Hockey

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RECORDS: Hawks 10-12-5   Bruins 20-3-5

PUCK DROP: 6pm

TV: NBCSN Chicago

FRUSTRATED WOMEN: Stanley Cup Of Chowder

So you’ve just been fustigated by the West’s leader at home. What’s the best follow-up to that? Why, one of the East’s best on the road of course! Where they haven’t actually lost a game all year! Where they’ve collected 28 of 32 points! Sounds fun, no? Who’s excited?

Whether the Hawks like it or not, that’s the task they face. And they’ve brought their moms along with them to…Boston and Newark? What the fuck did their moms ever do to them? Don’t they go to Arizona and Vegas next week? That seems an oversight. Or were they afraid they wouldn’t be able to pry too many moms away from the craps table to go watch their sons trail in the Knights’ wake? We’ll discuss this another time. THAT’S NOT WHY YOU CALLED.

Anyway, the Hawks wash up on Causeway St. to find everything pretty much humming for the Bruins, even with Patrice Bergeron missing the past few games. They have the league’s fourth and fifth-leading scorer in Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and the Hawks didn’t seem to be able to do much about the third-leading scorer in Nathan MacKinnon last weekend. The Bs have two goalies in the Vezina discussion, as both Jaroslav Halak and Tuukka Rask have save-percentages north of .930. So if you’ve got one line that no one can stop, and a goalie every night no team can get past, what the fuck else do you need? The answer is not much, because the Bruins don’t have much beyond that and yet they’re 14 points up on what was thought to be the league’s toughest division. Some guys have all the luck.

Is there some air in the Bruins start so far? Maybe a little. They’re pretty middle of the pack in most metrics, and they certainly don’t create a host of chances and shots for themselves. They just have two guys burying them at ridiculous rates. They’re top-10 when it comes to allowing expected goals or scoring chances, which looks a lot better when Halak and Rask have combined for a .936 at evens. As you might expect, giving the Perfection Line a look with an extra man has led to pretty much instant death for any opponent, as the power play is clicking at 30.9%. That’s enough to get it done most nights right there.

And with this cushion in the Atlantic, the Bs don’t really have to fear a flattening out or market correction. 14 points even at this stage is a gargantuan lead, and unless both Halak’s and Rask’s head fall off and roll into the Charles, they’re not losing that. So they can look forward to at least the first two rounds with home ice. Their season is almost accomplished and we’re weeks away from Christmas.

In the big picture, you have to feel like the Bs need to find secondary scoring somewhere. Only Krejci below the top line has more than 20 points, and some of that is boosted by getting to play with Pastrnak in Bergeron’s absence. Then again, this was enough to push to the absolute limit last year, and it may just be no one ever figures out how to stop that line until Marchand decides to do it himself (which he always does). I wouldn’t trust any team that has Danton Heinen or Jake DeBrusk on the second line either, but they have 45 points and all I have is shit in my pants. So there.

The underlying cause to the Bruins is that they have three d-men who can really move the play in Charlie McAvoy (the mouth-breathing loser TM Fifth Feather), Torey Krug, and Matt Grzelcyk. The latter’s absence is last year’s Final was massive, and it deprived the Black and Gold from having a puck-mover on the ice at all times. Krug still has no idea what he’s doing defensively, but as he gets to play with Brandon Carlo most of the messes get cleaned up. The Bruins can play at pace.

Which is a problem for the Hawks, who can’t. Duncan Keith will miss both of these games, which means the Hawks are going to try and combat this unholy beast with five slow d-men and the moderate mobility of Connor Murphy. My eyes are bleeding too. Anyway, Dylan Strome sounds like he might make the bell, but Andrew Shaw and Drake Caggiula won’t.

I can’t sugarcoat this one for you. It has every chance of being ugly. The Hawks can try and leak out and maybe cherrypick their way to some odd-mans, but that will only leave them more exposed in their own zone. The Bruins aren’t a great possession team, but they have more than enough forwards who can hold the puck long enough and carry it low-to-high or the other way which always sends the Hawks into hysterics defensively. And even if you get out against the Bruins, you have one of two goalies who have been a wall to get past.

Stranger things have happened? That’s going to replace “One Goal” as the motto soon.

Hockey

Brad Marchand – As always. And really, these days we’ve thrown our hands up at his antics, because he can’t help himself. He’s going to score enough for everyone to find a way to justify it, so whatever. But it’s his el foldo against the Blues last spring that we’ll never forgive him for. He says he’ll never get over losing Game 7 at home. We won’t either, asshole. Maybe if you’d reported for duty you wouldn’t have this heartbreak to worry about. Or would you rather just go for a change when things get hard?

The Bias Against Tuukka Rask – Tuke Nuke’em is the leading candidate for the Vezina right now. And yet you’ll find plenty in the Boston media who want Jaro Halak made the starter. It’s been this way for years. If you think Crawford doesn’t get his due here, you should see this nonsense. But hey, it’s Boston, he’s not from Quincy, so is anyone else surprised?

