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Barry Melrose likes a rematch of last season's Stanley Cup finals, right down to the champion being crowned in six games.
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Barry Melrose points out a few teams that need to be on upset watch in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
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Steve Levy and Barry Melrose preview the Stanley Cup playoffs with the players to watch and the goalies that can steal a series in the first round.

Rask's concern is Cup, not Vezina

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
5:35
PM ET
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Bruins’ Tuukka Rask is the odds-on favorite to win the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender during the regular season.

His numbers support that notion. Rask finished with a 36-15-6 record, 2.04 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 58 games. He also led the league with seven shutouts. But Rask would rather earn a much bigger prize than any individual award, especially since the Bruins fell short of winning the Stanley Cup last spring with a loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the finals.

[+] EnlargeTuukka Rask
Brian Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesTuukka Rask has the confidence of his teammates and coach -- and is confident in himself.
“You work throughout the year as a team and if those individual awards come, they come. But if you accomplish something as a team it’s that much better,” Rask said.

Rask, along with Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov, Tampa’s Ben Bishop and Montreal’s Carey Price, all are candidates for the Vezina.

“It’s obviously an individual award, but then again you don’t win that award playing on a bad team,” Rask said. “A lot of credit goes to your teammates. All the outside credit goes to you but you have to recognize nobody’s going to do it by themselves, so a lot of credit goes to teammates.”

When the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, Rask served as the backup for Tim Thomas. During his tenure in Boston, Thomas won two Vezinas, one Stanley Cup and one Conn Smythe.

Despite playing an NHL career-high 58 games this season, Rask is healthy and primed for the Stanley Cup playoffs. He doesn’t lack in confidence and will be the backbone for Boston’s Cup run again this spring.

“You want him to continue playing at his best and playing at the level he’s been playing at,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. “You saw it throughout this year, you saw it in the Olympics and obviously you saw it last year in the playoffs.

“We know what type of goaltender he is and we know how important he is to this team’s success. He has a lot of confidence in himself and when he’s having fun he’s playing at his best. There’s no better time to have fun right now. I know he’s looking forward to this challenge. Obviously, coming up short last year we’re looking forward to getting it going and I’m looking forward to seeing him have another great performance.”

Bruins coach Claude Julien believes Rask, along with teammates Zdeno Chara (Norris) and Patrice Bergeron (Selke), each should win an individual trophy. As far as Rask, Julien has been impressed with his goalie’s confidence.

“I don’t think Tuukka has ever lacked confidence,” Julien said. “Even when he was here behind Tim, he was always very confident in what he could do. He has always worked hard and had the right attitude, and that is just growing into the experience of the years.

“His stats certainly did improve a lot, but at the same time he has been one of those goaltenders that continues to want to be better all the time. He was on the big stage, obviously, at the Olympics and was probably a big part of his team winning the bronze. He is capable of handling, I guess, that kind of a stage as well. We’re going to need his leadership and his stability back there if we expect to do well.”

Top stats to know: Quest for the cup

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
2:24
PM ET
The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoff begins Wednesday night. The Chicago Blackhawks are trying to be the first repeat Stanley Cup Champions since the Detroit Red Wings won back-to-back cups in 1997 & 1998.

Here are some of the top stats to know as the Quest for the Cup gets underway.

• The Blackhawks led the NHL in goals during the 2013-14 regular season with 267, but recent history suggests that the Stanley Cup won’t make its way back to Chicago. The team that has led the NHL in goals during the regular season has not won the Stanley Cup since the 1991-92 Pittsburgh Penguins (led NHL with 343 goals that season).

Since the 2002-03 season, six defending Cup Champions have lost in the first Round (previously called Conference Quarterfinals) of the playoffs and a seventh missed the playoffs entirely (Carolina Hurricanes in 2006-07).

• The Penguins have eight players on their roster with at least 80 games of playoff experience. Only two Columbus Blue Jackets players have played more than 30 career postseason games (Nathan Horton with 43 & Brandon Dubinsky with 31).

The league’s leading scorer during the regular season was Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby with 104 points. Since the 1987-88 season, only three players have led the league in scoring and won a Stanley Cup in the same campaign, two of which played for Pittsburgh.

• The Boston Bruins won the 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy, the second time that they have claimed that award (other time was in 1989-90).

Since the Presidents’ Trophy was first awarded in 1985-86, eight teams have won it and the Stanley Cup in the same season. However, the Blackhawks won both trophies last season.

