Morning Skate: Is playoff picture set in Atlantic Division?


Morning Skate: Is playoff picture set in Atlantic Division?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while wondering what the total amount of broken tables was in Buffalo this weekend with the Bills Mafia celebrating their first playoff berth this century.
-- If you're a father or a son, you'll love watching Bobby Butler and his dad celebrate his inclusion on Team USA for the Winter Olympics. This is the big-time upside of the NHL players not taking part in the games: Deserving players that otherwise would have never played in the Olympics now getting that chance.
-- Larry Brooks says that even though this season’s Winter Classic was probably the least hyped, it was still a home run for the NHL as it’s been every year since its inception.
- The Pro Hockey Talk crew has its 2018 predictions, and let’s just say there's a consensus that Erik Karlsson is getting moved.
-- Down Goes Brown has an interesting breakdown of 10 times that an NHL elite D-man has been traded, and what it meant for the team and the player.
-- Has the Atlantic Division already been decided in terms of playoff teams before even the halfway mark of the year?
-- Interesting piece on BU forward Jordan Greenway, who is breaking barriers with his inclusion on the Men’s Olympic hockey team.
-- Unlike earlier in his NHL career, Dallas Stars defenseman John Klingberg is beginning to fight back when things get heated.
-- There are those that believe a Max Pacioretty trade would be a foolish move for the Montreal Canadiens. I say “we’ll see” for a team that looks like it needs a house-cleaning.
-- For something completely different: The best from sports 2017 as we turn the page to the new year.

Bean: Bruins can't do Leafs any more favors

Bean: Bruins can't do Leafs any more favors

Facing elimination, Mike Babcock made some moves in hopes of winning Game 5. Bruce Cassidy made one that helped him out. 

One would be correct in saying the Bruins carried the play for most of their Game 5 loss to the Leafs. With better luck regarding posts and saves Frederik Andersen had no business making, they'd have won. Similarly, the Leafs were the better team in Game 4. But the best team doesn't always win and one wrong move can go a long way. 

After Zdeno Chara held Auston Matthews' line to zero goals through the first four games of the series (Matthews' only goal of the series came against the Torey Krug-Kevan Miller pair in Game 3), Babcock shook up his lines. He took William Nylander away from Matthews and put him on the third line. 


With Toronto's lineup more spread out, Cassidy opted to ease up on Matthews and play Chara's pair against Nazem Kadri, Andreas Johnsson and Nylander. The results of the decision contributed to a quick hole from which the Bruins would not recover. 

Freed from Chara, Matthews' line scored against a Torey Krug and Kevan Miller pairing minutes into the game. Johnsson scored against Chara and McAvoy shortly thereafter. 

Cassidy put Chara and McAvoy back against Matthews following the feared experiment, but the damage was done. Two fewer goals would have been the difference in a game the Bruins lost by one. 

Then again, there were 49 minutes and 48 seconds left in the game after the Bruins were put in that 0-2 hole. They dominated for most of the remaining minutes, but they also had some big gaffes when they had little margin for error. Tuukka Rask stunk for the most part and gave up a bad goal to Tyler Bozak seconds after the B's had gotten on the board in the second period. 

So there are other areas where the Bruins could use more. That obviously starts with an improved performance in net, but Rask is not a realistic concern. 

Saturday was Rask's first subpar performance of the series. The same cannot be said for David Backes, who has scored two power play goals in front but has been a ghost in 5-on-5 play. His linemate Danton Heinen hasn't been much better, but Heinen is a rookie. Backes is an aging $6 million player. It's fair to assume that he should be of more use to the Bruins now than he will be in the third, fourth and fifth years of his contract. 

It's also fair to assume that Charlie McAvoy's underwhelming play through five games is a sign that he's still finding his way back from the knee injury that kept him out late in the season. He came a hit post away from scoring in the third period, but he has just one point (a secondary assist on a power play goal in Game 1) all series. 

David Krejci sealed Game 4 by creating a rush on which he assisted a Jake DeBrusk goal, but he's been nowhere near the guy who stole the show in postseasons past. Rick Nash could stand to take over a game given the price Don Sweeney rightfully paid for his services. 

So now the series heads to a Game 6, oddly bringing what has at times looked like a one-sided series to the lengthy conclusion we initially expected. If the Bruins don't try outthinking themselves, it will still end the way they envisioned. 


Talking Points: Rask's shaky game burns the Bruins

Talking Points: Rask's shaky game burns the Bruins

GOLD STAR: Frederik Andersen has been the top player in both of Toronto’s playoff wins in this series, so I am beginning to sense a pattern here. If Andersen plays All-World hockey and the Bruins aren’t quite on their game, they are in trouble. If Andersen is off at all or the Bruins are 100 percent on point, the Leafs don’t have much of a chance. This time Andersen stopped 42 shots while Toronto hung on for dear life in the third period and he stopped 19-of-20 shots for a Leafs team that looked like they were leaking oil. But Andersen made a number of stellar stops while standing tall in the crease and Toronto did just enough good things offensively to create enough space to carry them home. If Andersen somehow really gets into a groove in the final couple of games, that might be the only way that Toronto has a chance of still pulling this off against the Bruins.

BLACK EYE: Tuukka Rask basked himself in his postgame comments, so I suppose it’s finally okay to criticize him now, right? Rask actually wasn’t terrible in this game with some really bad play in front of him during the first period that led to the first couple of goals, but the third goal allowed to Tyler Bozak is one that he needs to stop just a minute after the Bruins finally got on the board and grabbed some momentum. He was finally pulled after James van Riemsdyk roofed one on him in tight on the power play, and he ended up allowing four goals on 13 shots before getting yanked in the second period. Clearly he wasn’t as good as Andersen and it’s just as clear he wasn’t as good as he was in Game 4 on Thursday night, but Rask ends up becoming the fall guy for a Bruins team that didn’t do enough early in the game to deserve closing it out on home ice. So now they go to Toronto to try and end it in Game 6 on Monday night.

TURNING POINT: The killer goal allowed by the Bruins was the third goal to Tyler Bozak on a long, stretch pass as the Bruins were changing behind the play, and Bozak got a chance in the slot one-on-one against Tuukka Rask. Bozak beat the Bruins goalie with his attempt, the Leads scored less than a minute after David Backes had energized the crowd with Boston’s first goal of the night, and the Bruins continued to chase the game. That’s one of those moments where your big time goalie needs to make a big time save like he did 48 hours ago in Toronto, but it wasn’t meant to be this time around with a chance to close out the Leafs on home ice. Plenty happened before and after that play, but that was the crucial one after a pretty bad first period for the Black and Gold.

HONORABLE MENTION: Give it up for the Bruins fourth line that supplied two of the three goals that they scored, and pushed the team one freak play of tying up the game in the third period. Sean Kuraly scored the first of the two goals on a great shot under the bar after a perfect backhanded dish from Matt Grzelcyk, and then Noel Acciari scored in the third period on a loose puck at the side of the net to push the B’s as close as they would get. In all the fourth line had six shots on net, seven hits and most importantly didn’t get scored on when they were out on the ice. They have enjoyed plenty of games where they’ve done excellent, underrated things for the Bruins this season, so here’s a chance for them to get some of the credit during the playoffs. They bring it every night, but tonight they get the honorable mention.  

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of career playoff appearances for Anton Khudobin after making his postseason debut in Saturday night’s Game 5 loss. Khudobin ended up stopping all eight shots he faced while the B’s came up just short in the game.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I probably could have stopped more pucks with my eyes closed. That’s about it. It’s on me.” –Tuukka Rask, on his subpar Game 5 performance where he said he had no problem getting pulled midway through the second period.