David Backes – The one plus of last spring was Backes having to watch his former team celebrate while he was in the pressbox or trying to be a goon or something. There aren’t many contracts as bad as Seabrook’s around. There’s a kind of symbolism that this is one of them. Maybe more went on in that corner in St. Louis in 2014 than we thought.

Hockey

Perhaps it was always too big of an a request to be rescued by the Bruins again, first in 2011 from a revolting Canucks team, no one from whom has gone on to have his name etched in silver, and this past summer from quite possibly the most underwhelming assemblage of players to ever end up having hoisted the Cup in the moldering St. Louis Blues. It was a true exhibition in monkey paw wish fulfillment, or at the very least a real life tale of punishing Irish Catholic irony worthy of Sean O’Casey, that Brad Marchand would finally be exposed as the absolute fraud of a player that he is only to give the Blues their first ever Cup. There are sins going on here both big and small that will never, ever be forgiven.

2018-2019

49-24-9 107 Points, 2nd in Atlantic
3.13 GF/G (11th), 2.59 GA/G (3rd), +44 GD
53.04 CF% (6th), 52.77% xGF (7th)
25.9% PP (3rd), 79.9% PK (17th)

Goalies: Last year was a bit of a resurgence for longtime B’s netminder Tuukka Rask, mostly due to the fact that the rest of the league seemed to drop down to the rate Tuukka had been playing at for the past couple of years, at least in the regular season. His .912 overall is about league average, but the underlying numbers suggest that at evens he was as solid as could be expected with a .925 against. The problems came during special teams, where Bruce Cassidy’s more uptempo, more loosely structured system came with its own risks and rewards. The Bruins had a top flight power play, but with only a single high defenseman, and that defenseman being either Tory Krug or Charlie McAvoy, that left Tuukka on an island, and the B’s allowed a league worst 15 shorties against. Similarly, their PK wasn’t as tightly structured behind the obvious top manned unit of Patrice Bergeron, and their kill was decidedly middle of the road, a serious dropoff from the Julien era. All of this is a longwinded way of saying that Tuukka may not be an absolute brick wall anymore, but he’s still in the upper echelon of goalies, as he proved by turning in a Smythe worthy performance with a .934 overall in the post season. He’ll once again be spelled by Jaro Halak, who always seems to fare better as a 1B or a backup, and was more than acceptable with a .922 overall and .934 at evens last year in 37 starts. He’s more than capable of providing Rask with a break to preserve him for the post-season or even stepping up in the event of injury. Overall, the Bruins have one of the better goaltending situations in both the conference and the league.

Defense: One of the big, and stupid misconceptions about the Cup final matchup was that both of these teams were huge, lumbering, rough and tumble heavyweight teams, based solely on reputation and the fact that Regis “Pierre” McGuire is a moronic pecker who never shuts up. The fact of the matter is that while Zdeno Chara is still lurching around Fangorn Forest at 42 years old (43 in March), this blue line is built to get up and go, and is somewhat undersized, Charlie McAvoy’s absolutely huge face notwithstanding. Chara played center field for McAvoy for the majority of the year, but they weren’t taking the toughest assignments or zone starts. McAvoy is still unsigned and was on pace for 40+ points at age 21-22, so it’s likely the B’s opt for longer term instead of a bridge deal because the offensive upside is clearly there, but he’s still a dervish in his own end. Brandon Carlo also remains unsigned, and was tasked with some of the tougher assignments in the post season, as he certainly has the 6’5″, 220lb frame to take that on. John Moore is here for another three years much to the delight of all the Devils fans who hate him, and Tory Krug still needs to be kept as far away from the offensive zone as possible. There’s not a lot in the Bruins’ system on the blue line that they’re waiting with baited breath for, so assuming that McAvoy and Carlo eventually get signed, as both are restricted and have no leverage, they’re basically running back the same unit as last year.

Forwards: This is well worn territory yet again, but it always bears repeating. The Bruins boast arguably the best line in the game with Patrice Bergeron centering David Pastrnak and the detestable Brad Marchand. Bergeron is an absolute legend, and is doing things at both ends of the still when his contemporaries in Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Toews have basically had to choose offense or defense at this point and just stick to one of them. Bergeron is a possession dynamo, one of the smartest players in the game, and will take an absolute pounding night in and night out, he is an instantaneous hall of famer. David Pastrnak is young, dynamic, and has an elite set of hands even if his skating stride isn’t necessarily the prettiest. He has a top flight release on his shot, but isn’t afraid of the corners. Brad Marchand is a slightly more talented Andrew Shaw who has failed miserably every time Patrice Bergeron has been injured or seriously limited by injuries on the ice, and has built his whole career on Bergeron’s back. He showed his ass in the above highlight by doing his best Roger Dorn OLE at the blue line, and still ended up going for a change as the Blues entered the zone. Mites are taught to never change on a back check, let alone after allowing free zone entry while flatfooted. He is an unrepentant dickhead who intends to injure opponents, and if the NHLPA were an actual union invested in the well being of its labor force instead of a loose conglomeration of millionaire 7th-grade-educated hillrods with CTE and coke hangovers, they’d railroad Marchand’s ass right out for endangering the rest of the union’s ability to earn. The day he inevitable wraps his sports car around a tree in Dorchester at 4AM (as is hockey player tradition) cannot come soon enough.