On the flip side, six Presidents’ Trophy winners have been eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, including the Vancouver Canucks last season.

• The Montreal Canadiens are the only Canadian-based franchise in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs. It is the first time since 1973 that just one Canadian team made the playoffs. That year, the Canadiens were that lone Canadian representative as well and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

In addition, it has been 21 years since a Canadian-based team last won the Stanley Cup (Montreal beating the Los Angeles Kings in the 1993 Cup Final). Since then, Canadian teams have reached and lost in the Cup Final five times, with four of those series going the full seven games.

Other notes

• The Red Wings are making their 23rd consecutive postseason appearance, the longest active streak of its kind in the four major professional sports.

• Three teams are back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs after long absences. The Dallas Stars are making their first appearance since 2008, the Columbus Blue Jackets are back for the first time since 2009, and the Colorado Avalanche are back in the postseason for the first time since 2010.
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Barry Melrose weighs in on the NHL's new playoff format, and discusses the Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks as the teams to beat.

This Bruins team may top them all

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:30
AM ET
[+] EnlargePatrice Bergeron had his best season, recording 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points, and should win the Selke Trophy.
Eric Canha/CSMPatrice Bergeron had his best season, recording 30 goals and 32 assists for 62 points, and should win the Selke Trophy.

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins enter the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs as the favorites to win it all.

They've reached the finals twice in a three-year span, hoisting the Cup with a victory over the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 and losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.

This spring, the Bruins are bigger, better, stronger and hungrier. Their experience and maturity make them a dangerous team, a team better prepared than the two previous ones that reached the finals.

"Every team is different," said Bruins forward Brad Marchand. "It's tough to top a team that you win with, but we definitely have a great team in here. A lot of great talent and we're very deep this year, and I think that's what makes a great team. Hopefully we can put it all together in the playoffs."


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Ranking postseason goalies 

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:22
AM ET
Jonathan QuickDon McPeak/USA TODAY SportsJonathan Quick has proved he can stand tall in the crease for the Kings.
With the playoff matchups set and the countdown to the postseason underway, we’re ranking the top playoff teams by position. On Monday, the forward groups were ranked. On Tuesday, it was the defensemen's turn. Today, here’s the ranking of the goaltending for the 16 playoff teams.


1. Los Angeles Kings

Team save percentage: .922
Short-handed save percentage: .879
Jonathan Quick career playoff save percentage: .929 (50 games)

The Kings are a near-perfectly constructed team up front and on defense, but it’s Quick who puts them over the top in comparisons to the Sharks and other Western Conference contenders. He’s a competitor with a Stanley Cup and loads of playoff experience, and he now has Olympic experience on his résumé. There’s not a better goalie to have on your side at the outset of the playoffs.

“With Quick in goal, they’ve probably got the most complete team in the NHL,” said a veteran scout.


2. Boston Bruins

Team save percentage: .928 (No. 1)
Short-handed save percentage: .884
Tuukka Rask career playoff save percentage: .930 (35 games)

If the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last spring, Rask would've been in the Conn Smythe conversation with Patrice Bergeron after finishing the playoffs with a league-best .940 save percentage.

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B's getting back to full strength

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
11:13
AM ET
WILMINGTON, Mass. -- It’s Day 2 of playoff preparation as the Bruins are set to host the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 Friday at TD Garden.

Bruins coach Claude Julien explained on Tuesday that many players were missing from practice due to the flu making its way around the locker room. The team is back on the ice at Ristuccia today and many players have returned.

With the exception of Daniel Paille, Chris Kelly, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller, everyone else is on the ice. The first and second lines are intact, while Justin Florek, Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson comprise the third line. Jordan Caron is on the merlot line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.

The Goalie Heat Index

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
10:05
AM ET

It is impossible to overstate the importance of goaltending during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Deep runs into the postseason can be made on the back of a hot goalie, while a struggling netminder can cost even the best team a shot at raising the Cup.

The impact of goalies on postseason success has been as evident as ever over the past three years. In that time, two goalies won the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP -- the Boston Bruins' Tim Thomas (2011) and the Los Angeles Kings' Jonathan Quick (2012) -- while last year's champion, the Chicago Blackhawks, received incredible goaltending from Corey Crawford, who finished the playoffs with a .932 save percentage. On the other side of the coin, the poor play of the New York Islanders' Evgeni Nabokov and the Montreal Canadiens' Carey Price cost their clubs the chance to advance to the second round last postseason.

