhit the Bruins 18-9 and outshot them 10-8. It was a rollercoaster of a period that ended in suspense as a result of the Grzelcyk injury.

Score: 2-2

Second Period

Tarasenko went to the locker room within the first minute of the period after sliding awkwardly into the boards with Nordstrom in pursuit — not what the Blues wanted. Grzekcyk was not on the Bruins bench to start the period.

In better news, Bill Belichick went out of his way to talk to Todd Angilly after he waved the banner before the game.

Connor Clifton was the first to head to the box in the second for interference with 16:26 to go. St. Louis didn’t convert. Backes is not messing around when it comes to getting amongst the physicality and tension with his former team.

Tarasenko returned to the Blues bench, Grzlecyk did not return to the Bruins bench. Similar to what happened between Clifton and Edmundson happened with DeBrusk and Edmundson, with DeBrusk on the receiving end and Edmundson going to the box for tripping. Edmundson also gave DeBrusk a stinger beforehand with a slash. No dice on the power play for the Bruins.

Zdeno Chara was not pleased with the effort level in the period, as the Bruins were getting outplayed.

The penalties kept coming, this time in the form of a Clifton high-sticking penalty on Tyler Bozak that drew blood. The Bruins had a double minor penalty to kill of before the end of the second period.

Nordstrom did his best Gregory Campbell impression on the power play, eating two huge shot blocks. Just past halfway into the extended St. Louis power play came a goaltender interference penalty against Jaden Schwartz, creating a 4-on-4.

Torey Krug found himself with his helmet off again, this time he was tangled up with Colton Parayko. In the final seconds, before the Bruins pulled the goalie with 1.2 seconds left, Krug was amongst a scrum in front of Jordan Binnington being an agitator. Known agitator Brad Marchand was doing his thing at the end of the period too.

The Blues advantages in the first two periods in hits and shots stayed true through the second. The hits were 15-10, and the shots were 14-6 in the period, bringing the totals to 33-19 and 24-14 respectively. The Bruins needed a response in the third period. The absence of Grzelcyk was hurting them, amongst other things.

Score: 2-2

Third Period

Grzelcyk was not on the bench for the third period either, leaving the Bruins shorthanded on the back end again. Also, Clifton blocked a shot with his forehead and Krug made a huge defensive play to stop a cross-crease chance.

The plays the Bruins were trying to make in the second period and into the third just weren’t very cohesive for the most part, and St. Louis was not letting up on them.

An opportunity for a momentum shift came in the form of a power play with 6:38 left in the period. Brayden Schenn helped snap Noel Acciari’s stick in the middle of a shot, along with the flex on the stick. Some chances came and went for the Bruins, but nothing concrete and the game remained tied.

A hectic end to the period followed and no one scored, leading to overtime.

Third period: Hits: 12-12, Shots: 9-9

Regulation: Hits: 45-31 St. Louis, Shots: 33-23 St. Louis

Score: 2-2

Overtime

Bad news came during the intermission and free hockey ensued.

The Blues had the Bruins pinned in their own zone for the large majority of the first three minutes. Shortly after Brandon Carlo drew a delayed call, a Carl Gunnarsson slapshot from the point beat Rask through an Alex Pietrangelo screen to end it. The Blues had four shots to zero for the Bruins and won thanks to their suffocating forecheck and zone pressure. Rask made 34 saves on 37 shots and was a huge reason as to why the game made it to overtime.

Game three in St. Louis is up next on Saturday at 8 PM ET. The Bruins will need to be much better going forward.

Final Score: 3-2 St. Louis

Cliffy Hockey: Bruins Young Defenseman Shining On The Brightest Stage

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(Photo Courtesy of Charles Krupa / Associated Press)

By: Tim Richardson | Follow Me On Twitter @TimARichardson

A year ago, young defenseman Connor Clifton played in his first season with the Providence Bruins. He came to Providence as a college free agent signing an AHL contract, after not signing with the Arizona Coyotes (the team that drafted him) and electing free agency. The New Jersey native came from Quinnipiac University, where he had a very successful college career, and even served as the Bobcats’ Captain in his senior season. After taking some time to adjust to the AHL game, the young defenseman got better with each game he played through the season. The Boston Bruins were so happy with his progression that they signed him to a two-year ELC after last season.

Coming into this season, the major things that stood out about Clifton’s game were his great skating ability, and his aggressive play both with and without the puck. The former Quinnipiac University Captain came into this season on a mission, playing extremely well for Providence. Even early in the season, it was easy to see that Clifton had the biggest improvement in play from last year to this year. Then in mid-November with a lot of injuries to the Boston defense, Clifton got his first call-up to the big club. In his nine-game stint, he looked good. The young defenseman didn’t register a point, but he played good defense and looked like he belonged in the NHL.

After being sent back down to Providence, he continued to improve his game. Playing great defense while also contributing offensively as well. The injury bug bit the Boston Bruins defense again, and in mid-March, Clifton was called back up to the NHL, and this time it was for good. He would play in 10 games at the end of the regular season and registered his first NHL point, getting an assist in a win against the Florida Panthers. Overall, in 19 games with the Boston, he registered the one point. While in Providence, he netted six goals while dishing out 21 assists for 27 points in 53 games played. That’s a point per game total of .509.

At the end of the season, Clifton was playing so well that the Bruins decided he would be in their line-up when the playoffs started April 11, 2019, against Toronto. The New Jersey native would get dinged up in the game one loss to Toronto, but finally got back into the line-up in time for the game seven victory that sent Toronto home for the summer and Cliffy Hockey was born. The young defenseman has played so well that he’s stayed in the rotation even with big free agent acquisition John Moore, who signed a five-year 13.75 million dollar contract in July being healthy.

With each game Clifton plays, you can see him getting more confident and playing better. Not only defensively, but offensively as well. The Quinnipiac Alum plays big. He’s not afraid to throw his body around, and he plays an aggressive style that is an absolute joy to watch. Not only that, his skating ability is awesome. Clifton’s speed has helped in both ends of the ice these playoffs. His play has really peaked during this recent eight-game playoff winning streak that the Bruins are on. In the eight games, he’s netted his first two career NHL goals, and dished out two assists for four total points. As the stage gets brighter, so does Clifton’s play. His goal in game one of the Stanley Cup Final was huge. The Bruins were down 2-0, and the goal turned the tide of the game.

The Boston Bruins find themselves just three wins away from hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup for the seventh time in franchise history. There are many contributing factors that have led them to this point. The play of Tuukka Rask, the play of Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle, and the third line, the play of Sean Kuraly and the fourth line, even the team’s defense as a whole. However, even with all of those factors, Connor Clifton’s coming out party which has solidified the defensive third pairing is as big a factor as all of those things. If Boston wants to finish off this season with a championship, then Clifton will need to continue his high level of play, and I expect him to do just that. Feel free to leave me any comments or questions on Twitter, and I hope everyone enjoys the rest of the Stanley Cup Final. Finally, most importantly, GO, B’S, GO!