Elsewhere, David Backes getting double-owned by losing a Game 7 Cup final, and to his former team the Blues would be pretty hilarious, again, if it hadn’t been the Blues winning. Charlie Coyle came home in a curious trade and somehow turned into a playoff dynamo, but it remains to be seen if he can provide consistent second-tier scoring behind the top line for a full 82. David Krejci remains under appreciated, but at 33 his production has begun to slip. Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk, and Sean Kuraly will all be expected to take the next step in their respective developments, with DeBrusk’s ceiling being the highest. It’s not a bad group to try throw out there again, but the B’s are far from capped out and have always been top heavy with this group, so it’s curious why they haven’t tried to augment their scoring a little bit on the margins. But it’s doubtful any of the 29 other fanbases are going to be heartbroken if throwing this same group out there again just isn’t quite good enough to win in June.

Outlook: The Atlantic is a far tougher draw than whatever the Metro is right now, and that’s even with the Leafs still thumb-blasting themselves in the Mitch Marner situation and having a bad blue line. What happened to Tampa was a fluke, and they’re certainly not going anywhere and could have a sizeable chip on their shoulder. The Panthers may finally get it together, but that’s a big if, and the rest of the division is willfully shitty. It’s basically a given that the Bruins will have one of the three guaranteed spots, it’s just a matter of seeding, and in which round they inevitably beat the Leafs, and then in which subsequent round they implode.

Previous Team Previews

Carolina

Columbus

New Jersey

New York Islanders

New York Rangers

Philadelphia 

Pittsburgh

Washington

Everything Else

As it’s the Final, we’ll give you actual recaps instead of the smartass quips we’ve specialized in the past couple months. They’ll just take a while because we have to stop throwing up first. 

If you’re watching this series while holding your nose and just hoping that it will end quickly, then last night is what you wanted. Yes, the Bruins were a bit rusty…for about 10 minutes. After that, everything we’ve thought about the Blues-their defense isn’t that good, Binnington has been fine but hardly spectacular, and the Bruins depth and star power is better–came to fruition. One game doesn’t a narrative make, but there is a lot more the Blues have to solve while the Bruins have just been doing what they have been and will only need to continue to do so. This was a complete ass-kicking for at least two-thirds of the game.

Let’s do some bullets.

The Two Obs

-You should never take anything Barry Melrose says seriously, and the biggest clue that ESPN doesn’t care about hockey is that he remains in their employ even though I don’t think he’s watched a game since 2001 (including his coaching stint), but he wasn’t the only one who was championing this series as something of a “return.” That’s only based on what the Blues only kind of are and the reputation the Bruins have even though they haven’t been that for years. But there was this idea both teams are big and bad and the idea of a lot of fast and nippy wingers with skill aren’t the way forward and that this was TRUE HOCKEY. Horseshit.

The Blues simply couldn’t handle the Bruins forecheck, because their defense is so goddamn slow. Their only d-man who can move is Vinnie Bag Of Donuts Dunn, and he’s hurt. There were turnovers galore early, which then had the Blues defense backing up at their line when the Bruins were carrying in trying to cheat to win the races down low later. Which only gave the speed the Bruins have at forward more space to the outside to carry the puck in and create, which led to the Blues never having the puck and having tire treads to remove from their chests this morning.

But the real differences in these teams, and one we’ll get to later today that the Hawks should be paying particular attention to, is the mobility of the Bruins defense. Chara was awful, the rest were very much not. McAvoy, Krug, Grzelcyk (especially), and Clifton are all at least mobile enough to open up a passing lane for themselves to evade the Blues forecheck, which has been pretty furious at times this spring. Or they just outright get away from them, and even when the Bruins are attacking the St. Lous line three-on-three or four-on-three, the Blues defense is backing up. You want to know why the Bruins dominate possession all season even beyond the Bergeron line? There you go.

-I saw a good portion of Blues Twitter saying, “We’ll be all right when we stop taking penalties.’ Because that’s a thing that’s happened the past 30 years.

Jordan Binnington made over 30 saves, only the third time he’s had to do so this playoff run. But if the Bruins are going to toss 35 shots at him a night, this is what the Blues are going to get. 34 out of 37 saves is good. It’s not great, and that’s mostly what Binnington has done. It’ll have to be better than what the Bruins will get on the other side.

-The only unit for the Blues that wasn’t covered in their own piss by the end of the night was their top line of Schwartz-Schenn-Tarasenko, which got their two goals as well. The adjustment I would expect the Bruins to make is to get Chara out of that matchup, though it’s a risk to try it with Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug, given the latter’s defensive balloon-handedness. But Chara simply isn’t up to it and that much was clear, and you don’t want to be jumbling your pairs at this point.