Who will stand out this year and help carry his team in Round 1?

For this, we once again turn to the Goalie Heat Index -- a statistical forecast of how goalies will perform in the postseason. Over the past dozen postseason campaigns, the best performance indicators -- in order of diminishing importance -- have been: career playoff save percentage, current regular-season save percentage and current regular-season shots on goal against (SOGA). This measure has worked to predict breakout postseason performances by unlikely playoff standouts such as Antti Niemi, Jaroslav Halak, Braden Holtby and Mike Smith.

Here is a look at which goalies figure to get hot in 2014:


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Bruins-Red Wings scouting report

April, 16, 2014
Apr 16
1:24
AM ET
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BOSTON -- For the first time since 1957, the Boston Bruins will face the Detroit Red Wings in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Because the Bruins won the Presidents’ Trophy for the NHL’s best regular-season record, they will have home-ice advantage for as long as they last in the playoffs. Boston will host Games 1 and 2 of this series on Friday and Sunday.

The Red Wings, an organization drenched in tradition, have earned a postseason berth in 23 consecutive seasons. Detroit beat Boston in three of four games during the regular season. In fact, the Red Wings were the only team to beat the Bruins three times this season.

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While the Bruins secured a playoff spot well before the conclusion of the regular season, the Red Wings had to grind and claw their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs. Their late-season surge will help them in their series against Boston.

Under coach Claude Julien, the Bruins have earned a postseason berth seven consecutive seasons and reached the finals twice. Boston won the Cup in 2011 and lost in the finals to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013.

This series should be entertaining. Here’s the scouting report:

Records

Bruins: 54-19-9, 117 points, first in the NHL.

Red Wings: 39-28-15, 93 points, eighth in the Eastern Conference and fourth in the Atlantic Division.

Head-to-head: Boston defeated Detroit, 4-1, on Oct. 5 but the Red Wings have won three straight against the Bruins, outscoring them 12-5 in that span.

Forwards

Bruins: Boston’s top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla was consistent the entire season. Krejci led the team with 69 points (19 goals, 50 assists), while Iginla had 30 goals and 31 assists for 61 points. Lucic added 24 goals and 35 assists for 59 points. The Bruins are at their best when Julien can roll four lines consistently and he was able to do that this season. The second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith finished strong. Bergeron should win his second Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward, but Boston’s assistant captain also produced on offense (30 goals, 32 assists). Once Loui Eriksson returned to form after dealing with a pair of early-season concussions, he settled in nicely on the third line, along with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. The Bruins learned how important a third line can be when they won the Cup in 2011. With Soderberg centering the line, if the Bruins continue to receive production from that trio they should be in good shape. Then there’s the energy line of Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. Because of their relentless style of play, Julien is not afraid to put that group on the ice during critical moments.

Red Wings: Detroit has a solid mix of experience and youth on the front end. Veteran Pavel Datsyuk is one of toughest players to defend in the league. It will likely be up to Bergeron’s line to shut him down. Datsyuk recently returned to the lineup after being sidelined with a knee injury. His presence will give Detroit’s offense a boost. Captain Henrik Zetterberg missed half the season after having back surgery in February, but he could return soon. He said Tuesday that he’s hoping to play in the second round, but the Bruins wouldn’t be surprised if he shows up in this series. Detroit is a classic puck-possession team and will use its speed to its advantage. A young core of talent -- Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Jurco -- has energized the Red Wings. Detroit signed veteran Daniel Alfredsson as a free agent last summer and his presence also has proved crucial. He has plenty of playoff experience.

Edge: Bruins.

Defense

Bruins: When Dennis Seidenberg suffered a season-ending knee injury by tearing both his ACL and MCL in December, most hit the panic button. Without Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara as a defensive pair in the postseason, how would the Bruins advance in the playoffs? To make matters worse, veteran defenseman Adam McQuaid suffered a quad injury in January and hasn’t played since. Both problems were solved quickly when Johnny Boychuk, Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller and Torey Krug stepped up their games to form a solid back end for Boston. Just in case, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli acquired a pair of veteran blueliners -- Andrej Meszaros and Corey Potter -- at the trade deadline to add depth. In this series, Boston’s defense will be tested against a speedy Detroit offense. The Bruins will need to be physical, close the gaps and shut down the Red Wings’ explosive offense.

