Brad Marchand explains decision to get off ice in costly Game 7 sequence

Brad Marchand explains decision to get off ice in costly Game 7 sequence

BOSTON – Brad Marchand had a brilliant regular season with 100 points and will get his share of Hart Trophy votes when the NHL awards come down in a couple of weeks.

But the B’s left winger is going to have a long time this offseason to think about what went wrong for him and for his linemates in Boston’s 4-1 loss in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden on Wednesday night.

Marchand finished with just two goals and a minus-2 rating in the best-of-seven series, and had zero points in a decisive Game 7 loss.

But it was Marchand's defensive miscue at the end of the first period that essentially doomed the Black and Gold in Game 7. Marchand signaled for a line change with fewer than 15 seconds remaining in the second, and then watched as both Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo skated by him into the B’s offensive zone while he retreated to the bench.

Marchand’s absence allowed Schwartz and Pietrangelo easy entrance to the Bruins' offensive zone, where Pietrangelo snapped a backhanded wrist shot past Tuukka Rask. The back-breaking tally gave the Blues a two-goal lead with eight seconds remaining in the first period and effectively knocked the wind out of the Black and Gold in a death blow they would never recover from.

“I don’t know, they chipped it in. I thought that [Jaden Schwartz] was by himself, so I went for a change, and a couple more guys jumped up on the play,” said a teary-eyed Marchand, who appeared to have the entire play develop in front of him as he decided to make the change at the Bruins' bench. “I didn’t see the replay, but yeah.”

Marchand's decision to make a change with roughly 10 seconds to go in the first period ended up being disastrous for the Bruins, and head coach Bruce Cassidy didn't mince any words about it, describing it as probably the turning point in Game 7.

“The second [goal allowed] we just didn’t manage the puck. We kind of missed an assignment and they made a play, a nice play by Pietrangelo but you’re probably [talking] a different game if it’s 1-0 coming out of the first, I do believe that,” said Cassidy. “I’m not saying that we would have won or we would have lost. I’m not a mind reader. But I do believe that it gave them a lot of juice for a period that they, you know if they looked at it objectively, probably felt or should have felt that they got outplayed but they’re up 2-0 on the scoreboard. That’s all that matters.”

Marchand has done great things for the Bruins throughout his career and he’s one of the veteran B’s players who helped get the Black and Gold all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. He’s also one of the experienced veteran guys for the Bruins who they rely on to play solidly in those big game moments in the postseason.

But that decision to get off the ice right before the second goal for St. Louis is one that’s likely (and appropriately) going to stick with the Nose Face Killah for a long time this offseason and beyond.

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Bruins focusing on improving 5-on-5 offense this season

Bruins focusing on improving 5-on-5 offense this season

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins finished 11th in scoring in the NHL last season at 3.13 goals per game and obviously had enough offense to get all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. 

They have three top-flight forwards on the "Perfection Line" with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak all topping 30 goals for the second season in a row and boast one of the NHL’s best power plays that can overwhelm teams with lesser special teams’ groups.

But therein lies the rub.

Only Tampa Bay and Florida scored more power-play goals than the Bruins last season, who were successful 25.9 percent of the time on the man-advantage last season with the top unit of Torey Krug, Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk/David Backes accounting for most of the special teams’ offense.

That left the Bruins in the bottom third of the NHL in terms of even-strength offense with a big-time dependence on the power play.

“You’ve got to take offense where you can get it,” said Patrice Bergeron, who was third on the Bruins with nine power-play goals and had 27 PP points last season. “If you’re winning games and the power play is your source of offense then I don’t think it’s a bad thing. You’ve got to find other ways to create some more offense in other ways, but to me, it’s not a huge problem. We have the ability to find that [offense] and it’s about tweaking a few things to find that [5-on-5] offense to score goals in different ways.”

It wasn’t much an issue during the regular season where the Bruins steamrolled most teams on the power play, and it obviously never became a fatal flaw in the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Still, the Bruins ran into a roadblock in the Cup Final against a St. Louis Blues team that dominated in 5-on-5 play and managed to make it less of a special teams contest in the seven-game series. Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak were bottled up for just two goals and five points combined in the seven games and were far from living up to their line's nickname.

Certainly it’s something the B’s recognize could be much improved heading into a new season.

“You see it when you’re not scoring. It’s because you’re forcing players and you’re not getting to the inside. We got into trouble a few times, especially in the playoffs probably where we stayed to the outside,” said Bergeron. “The play dies down because other teams are retreating to the box or retreating to the house, and then they don’t give you those cross-seams [to pass] that you see sometimes earlier in the year.

“It’s moving your feet and competing around the net, and getting there and wanting to impose your will to get those rebounds. You bring it on net and if you don’t get it on the first try then there’s somebody around the net creating some havoc. It’s easy hockey and we’ve seen it so many times, but at the same time it’s pretty effective.”

With that in mind, the Bruins are using some of their training camp focus to improve their even-strength offense.

Some of it will be improved by Charlie Coyle’s presence as the third-line center from the very start of the season. There will be more diversity in the offense up front and that should mean things will be a little more spread out with a deep team that can advantage of that against opponents.