For the Blues, playing this way of trying to trade forechecks is going to get them this. Their defense will get snowed in, the Bruins will get away from theirs, and they’ll spend the night chasing. It would seem their only option for Game 2 is to go Trotz and trap this up and make McAvoy and Krug weave through it. That would allow their slow d-men to back up at their line while still being protected and not leaving acres to the outside. Then they might have a chance of retrieving pucks and moving it along without getting clobbered. The more the Blues try to speed this up the more they’re going to get exposed.

Let’s hope for that, so we don’t have to be here long.

Everything Else

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SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Boston – Tonight, 7pm

Game 2 in Boston – Sunday, 2pm

Game 3 in Raleigh – Tuesday, 7pm

Game 4 in Raleigh – Thursday, 7pm

If you were privy to the private conversations we have here at the lab…well, you’d never read this blog again but I digress. What I meant to get to was over the past two or three seasons, there’s been a general feeling of mystification about the Boston Bruins. They look like one line and David Krejci, and a pretty good goalie and nothing else. And yet their metric numbers are always among the best, they always seem to rack up 100 points, so a first conference final appearance since that wonderful spring of 2013 seems like it’s overdue in some ways. They’ll be favored by everyone simply due to pedigree, but this is stiffest test they’ve seen yet.

Goalies: This would be easier if we could pin down who exactly is playing for Carolina. Petr Mrazek has returned to practice, so it stands to reason he’ll take his normal post…between the posts (that could be better). Curtis McElhinney did close out the Islanders from the third period of Game 2 on, but that was the Isles and their Trotz-inspired offense-allergy. The Bs come with far more firepower, and McElhinney also suffers from a serious case of being Curtis McElhinney. Mrazek has been killing it since February, and if he’s healthy there’s no reason to think he won’t at least be representative.

Sadly for Carolina, representative is probably not going to cut it, as Tuuke Nuke’Em has been excellent all playoffs long. He’s got a .938 over 13 games, and let just 11 goals in against the Jackets over six games. This is probably the best he’s played since that ’13 run to 17 seconds (he was .940 that spring), and in this kind of form he can win a series by himself. And it’s not like the Canes are loaded with deadly snipers here. This is Boston’s biggest edge no matter who dons the gear for the Canes.

Defense: And here’s Carolina’s biggest edge. The Isles trap was dealt with much more effectively by the Canes than the Penguins because they have a puck-mover on the ice all the time. In addition, Jaccob Slavin is setting himself up for Norris candidacies in the future and if the Canes make it to the Final he’d have a serious case for the Conn Smythe. While Dougie Hamilton took a fair share of grief for his dealings with Ovechkin, he’s been tearing opponents apart where it mattes, i.e. getting the puck up the ice. Brett Pesce and Justin Faulk aren’t far behind, and though they’ll mostly only play five with Calvin de Haan joining in as TVR is on the shelf for good, they’ve had basically a full week off and they’ll get an extra day between Games 1 and 2. If the series goes long that five-man rotation could bite them, but we’ll run that kitten over when we get to it.

This is where I just don’t get the Bruins. Zdeno Chara looked AWFUL against the Jackets, and there were some rushes outside of him that made me think of Vladimir Guerrero (Sr.) at the end of his career trying to go first-to-third on a single and really scared every bone in his body would just come spilling out through his heels. The entire corps is below water when it comes to possession and expected goals, and given that McAvoy looks like a busted pool toy in his own zone (when he’s not suspended) and they’re facing a dominant possession team here, it could be a real issue. I expect the Boston defense to try and be really physical with the small Carolina forwards, but they’re going to have to catch them first. And that didn’t really work out for the Capitals either.

Forwards: Normally, you’d say this is a star power vs. depth kind of thing. The Canes don’t have any front-line scorers, but they have a raft of really good forwards who keep the puck. The Teravainen-Staal-Neiderreiter (tear) line has been utterly destroying all in its path, and then you still have Sebastien Aho’s line to deal with. The Canes have gotten contributions from down the lineup as well, and they’ll probably need to keep doing that to get out of this. The Canes are kind of like the Itchy and Scratchy version of Fantasia, when Scratchy chopped up Itchy into vapor but then the vapor just became thousands of tiny Itchys and destroyed him from the inside.

The Bruins will stake a claim to being more than one line, and they’ve gotten help from Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, and Jake DeBrusk at times. But when they win, it’s because Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak-Krejci score. When they don’t, they likely lose. The Canes don’t have anything that can match those four, but they don’t depend on anyone like that either. While Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are good, they aren’t what Slavin is right now along with Hamilton. Sure, Marchand is going to try and annoy the piss out of Dougie, but I don’t know that there’s getting to Dougie, especially if he’s pushing the play. This is probably where your series is decided. If Slavin and Hamilton, or Pesce and Faulk in Boston, can keep Boston’s top line at least somewhat controlled, then Carolina’s raft of foot soldiers probably take this. If the Bs glitterati go off, the Canes probably can’t match.

