Bruins

STANLEY CUP FINAL: Preds beat Penguins, 4-1; tie series 2-2

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STANLEY CUP FINAL: Preds beat Penguins, 4-1; tie series 2-2

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Frederick Gaudreau sure is doing his best to earn his own locker with the Nashville Predators with a Stanley Cup Final debut for the ages.

An undrafted free agent playing just his sixth postseason game, Gaudreau scored the go-ahead goal 3:45 into the second period and Pekka Rinne made 23 often-spectacular saves as the Predators beat the Penguins 4-1 on Monday night to even the series at 2-2.

It's now a best-of-three sprint to the Stanley Cup, and Nashville is riding a wave of momentum after outscoring the defending champions 9-2 in the Games 3 and 4 of their Final debut. Game 5 is Thursday night in Pittsburgh.

Gaudreau, a 24-year-old rookie, only has a chair in the Predators' locker room, but he now is the second player in NHL history to score his first three career goals in a Stanley Cup Final, joining Johnny Harms with the 1944 Blackhawks. Calle Jarnkrok, Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg also scored for Nashville, which improved to 9-1 at home and roared back after dropping the first two games of the series on the road.

"We were in a tough hole against a really good team, came home and took care of the home games with the help of all our great fans," Rinne said. "It's a great feeling. We played two really good games."

Sidney Crosby scored his first goal in the series after not getting a shot on goal in Game 3. The goal was his first in the Stanley Cup Final since June 4, 2009, a span of 12 games. The goal came after he was held without a shot for only the fifth time in his career in the playoffs.

The Penguins now have lost two straight for the second time this postseason. They also lost Games 5 and 6 against Washington. Goalie Matt Murray lost consecutive games for the first time in his young career.

"It's hard to win when you score one goal," Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. "I thought tonight of all nights, we generated the most chances of the highest quality."

Nashville tapped country singer Dierks Bentley as the latest star to sing the national anthem, while Jason Aldean waved the towel to rev up the crowd. Former NBA star and TV commentator Charles Barkley also was on hand, accepting NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman's invitation to watch in person, and Carrie Underwood admitted she didn't get Predators captain Mike Fisher, her husband, a birthday present on Monday - holding out hope that a Stanley Cup championship celebration would do the trick in coming days.

"That's all I wanted for my birthday," Fisher said after the Predators cruised to another easy win.

Craig Smith, who had two of Nashville's first six shots, ricocheted a puck off Murray's pads that Jarnkrok tapped in at 14:51 to start the fans yelling. Pittsburgh lost a challenge for goalie interference.

Just 66 seconds later, Crosby tied it up for Pittsburgh on a dazzling breakaway. He skated in on Rinne, holding the puck, faking a slap shot and then slipping one past the goalie for his eighth goal and 24th point of the playoffs. He also moved into 20th all-time in NHL playoff points but the Predators clamped down after that.

Rinne kept it tied in the early minutes of the second first with a stop of Jake Guentzel before a big save on Chris Kunitz on a breakaway. And then came Gaudreau's goal, which was confirmed only after the horn sounded and officials reviewed the play. They ruled Gaudreau's wraparound attempt slid the puck just over the line before Murray stopped it. Referee Dan O'Halloran announced it as a goal, giving Nashville a 2-1 lead 3:45 into the second.

"I heard it on the bench that it was possibly in the net," Gaudreau said. "I wasn't certain. When I heard the horn, I sort of thought it was in."

Crosby had another breakaway nearly midway through the period, and Rinne stopped him not once, but twice. Then the goalie slid to his right stopping Guentzel with an assist from Nashville defenseman Roman Josi.

"It's a game of execution," Crosby said. "They capitalized on our mistakes and we have to do the same."

Arvidsson made it a 3-1 Nashville lead with his first goal since the end of the first round. James Neal started the play, getting the puck to Fisher who fed the puck up to Arvidsson while falling to the ice. Arvidsson beat Murray under his glove, putting the puck just inside the right post at 13:08.

Forsberg sealed the win with an empty-netter with 3:23 left.

Notes: Fisher, scoreless until the Final, now has four points. He got his fourth on his 37th birthday. ... With his goal, Crosby now has 161 career playoff points and moved past Mike Bossy, Gordie Howe, Al MacInnis and Bobby Smith for 20th all-time by himself. ... The Penguins now are 13-3 after a playoff loss under coach Mike Sullivan, and Murray is 7-1 in playoff games started after a loss. ... Rain most of Monday kept the crowd outside from reaching the more than 50,000 who turned Saturday night for the first Stanley Cup Final game in Tennessee. Enough people turned out to fill up Broadway for three blocks with three giant TV screens, even with Nashville opening up a downtown amphitheater for fans to watch. ... After the anthem, two catfish and one stuffed penguin hit the ice despite Nashville coach Peter Laviolette's video plea earlier Monday asking fans not to throw anything.