Red Wings: Similar to the Bruins, Detroit has some youth on its back end with Brendan Smith, Danny DeKeyser and Brian Lashoff. Red Wings veteran Niklas Kronwall has been potent at both ends of the ice and finished the season with eight goals and 41 assists for 49 points in 79 games.

Edge: Bruins.

Goaltending

Bruins: Tuukka Rask should win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goaltender during the regular season. He finished with a 36-15-6 record, a 2.04 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage in 58 games. He also led the league with seven shutouts. After serving as the backup for Tim Thomas during Boston’s 2011 Stanley Cup run, Rask helped the Bruins reach the finals last spring before losing to the Blackhawks. Despite playing a career-high 58 games this season, Rask is healthy and primed for the playoffs. He doesn’t lack confidence and will be the backbone for Boston’s Cup run again this spring.

Red Wings: Jimmy Howard battled hand and knee injuries this season and finished with a 21-19-11 record, a 2.66 GAA and a .910 SP. Riddled with injuries to key players for the majority of the season, the Red Wings went with a young defensive core and Howard had to be the backbone as Detroit earned a postseason berth with its grit and determination. The stakes are much higher in the playoffs and the Bruins have the ability to crank up their intensity, so Howard will be tested early and often.

Edge: Bruins.

Power play

Bruins: Boston proved during its 2011 Cup run that a team can win without a potent power play. In fact, the Bruins’ PP unit was nearly nonexistent that postseason but Boston still won the Cup. With some new personnel, the Bruins’ power play has improved, finishing third in the league with a 21.7-percent success rate. Boston scored 50 goals in 230 power-play opportunities. A big reason for the improvement was Julien’s decision to put Chara in front of the opposition’s net during the man-advantage, while Krug quarterbacked the point. The additions of Iginla, Eriksson, Smith and Soderberg also helped.

Red Wings: With Datsyuk back in the mix, Detroit’s power play should improve. The Red Wings finished the season 17th in this category and converted only 50 goals on 282 power-play chances. Kronwall led the Red Wings in power-play points with 25. Alfredsson followed with 18.

Edge: Bruins. This series has the potential to be a disciplined one and special teams may not play a big factor. Still, the Bruins have the edge.

Penalty kill

Bruins: The penalty kill always has been a strength for the Bruins and that did not change this season. Boston finished eighth on the PK, allowing only 43 goals on 263 shorthanded situations. Bergeron, Marchand, Paille and Campbell continue to be the team’s top penalty killers. Marchand tied for the league lead with five shorthanded goals.

Red Wings: Detroit finished the season ranked 14th on the PK. The Red Wings allowed 50 power-play goals on 295 shorthanded situations.

Edge: Bruins.

Coaching

Bruins: Under Julien, the Bruins have reached the Stanley Cup playoffs for seven consecutive seasons. A few times during his tenure in Boston, many wondered if he would be fired, but he has the ability to help his teams prevail and that’s one of the reasons the Bruins have reached the finals twice in a three-year span. Julien takes full advantage of all his resources and keeps an open and honest line of communication with his players.

Red Wings: Mike Babcock has guided the Red Wings to three Stanley Cup finals, winning the Cup in 2008. Similar to Julien, Babcock has the respect of his players and expects the most out of his lineup every game. With significant injuries to veteran players this season, Babcock trusted in a young core of talent and that’s one of the reasons Detroit earned a postseason berth.

Edge: Even. This category is a toss-up. Both coaches have won a Stanley Cup championship and both have the ability to get the most out of his team no matter what the situation. Julien served as an associate coach on Babcock’s staff and helped Team Canada win a gold medal during the Winter Olympics this February in Sochi. Both men know each other well, so this chess match will be an interesting one to watch.

Prediction

Bruins in six. This should be an interesting and entertaining series. Of all the first-round matchups in the Stanley Cup playoffs, this one could be the most difficult to win. Boston’s reward for winning the Presidents’ Trophy will be one pesky opponent.

Before playoffs, B's take on the flu

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
1:59
PM ET
BOSTON -- The Bruins held their first postseason practice Tuesday at TD Garden as they prepare to host the Detroit Red Wings in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs on Friday.