Prediction: Probably more with my heart than my head here, but the way Slavin is playing makes me think the Canes can be the first team this spring to keep Boston’s top line under wraps. Rask is a big challenge, but then so was Lehner before the Canes got to him. Same goes for Holtby. Something about this Canes team. Also, fuck Boston. Canes in 6. 

Everything Else

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SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Boston – Tonight, 6pm

Game 2 in Boston – Saturday, 7pm

Game 3 in Columbus – Tuesday, 6pm

Game 4  in Columbus – Thursday, 6:30

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go. And the Jackets aren’t even in this division! We’re not supposed to be here today! Hockey is weird and stupid but that’s kind of why we’re here. For the first time in their history, the Jackets will play games in May. Maybe just one, but it’ll happen. Can they keep the miracle run going? Let’s find out.

Goalies: Are four games enough to declare a former playoff-barfer suddenly a dynamo? That’s the question you’ll have to ask about Sergei Bobrovsky. He was very good against Tampa, after a so-so regular season, though thanks to the Jackets forecheck he didn’t have to do that much. Which probably should have been the plan all along. He never faced 35 shots in a game, and really in only Games 1 and 4 did he face what you would call anything close to an abundance of good chances. Those were the games he gave up three goals, so really this might depend more on what the Jackets make Bob do than what he does. The Bruins shouldn’t be that hard to hold to a reasonable amount of shots and chances, except for that one line. But that one line is an expert at moving the puck around quickly, which is where Bob’s athleticism kicks in. But he’ll have to toe that line of athleticism and losing his positioning. Basically, we don’t know shit here.

Amongst the Toronto wailing is that Tuukka Rask was marvelous against the Leafs, with a .928 over seven games. Rask’s playoff performance have become basically metronomic at this point, almost always in the mid-.920s if not better. He’s got a career .928 in the postseason. He may not steal a series, but he’s as sure a bet as there is left to not lose it, and the Jackets are going to have to work a hell of a lot harder here than they did against the very jumpy Vasilevskiy.

Defense: This comes down to how tinker-y and match-y up-y John Tortorella wants to get. The first round acted as a coming out party for Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, racking up nine points combined in four games. However, possession-wise, that pairing got kicked around a bit and not by the Lightning’s top line either. The natural inclination is to think that they’ll take on Bergeron’s line. Judging by what happened last round, that’s probably not the case. Strangely, it was David Savard and Scott Harrington who did the heavy lifting, and at least held their own. But if you trust those two against arguably the best line in hockey that is also playoff-proven, you go right ahead. I’ll be over here. Maybe it’s whether or not Jones and Werenski can do enough on the power play and against lesser and whether that cancels out Bergeron and Marchard against Savard and Harrington. I don’t know what a Dean Kukan is and I don’t care.

For Boston, they already know the plan here. The Jackets are going to do the same thing they did against Tampa, which is push their trap up the ice, try to get their forwards on the Bs defensemen as quickly as possible and bring da ruckus. The Lightning’s defense is pretty slow beyond Hedman, especially when Sergachev was having a nightmare. You’d think this would be a problem for Zdeno Chara and the tennis balls on the bottom of his skates, and maybe it will be. It just rarely seems to be. In theory this is why you have Moonface McAvoy and Torey Krug, as they can skate themselves out of trouble. But they also blow chunks in their own zone. Then again, they just survived a more skilled and better forward crop in the last round. Basically, we don’t know shit here.

Forwards: The Jackets forwards certainly were buzzing against Tampa, with that forecheck getting them the puck back below the circles and only requiring a pass or two for chances and goals. That’s clearly the plan here, and in transition and with things scramble-y that’s when Atkinson and Panarin and Anderson are lethal. You can’t catch back up to them and how quickly they can start moving the puck around. If the Bruins can keep things stable, the Jackets lack a little shot-creation, especially if Panarin isn’t in the mood to do it. There are grunts here who can scrum in a goal or two, but you can’t beat the Bruins if your top isn’t your top (not a sex joke).

The Bruins are one line and David Krejci. And yet that’s enough for 100+ point seasons and at least a round win. The Bs got contributions from Charlie Coyle and Joakim Nordstrom and the like, but those aren’t the things you can count on. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but it’s (Gorilla Monsoon voice) highly unlikely that Marchand and Bergeron and Pastrnak aren’t going to produce. And it’s hard to see a way that the Jackets stop them from doing that, even if they try and cut it off at the source by harassing the Boston D before they can get the puck up to them.

Prediction: This isn’t going to be easy for the Bruins, and the argument that the Jackets just dispatched a better team before we had time to fart into the couch is always lingering there. And as we’ve stressed a ton, it’s not like the Lightning didn’t have playoff pedigree. Their recent pedigree is actually better than the Bs. But I don’t trust Bob yet, and Rask is pretty much a rock. And that feels like it’ll be the biggest difference here. It’s just going to take a while.

Bruins in 6.

Everything Else

vs.