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More AP NHL:https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

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Tuukka Rask back with Bruins after 'making things right' with family

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Tuukka Rask back with Bruins after 'making things right' with family

BRIGHTON -- Tuukka Rask didn’t get into details about his leave of absence over the weekend other than to say it involved “making things right” in his family life, but says he's ready to get going in his role as goalie for the Boston Bruins.

Rask participated in a full practice with the B’s -- who sent rookie Daniel Vladar back to Providence -- ahead of their West Coast road swing, and said he’s excited to jump back into action.

Rask gave quick “yes” answers when asked if his family was okay, and if he believed the personal matter was resolved at this point. That’s all good news for both the player, Rask, and the team, and the goaltender was appreciative of the time the B’s allowed him over a three-day period to address his off-the-ice life.

“First and foremost I want to thank all the people that sent me messages, that contacted me and that supported me," he said. "Second I’d like to thank the Boston Bruins for giving me some time off to be with my family. I’ve never been more proud to be a part of this family with the Boston Bruins. We talk about it a lot that it’s a family and we take care of each other when times are tough.

“That being said, I have a job and my job is to be a hockey goalie for the Boston Bruins. I also have another job title and that’s a family man. This was a time that deep inside my heart I felt like I needed to take this time with my family and make things right so I could be back here and focus on my job. That took three days. I’m back here. I’m back to work and I’m ready to battle with these guys. At the end of the day I realized that the hockey career is a very short career, and your life afterward is a lot longer after that. I got the privacy and time I needed, and now I’m ready to move on.”

The Bruins goalie was confident that the issues were resolved to the point where they wouldn't be a potential distraction again. Rask also said he wouldn’t use the personal matter as an excuse for his performance this season, but he has absolutely looked distracted to this point in the season with 3.05 goals-against average and a .901 save percentage while losing playing time to the red-hot Jaroslav Halak.

“It doesn’t matter. It hasn’t affected my job,” said Rask, who said he never considered stepping away from the Bruins permanently or needing a change of scenery. “I’m not going to make excuses that I played good games or bad games because of my personal life. This was just a time where I needed to take some time for my family’s future and I’m glad that I did.”

Now Rask and the Bruins will move after things came to a head last weekend, and Halak will start on Wednesday night against a high-powered Colorado Avalanche group that boasts a super top line of its own. Bruce Cassidy indicated that Rask will get in there at some point on the road trip, but it won’t be at the sacrifice of playing Halak while he remains in the brick-wall mode that he’s been in for pretty much the entire season so far.

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Bruins trade rumors, contract talk and more in this week's Hagg Bag

Bruins trade rumors, contract talk and more in this week's Hagg Bag

The Bruins showed the best and worst of themselves over a four day period as they lost to Vancouver while giving up eight goals, and then swept the Maple Leafs and Golden Knights in a couple of back-to-back weekend games with Tuukka Rask on a leave of absence. Just another day in the life of the Black and Gold, so with that in mind let’s crack open the Hagg Bag mailbag. As always these are real tweets from real fans sent to my twitter account using the #HaggBag mailbag, real messages sent to NBCS Facebook fan page and emails sent to my JHaggerty@nbcuni.com email account. Now on to the bag:

Haggs,

No one expected the Bruins to get as far as they did last year. They squeaked past Toronto and were no match for Tampa. The playoffs showed they pretty much sank and swam by the production of the first line. Tampa stayed the same and Toronto upgraded big time and with the start of the season it’s pretty much the same thing thing with points coming from first line. I feel if they don’t make a move to help with the scoring they might not even make the playoffs, let alone go far in them no matter who is in net. If they don’t make a move and start to drop do you see them unloading any of the veterans? 
Thanks,

Chris

JH: Your analysis is pretty spot on, Chris. The Bruins biggest addition in the offseason was most definitely Jaroslav Halak as we’re seeing right now with him second in the NHL in goals against average and save percentage more than a month into the season. But they were too top heavy in the postseason last year and they didn’t make any significant outside improvements to change that while relying on kids like Ryan Donato, Danton Heinen and Anders Bjork to step up and fill the void. Instead they’ve been filling it with Joakim Nordstrom on the second line, which will do for right now but isn’t going to be a permanent top-6 solution on David Krejci’s line.