But there are also adjustments to be made across the lineup and that’s something the Bruins are working on while getting the offensive and defensive systems down pat in camp.

“I think as a team once we pare down [our roster] we’re going to be looking at ways of generating more chances 5-on-5 in the offensive zone. I think that’s our Boston Bruins focus once we get our team together a little more,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, of the systems work in camp that started with the defensive basics before branching out to the offense. “The easiest way is to sacrifice defense and we don’t want to do that, right? So, that one is out the window. That’s the first thing we discuss so we don’t see it happening.

“It’s getting our D involved more and getting active, and encouraging them to do that. It brings risk into play, but this group coming back has been together and they know what we want. So we should be able to grow it in their game as they come back and build chemistry.  And shooting more. Funneling a few more pucks and some off-angle shots so everybody knows that it’s going there. It’s easier said than done. We want players to retain their creativity, so it’s a balance. But it’s something that we’ve talked about. Those are the two areas of what we could do with the forwards and with the defense, and hopefully, that translates into a little more action around the net.”

Will it actually translate into more even-strength offense for the Bruins?

The hope is that some tweaks will spark a little more offense out of a team with plenty of skill and scoring ability. But the Bruins would also greatly benefit from one more player developing into a top-six right wing capable of finishing off plays created by David Krejci on the second line.

It doesn’t appear that player is currently on Boston’s roster.

Still, at least the Bruins know that it’s an issue and are taking steps to address it early on where it could lead to improvements.

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Karson Kuhlman looking like the front-runner for right wing spot on Bruins second line

Karson Kuhlman looking like the front-runner for right wing spot on Bruins second line

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins ended last season with rookie Karson Kuhlman manning the right wing on David Krejci’s line during the final two games of the Stanley Cup Final.

It appears that, barring a surprise performance in Bruins training camp or an injury, the Bruins will start the season the very same way a few weeks from now. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned David Backes and Brett Ritchie as other potential candidates, and didn’t rule out Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen from getting looks there either.

“We know we have Kuhlman that can play [on the second line] and I don’t think he’s going to drop off. He may flat line, I don’t know, but I don’t think he’s going to get worse,” said Cassidy. “To me he’s a bit of a person that’s going to keep working on his craft and get more comfortable. From there, we had Backes out there and we know that’s not a full time solution. [Brett] Ritchie is a wild card. We don’t know if he can play out there. He got some reps today in practice and we’ll probably look at it for a game or two.

“Those are the guys that come to mind. It could go to Heinen if he plays his off-side. They played together last year with DeBrusk and he could go there if we feel like he can help there. Bjork is a wild card. He’s played there. But we have him on the left side and we’re going to try him there. We know would start opening night with Kuhlman there and we’re going to be fine. But we’ll look at it and see if there’s a better fit right away. Ritchie is somebody we don’t know, so he could get in there and win that battle [for the spot]. It’s a bit of what’s the best fit and how it’s going to affect the rest of your lineup.”

But the 23-year-old Kuhlman clearly showed the Bruins coaching staff something last season even if the three goals and five points in 11 games last season didn’t exactly scream out top-6 winger. He had some good games certainly, and was excellent in Game 6 of the Cup Final vs. the Blues after he replaced Backes in the B’s lineup against the St. Louis Blues.

He brings speed, two-way play, maximum effort and hockey smarts to the table, and those are all things that will help the Bruins at points for as long as he’s there. But let’s be honest here. There’s a reason that Kuhlman went undrafted during his career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and he was solid, not spectacular, in the AHL with 12 goals and 30 points in 58 games during his first season of pro hockey last year.

He’s good enough to be okay at the NHL level playing with a high level, creative player like Krejci, and he showed chemistry with the playmaking Czech and Jake DeBrusk in his limited time last season. It certainly sounds like he’s got a fan in Krejci, and that matters when it comes to his linemates.

“He’s got maybe a better shot than we’d seen his first time through in training camp,” said Cassidy, alluding to some goals he scored in the regular season and playoffs. “Then you talk to Krejci and he’s been around a long time. He’s had a lot of wingers and he’ll give you some feedback as well. [He says] Kuhlman gets to the right spots and makes plays at the right times. So some of it is your own eyes and some of it is trusting the guys on the ice that are playing with him.”

All of that is well and good, but he still scored only 15 goals and 35 points in 69 combined games between the AHL and NHL last season. He’s also just 5-foot-11, 185-pounds with a modest skill level that’s not going to help Boston’s difficulties scoring during even strength play last season.

It wouldn’t surprise anybody is Kuhlman is just good enough to be a place-holder until the Bruins find a permanent play-finishing solution on Krejci’s line. Certainly he’s not going to be confused with guys like Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla that played on Krejci’s line during his best seasons with the Black and Gold.

So don’t be surprised if the Bruins are once again in search of a top-6 right wing sniper at the NHL trade deadline this season to eventually be an upgrade over Kuhlman. But for now, the Bruins will once again fix it on the fly for a few months after never finding a permanent solution this summer, and instead turning to the same, old in-house candidates that were never quite enough last season.

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