SCHEDULE

Game 1 in Boston Thursday, 6pm

Game 2 in Boston Saturday, 7pm

Game 3 in Toronto Monday, 6pm

Game 4 in Toronto Wednesday, 6pm

After all the whining, moaning, and kvetching, they are still going to play this series and not reschedule the Leafs against a team their media contingent deems is a better matchup for them. At some point, either the Leafs are good enough or they aren’t, and whether they spit it in the first or second round really shouldn’t matter. But any slight is a massive injustice to those clad in blue. In reality, this is a team they should be getting past, no matter the history. But thanks to their mental fragility and bed-wetting, they may have turned the Bruins into such a monster in their own heads there’s no way by.

Goalies: The other thing Leafs Nation seems unwilling to admit to itself is that no matter who the opponent, Freddie Andersen is as likely as anyone to clown it up but good. He fell apart in Game 7 last year versus these same Bruins, just as he’d done three years prior against the Hawks, just as he’d done the year before that when John Gibson took his job. He is basically the biggest question mark for the Leafs, and that’s on a team with no top-pairing d-men. He also went to pieces in the spring with a terrible March, though the Leafs are hoping his small recovery in April bodes well. It doesn’t. That said, the Leafs’ style put Andersen under mass amounts of pressure all season and he was just shy of Vezina-level. If it’s ever going to happen for him…

On the other end, you pretty much know what you’re getting from Tuukka Rask. He was a touch north of league average this year, which is basically where he’s lived the past few years. His playoff record is pretty glittering, somewhat marred by the Bruins being overmatched by the Lightning last year. There’s very little chance that Rask is going to upend his own team, and a better chance he is a major factor to the good in this series. And even if he does misstep, the Bruins have a pretty stout safety net in Jaro Halak, who’s been marvelous all season and has his own playoff history to work with. The only concern is if Bruce Cassidey wants to get cute early and heaps too much pressure on both goalies and tenses up the team, but that’s not all that likely.

Defense: As has been the problem for years, you might have heard about it, the Leafs blue line doesn’t come anywhere near matching the quality of the forwards. Jake Muzzin has been an all right addition, but hasn’t really locked anything down. Nor was he ever going to. This is an outfit still giving meaningful minutes to Ron Hainsey, who can regale you with tales of cars without windshields. Jake Gardiner is back, which apparently counts for something. I don’t know what. Morgan Rielly is good pointed one way but not the other. The Leafs are best off just going for broke, trying to get up the ice as much and as fast as possible and trying to take their d-men out of the equation as much as they can.

The thing is, it shouldn’t be that big of a disadvantage against the Bruins. Because I don’t think there’s a lot here. Zdeno Chara has been able to strip down his game and be effective at his advanced age, but that only makes him a second-pairing player. Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy are offensive weapons but specialize in the Lemeul Stinson trail-technique whenever asked to defend anyone. Brandon Carlo is….fine? Maybe? Do we even know? I’m sure I don’t care. Somehow they make it work, because they give up the least amount of attempts, shots, and chances in the East. It can’t be all Bergeron…can it?

Forwards: This is where it feels like the Leafs have a huge advantage. But it felt that way last year and look how that went. The Leafs have been showtime at times this year, and that’s with William Nylander getting seriously wounded by the SH% Dragon (BABIP Dragon’s sister). Remember, their second center has 47 goals this year. And neither Tavares or Matthews were the leading scorer on the team. Nazem Kadri is a hell of a weapon, both scoring-wise and annoying-wise, to have on your third line. Only Tampa can boast more, and at least forward-wise, it’s closer to a push than you might think.

We’ve been convinced for years that the Bruins are nothing more than Bergeron’s line plus David Krejci. But much like the defense we can’t comprehend, it keeps working. They were somehow shocked to discover that Charlie Coyle sucks. Jake DeBrusk gives Krejci at least half of a player to do things with, but beyond that there is nothing here. But because of Bergeron’s dominance there doesn’t have to be. The Leafs aren’t going to have any answer for Patrice and Marchand and Pastrnak. Matthews and JT can’t do the defensive work and there’s no pairing up to the task.

Prediction: On paper, there’s no excuse for the Leafs losing this. But there’s more at work here. Much like last year, the Leafs just don’t have an answer for Bergeron, and the questions about their defense are slightly louder than the ones about Boston’s. The questions about their goalie are much louder than the ones about Boston’s. Still, with that firepower the Leafs should be able to simply outscore the Bruins. Even if Rask plays well the Leafs could, and probably should, get three goals or more per game. And the Bruins would be hard-pressed to match that. In a vacuum. But this isn’t a vacuum. And it feels like the Leafs have been looking for an excuse to shoot themselves in the face again. This one’s got a familiar ring to it…

Bruins in seven.

Everything Else

vs.