The good news is that it looks like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson may be ready to handle the third line center duties. At least it looks good after a couple of games, and it’s brought the best out of both Bjork and Heinen too. But that leaves the Bruins one top-6 forward short of a team that could do some damage in the playoffs, and leaves them with a need to make a deal at some point soon. It remains to be seen how they’re going to accomplish that, but they were in a similar spot last season and landed Rick Nash at the trade deadline. They were good enough to get 112 points, good enough to advance a round in the playoffs and would have been a deeper forward group if Nash had lived up to expectations. I think this is a playoff team as currently constituted right now mostly because that top line will allow them to beat most of the mediocre-to-bad teams out there. But they’ll need another established goal-scorer, and preferably somebody with some size and nasty to their game, if they’re going to be a real threat this season. They’re not there yet and Don Sweeney has some work to do.

All that being said, I don’t see the Bruins becoming sellers this season. No way they do that with the current talent level on the team, and no way they should based on where they are in the Atlantic Division pecking order. We’re talking about a team that’s 10-5-2 in their first 17 games and has the assets to make a deal to improve the team. All things considered, they’re not in a bad spot at all.   

Hey Haggs, 

Just wondering what you think about Charlie McAvoy seemingly always being hurt.  I love him as a player and think he has a great future ahead of him, but could this possibly affect how much he’ll make on his next contract.  Hopefully the Bruins can get him at a reasonable number this summer.  He’s a great player, but he’s not worth the 7-7.5 million I’ve been hearing so far.  He will be sooner or later, but I just don’t think he’s there yet.  I’m also wondering if Sweeney is regretting not bringing a veteran forward in over the summer to help the second line.  I wanted them to go after Skinner.  What do they do now that they sent Donato back to Providence?  It’s kinda earlier to start trading, but I’m not opposed to that at all.

Nick

JH: It’s too early to put any labels on McAvoy given his talent level and his youthful age. He was going to need a monster season to haul in that kind of a second contract, and it doesn’t appear that it’s going that way at this point. So perhaps a little bit of a silver lining to the McAvoy injuries is that it will cut down on his price tag coming out of his entry level contract, but that’s little reassurance to the Bruins. They want McAvoy on the ice where he can help them, and it looks like he’s headed in that direction now that he’s back on the ice again.

The Bruins are going to be okay for the time being riding the top line and plugging somebody into the David Krejci line. It’s a temporary fix, though, and it clearly paves the way for Sweeney to need to make an in-season deal for a top-6 winger. It is early to start trading, but we’ve also seen plenty of Anaheim and LA Kings execs/scouts at Bruins games over the last few weeks to think it’s completely dead. The Bruins are talking to other teams and know they could use more scoring punch and some more size up front, and perhaps can make a deal to address both of those before the burden becomes too heavy on Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.

Hi Joe!

First, all Bruins fans should hope Tuukka will be fine as a person after his requested leave from team. 
Second, hopefully he comes back stronger as the ‘elite’ goalie that he has been......again, on his time.  We forget these guys are under the ‘spotlight’ and have other daily matters to deal with same as fans. Hockey players are the least attention grabbing of all other major sports athletes including college and amateur levels and yet, are the most professional and generous with their time!
Kanpai (cheers) to Tuukka and the Bruins!


Ron Saitama, Japan

JH: Well said, Ron. All you can hope for is that Tuukka Rask comes back stronger, more centered and all-around better after getting some time to deal with his personal affairs. I may take issue with his consistency on the ice and how much he’s being paid based on the performance, but I’ve always liked Rask off the ice. He’s funny, he’s pretty honest about things and he’s an interesting guy that has a lot of interests outside of hockey.

Joe,

Will the Bruins trade for a center or a winger?

--Michael Boldiga (via NBCSN Facebook fan page)

JH: Yes. I think they will. If I had to guess, I think they’ll eventually trade for a winger. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to give up assets for a third line center when they have both JFK and Trent Frederic in the minors as players that will be ready sooner rather than later. You look at Joakim Nordstrom’s spot on the second line as the place where the Bruins badly need to upgrade, and give Krejci another weapon on his line now that it looks like Jake DeBrusk is starting to get going.

I have faith in Heinen and DeBrusk to chip in more and more as the season continues. Not sold on Bjork or JFK. Need more sample size. But at least Backes has been moved. Next step is to buy him out.

--Matias Halluchuck (@mhall3333)

JH: Interesting to see the Bruins scratch Noel Acciari for the last few games, and install Backes on the fourth line where he’s actually been pretty good with Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly. It’s tough to see a player taking up a $6 million cap space on the fourth line, but it would be eased a bit if Backes could chip in some offense to that line and make some things happen by causing some havoc in front of the net. Do I see them buying out Backes and paying a portion of his contract for the next handful of years? No, I don’t see them doing that. But it’s also just simple reality that the number of concussions that Backes has suffered could begin to take their toll as he becomes a bit more of a slow-moving target on the ice at 34 years old. The Bruins made the right call moving him off the center position after trying him out on the third line, and now they need to let him find his game with a little consistency in both his linemates and his role. 

That’s all for the Bag this week. See you next week. 

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