Many players were absent, including Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly, Daniel Paille, Matt Bartkowski, Kevan Miller and Andrej Meszaros. Coach Claude Julien said the flu bug is working its way around the locker room, but he’s hoping all will be able to return to practice this week before Friday’s game.

“I don’t know for sure but I’d like to think so,” Julien said. “The flu bug has hit our team right now, so we’re trying to manage that the best we can, and the best thing right now is to keep those guys away from others. A few more have gotten that, and it started before Saturday’s game with certain players and it’s just kind of evolved from there. We’re trying to manage it right now. As far as tomorrow’s concerned, you keep your fingers crossed and hope that’s the end of it and that your players are going to start coming back.”

Since the organization has gone into lockdown mode on injuries, Julien would not give an update on Paille’s status.

Ranking postseason defenseman groups 

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
12:32
PM ET
Bouwmeester & Pietrangelo Getty ImagesJay Bouwmeester and Alex Pietrangelo anchor the top defensive group competing in the playoffs.
With the playoff matchups set and the countdown to the playoffs underway, we’re ranking the top playoff teams by position. On Monday, the forward groups were ranked. Today, here’s the ranking of the 16 playoff defenseman groups:


1. St. Louis Blues
Goals against per game (GA/G): 2.29 (No. 3)
Penalty kill (PK): 85.7 percent (No. 2)
Points from defensemen: 182
Shots against per game (SA/G): 26.4

A full season together for Alex Pietrangelo and Jay Bouwmeester gives the Blues a legitimate shutdown pair that was still figuring out how to play together when the playoffs arrived last spring. Pietrangelo has had a season worthy of Norris Trophy consideration. The duo is still a little light on playoff experience, which is a concern; the two have played a total of 20 postseason games, or 18 fewer than Kings defenseman Slava Voynov.

Having those two and trusted veterans like Barret Jackman and Roman Polak allows coach Ken Hitchcock to get favorable matchups for Kevin Shattenkirk, a talented offensive defenseman who consistently puts up St. Louis’ best possession numbers.


2. Los Angeles Kings
GA/G: 2.05 (No. 1)
PK: 83.1 percent (No. 11)
Points from defensemen: 149
SA/G: 26.2

The defense has a mix of strong offensive puck movers such as Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin and Voynov, along with defensive veterans Willie Mitchell, Robyn Regehr and Matt Greene.

Like everything Kings general manager Dean Lombardi builds, this defense was put together with a purpose, and if it remains healthy, it’s as good as any in hockey. Doughty is a game-changer whose puck-retrieval skills and ability to quickly transition to offense should help negate a strong possession team like the San Jose Sharks.


3. Chicago Blackhawks
GA/G: 2.58 (No. 12)
PK: 81.4 percent (No. 19)
Points from defensemen: 193
SA/G: 27.2

The one-two punch of pairs Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook along with Niklas Hjalmarsson and Johnny Oduya is a huge weapon for coach Joel Quenneville.

Chicago’s second pair can play with any forward line, allowing Quenneville a chance to get Keith and Seabrook on the ice in moments where they can change the game.

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First round is the best round

April, 15, 2014
Apr 15
12:03
PM ET

Stanley CupChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesThe Stanley Cup isn't the only thing that's amazing about the playoffs.



And then there was the day we found the Stanley Cup ...

Yes, this sounds like a made-up story or a kid's fantasy -- and I suppose in the case of my then-11-year-old son Gord, it was -- but it's absolutely true and happened in the late winter of 1993.

We have the pictures to prove it.

It was the inaugural year of the reborn Ottawa Senators. After 58 years in limbo -- the team gave up on Ottawa and moved to St. Louis for the 1934-35 season -- the Senators were back in the NHL, a new franchise, a new beginning, and soon a new building.

For the time being, however, they would play out of the little Civic Centre downtown, where the Ottawa 67's junior club played their games. Since the first-year Senators were, well, terrible, and given that NHL teams weren't then running matters like the Secret Service, those of us who followed the team that first season used to take along our own equipment and play, whenever we could, on the road. Back home, we often played Wednesdays after the Senators practiced. Sometimes the coaches even joined us. It kept everyone sane.

We were dressing for one of those Wednesday afternoon shinny matches when I happened to notice a large blue steamer trunk in the corner. I thought I'd seen it before. It looked like the trunk that held the Stanley Cup.

The team was putting on some special event -- I have long forgotten what it was -- and it struck me that the Cup was to be one of the attractions.


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