RECORDS: Bruins 21-14-4   Hawks 15-20-6

PUCK DROP: Noon Central

TV: NBC

Beantown, Because Boston Is a Concrete Fart: Stanley Cup of Chowder

What better way to nurse a hangover than to watch this Blackhawks team play this Boston team at the unnecessarily hallowed and despicably overrated grounds of Notre Dame? In a successful attempt to prove that hell exists and that it’s taken residence wherever hockey goes, we’ll get to experience arguably the worst fanbase in America cheer on arguably the biggest douchebag in hockey at arguably the biggest sham of a university against inarguably one of the worst teams in hockey. Happy fucking New Year.

Starting with the Bruins, it seems like Tuukka Rask has finally put whatever family demons he was dealing with behind him. Since his leave of absence that spanned a few days in November, Rask has been riding the waves between middling and good. His even-strength save percentage on the year is .925, and his shorthanded percentage is a strong .896. Hilariously, it’s been his performance on the power play that’s done the most harm, as he’s somehow managed to post a .759 on the man advantage, which is really something. He’s coming off a strong performance at Buffalo, pitching a .929 in an overtime win on the 29th.

Per usual, the Bruins rely heavily on Patrice Bergeron (12 G, 19 A), David Pastrnak (23 G, 25 A), and perpetual passenger Brad Marchand (12 G, 29 A) for just about everything. This line has accounted for nearly 41% of all of Boston’s offense this year, and that’s with Bergeron missing a month between November and December with an upper body injury. This line will score, dominate possession (57+ CF%), and then rub your face in it if you let them on the advantage. Of Pastrnak’s 23 goals, 10 have come on the PP, which is second behind Patrik Laine.

Then of course there’s Brad Marchand, who will likely get an honorary degree from Notre Dame for being the most insufferable asshole to visit the stadium since the Class of 2018 graduated. He’s doing his usual routine of scoring just over a point per game while racking up penalty minutes being the most annoying nuisance this side of a dog with the squirts on a white carpet. There is a small chance that he won’t play due to an upper body injury, but given what a horse’s ass he is, bank on him being out there and causing some kind of injury, whether physical or mental, to all involved.

DeBrusk and Krejci anchor the second line, and it looks like Ryan Donato will ride next to them today. DeBrusk is on a 30-goal pace, and when Krejci has scorers on his wing he’s dangerous, so if the Hawks go hot and heavy against the first line (as they should), you can expect some damage from here.

After that, it’s retreads and generated names. Noted Dog Murderer David Backes won’t suit up because he’s a crooked penis in the midst of a three-game suspension for, what else, an illegal hit to the head. Former Blackhawk Joakim Nordstrom plays in the bottom six here, which is probably summation enough. There’s some excitement about former second rounder Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, but it’s not clear why. Colby Cave or Chris Wagner doing anything for you? No?

The big news on the blue line for the Bruins is the loss of moon-faced Ice Time spokesman Charlie McAvoy. McAvoy has missed extended time once already this year for a concussion and was placed on IR last week with a lower body injury. When McAvoy’s been healthy, he’s been effective offensively, scoring 11 points in 17 games.

Elsewhere, Zdeno Chara continues to do a terrible job of convincing anyone that he isn’t actually Rasputin. At 41, he’s still taking more than 21 minutes a night. He’s also recently returned from an MCL injury, but prior to it, he was playing well on the positive side of the possession ledger. He and Brandon Carlo, who earlier this month snapped a 115-game scoreless streak, serve primarily as the Bruins shutdown pairing. Torey Krug will be a terror in the offensive zone and absolutely nothing else. He’ll pair with John Moore who, probably for the first time in his life, won’t be the whitest person in the room.

As for the men of Four Feathers, hoo boy. Jeremy Colliton announced that he’s starting Cam Ward, according to Eric Lear. There have been several low points this year, but this already ranks in the top five, after Crow hitting his head and Bowman signing Brandon Manning as a solution to a problem the Hawks didn’t have. And he’s doing it because “He’s an important part of our group…Guys respect him and he’s played well for us.” Fuck off with that fish shit. The only thing that might be true about that is “guys respect him.” He’s not important and he has not played well for the Hawks by any metric. Holy shit, Jeremy, your trip to Notre Dame is the time you decide to make the Cool Youth Pastor moniker inapplicable? Someone hit this motherfucker with a surprise left. Either Colliton is really this stupid or this is coming from higher up (think Bowman or McDonough). I’m not sure which would be more infuriating.

There is no reason to start anyone other than Collin Delia no matter what your criteria are. Delia has played better, looked better, and is far, far more Irish than Ward. Christ, he’s posted a .957 against the MacKinnon line twice and Dallas’s “fucking horseshit” line! What else does he have to do to earn this, besides suck for 14 years, apparently? There’s really no argument against him, except if you want the Hawks to purposely tank in an effort for Hughes. But even if that did happen, there’s still a more-than-likely chance they’ll lose the lottery anyway, so, I guess fuck off with that mess.

Jesus Christ, they’re really gonna start Ward. This is like asking your parents for a puppy at Christmas and having them throw pieces of dog shit from a dog that isn’t yours at you on Christmas morning while yelling “NOT UNTIL YOU CLEAN UP AFTER IT.”

Other than this gigantic giardiniera fart, Sikura and Perlini have flipped, putting them on the third and fourth lines, respectively. Even though DeBrincat has done everything and more to earn a Top-6 spot, somehow Wide Dick on the wing with Strome and Kane is sort of working, so that’ll stand pat. The other thing that shouldn’t be working but is, is Keith–Gustafsson, which, whatever. Hockey is stupid sometimes.

The Hawks have had a nice run lately, and ironically, it’s come thanks to a strong power play and goaltending. If Dahlstrom–Murphy can shut down the Bergeron line, the Hawks continue to perform with the man advantage, and Ward somehow gets pulled within the first 10 seconds, you can see them pulling a stunner.

That is, of course, if you can get past all the pomp and circumstance of playing at Notre Dame. You’ll no doubt learn more than you ever wanted to know about its sterilized history, about how Bowman is an alumnus, and about how Jesus Christ is staging his Second Coming at South Bend. It’ll all be made even more insufferable with Pierre, Roenick, and Milbury all having a role in this one, where they will no doubt turn this game into their own personal St. Patrick’s Day of mindless self-indulgence about Notre Dame’s long traditions of grooming boys to be men while pretending they and the university writ large don’t have all the character and fortitude of an unflushed toilet. Oh, and Weezer is playing at some point during an intermission. I sure can’t wait to hear their new hit single about ride-sharing or whatever other banal aspect of rich, white dork culture Rivers Cuomo is peddling as art these days.

Hell is real, and it is located at South Bend.

Fuck Notre Dame. Fuck Boston. Fuck Weezer. Fuck Cam Ward.

Let’s go Hawks.

 

Game #42 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Days Of Y’Orr was once a great hockey site. But like anything that burns so brightly, it can’t last forever. Out of the rubble though we still have Marshall. You can follow him on Twitter @MarshallDOY. 

Three quarters of the B’s roster caught the plague this season at some point, or so it seems. So how does Bruce Cassidy keep it afloat?

The short answer is that Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are just really, really good. Even without Patrice Bergeron for a massive stretch, the Bruins managed to go 9-6-1 thanks to the play of the two wingers. It helps that people forget how good David Krejci is. He’s been perpetually saddled by mediocre linemates since Jarome Iginla‘s departure, but while filling in for Bergeron, he managed 14 points in 16 games.

Despite using 12 different defensemen this year, including John Moore and Steven Kampfer, the Bruins have actually allowed the fewest even strength goals in the league. It defies logic. They are getting above-average goaltending, but let’s discuss that.

Jaro Halak seems to have at least earned a splitting of starts with Duke Tuuke’m, if not the #1 job overall. Do you expect that to continue or will he return to being Jaro Halak soon?
 
Right now, Halak gives the Bruins the best chance to win games. Tuukka Rask, however, will always give them the best chance to win a championship. Rask has always been a feast or famine goalie; he’ll drop some major turds, but then look like a Vezina contender for months at a time. What’s worrying me this year is that he hasn’t gotten enough of a chance to get into a rhythm in favor of riding the hot hand. It’s a great short-term plan, but Halak hasn’t won a playoff series in about a decade. If Rask can’t re-gain his crease soon, it does not bode well for the team’s postseason hopes.
Is Charlie McAvoy good? Other than being a moon-faced mouth-breather, we know the offense is there but every time we look up he seems to be in the trail position defensively.
I don’t know if we have enough of a sample size to accurately judge McAvoy’s season yet. He missed half of October and all of November with a concussion. When he has been on the ice, he’s been giving up a lot of shots, but not a lot of goals. I can live with that out of a 21-year-old defenseman who makes the kind of offensive contribution he does. Like I mentioned earlier, the blue line has been a rotating cast of warm bodies this year, so once that settles down, a little stability will do wonders for Charlie.
Is this Zdeno Chara‘s last season?
 
No. Shut up. Zdeno Chara will play until he’s 80 and he’ll still be in better shape than all of us.
When fully healthy can the Bruins throw a scare or more into the Leafs or Lightning in the spring? Are they more than just the best all around line in hockey plus?
 
This is a team that will win a first round series and then get bounced. Apart from the top line, they are pretty average in every way. There was a lot of hope that the Bruins could build on the progress they made last year, but with so many injuries, younger players have been forced to play above their development level to skate big minutes. When everyone is healthy and in the right slot, they can get a chance to learn and improve, but that just hasn’t happened yet this year. Rather than taking a step forward they have stood still while Tampa and Toronto have continued to blossom. But man is that Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line fun to watch though.

 

Game #42 Preview Suite

Preview

Spotlight

Q&A

Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

 vs 

 

While the Penguins and Capitals take part in what is almost a rote annual exercise at this point elsewhere in the East, since the Bruins made it clear they had their shit together this year around Thanksgiving, this has been the de facto conference final that they and the Lightning have been on a collision course for. And it’s sure to provide some of the most entertaining hockey of the post-season.