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NHL playoffs: Bruins left mired in uncertainty after shocking exit

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Patrice Bergeron‘s future is up in the air after the Bruins‘ first-round exit. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

On April 13, the Boston Bruins wrapped up a record-setting regular season looking poised for a memorable playoff run.

Eighteen days later, they are ready to hit the golf course after losing three consecutive games to a Florida Panthers team that snuck into the postseason on the heels of a 92-point campaign.

That’s quite the change in fortune.

To be fair, the Panthers are a better team than that point total suggests, and weird results like this are not as uncommon in the NHL as they are in other sports. In the Western Conference, a Seattle Kraken squad in its second season of existence just took out the defending Stanley Cup champions.

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For many teams that get upset in the first round, the plan would be to make a few tweaks in the offseason and bring the same group back. After all, if you have a dominant regular season, you’re probably on to something.

In Boston, the situation is a little more complicated.

That starts with Patrice Bergeron. The Bruins captain may retire after 19 years with the team, and if he does he’ll leave a massive hole in the middle of the lineup. Even at the age of 37, he excelled in all situations this season, and will likely bring home the sixth Selke Trophy of his career.

It’s impossible to quantify the leadership void Boston may experience if Bergeron walks away, but it’s awfully difficult to replace a franchise legend who’s seen and done it all.

The man behind him on the depth chart, 36-year-old unrestricted free agent David Krejci, is a threat to retire as well. Even if he returns, its unclear how effective he’d be in a top-line center role at his age.

Behind Krejci, Boston employs two veteran bottom-six centers in their 30s — Charlie Coyle and Tomas Nosek. Neither looks like a candidate to step into a scoring role, and Nosek is about to become a free agent. Pavel Zacha could return to center from the wing, but he’s coming off a career season and he’s never thrived as a top-six center at the NHL level.

It’s possible that Bergeron and Krejci both return for another run. If they don’t, the center position will be an issue for the Bruins. Their pair of veterans cost a combined $3.5 million against the cap in 2022-23, and they’ll have no hope of finding productive replacements at that price point in free agency.

A farm system that The Athletic ranked 30th in the NHL isn’t brimming with possible replacements, either.

The center position isn’t the only thing the Bruins have to worry about. Their in-season rentals — Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov— were extremely effective in the playoffs, combining for 18 points. Retaining either will be difficult, and they could be leaving with just $3.65 million coming off the books to replace them.

While the defense corps looks fairly stable beyond Orlov, the situation between the pipes is more complicated than it seemed a few weeks ago.

Statistically speaking, Linus Ullmark was the NHL’s best goalie during the regular season…

… but he fell flat in the playoffs with an .896 save percentage in six games until Jeremy Swayman got the call for Game 7.

There’s some speculation that Ullmark was dealing with a nagging injury during the series. In that case, we’re talking about a player who’s never been anything more than a part-time starter wearing down physically after a 49-start season.

If he was fine physically, that’s probably a better outcome for Boston, but his play in the playoffs couldn’t have been encouraging.

Writing Ullmark off based off a rough series isn’t fair, though. Chances are he’ll be a solid goaltender next year, but he’s unlikely to repeat his unbelievable 2022-23 season. Regression to the mean can come for the best goaltenders, even Vezina Trophy winners — a club Ullmark is likely to join.

If we look at the last 10 Vezina winners, most experienced a save percentage decline the following year.

Via Hockey-ReferenceVia Hockey-Reference
Via Hockey-Reference

Unless you’re a Patrick Roy, Dominik Hasek, or Martin Brodeur level of goalie, the award usually comes your way when you’re having a career year. It’s not necessarily indicative of a level you can maintain. The only man on this list twice is Sergei Bobrovsky, and his year-to-year inconsistency is well documented.

While Ullmark may not fall off a cliff, decline is to be expected, and Swayman is a restricted free agent. Boston will have to determine how much it’s willing to invest in a partner for the Swede.

The Bruins also need to face up to the reality that they had more than their fair share of breaks this season. Boston had the third-highest shooting percentage (11.13 percent) in the NHL with a league-best save percentage (92.89 percentage). Those numbers aren’t purely due to luck, but the team can’t count on either of those results repeating.

Boston came into the 2022-23 season with questions about its aging core and goaltending situation. The Bruins were not a common preseason Stanley Cup pick, opening at +2500 to win it all on BetMGM. During the regular season, they did everything humanly possible to quiet all doubters.

One rough playoff series later and the questions have reemerged. As good as this year’s edition of the 2022-23 Bruins were, the future is hazy for this franchise. There’s no doubt Boston missed an opportunity to make a deep playoff run this year — and it’s unclear when that next chance will come around.

 

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Jubilant Latvians given national holiday after shock ice hockey win over USA

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Latvians woke up to go to work Monday morning, only to find they didn’t have to. Their parliament had met at midnight to declare a holiday after the national ice hockey team chalked up its best result at the world championship.

Latvia, where hockey is hugely popular, co-hosted the men’s championship with Finland, and the country’s 4-3 overtime victory over the United States for the bronze medal on Sunday was greeted with jubilation.

A plane bringing the team home from Finland flew at low altitude over central Riga on Monday to greet thousands of fans who had gathered to welcome the squad.

At quarter to midnight on Sunday, members of parliament, sporting red-and-white national team jerseys, convened for a 10-minute session to unanimously declare the holiday.

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It was “to strengthen the fact of significant success of Latvian athletes in the social memory of the society,” according to the bill’s sponsors.

The bill was introduced by a smiling member of parliament with her face painted in the colors of the national flag. Another giggled while trying to read out the names of absent parliamentarians, to laughter from many in the hall. There was an ovation from everyone present after the final vote.

But as dawn broke, there was confusion about who was working and who was not. Court hearings were canceled and schools and universities were closed, but national exams for high school students went ahead, with staff paid at holiday rates. Several hospitals chose to stay open to honor doctor appointments.

Businesses found themselves in some disarray, with Aigars Rostovskis, the president of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, telling public broadcaster LSM: “It will be chaos for many.”

Canada won the gold medal, the team’s record 28th world title, by defeating Germany 5-2 on Sunday.

 

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Kamloops Blazers rout Peterborough Petes 10-2 in Memorial Cup – ESPN – ESPN India

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KAMLOOPS, British Columbia — Logan Stankoven had a goal and four assists, Connor Levis had a goal and two assists and the Kamloops Blazers routed the Ontario Hockey League champion Peterborough Petes 10-2 in the Memorial Cup on Sunday.

The win came after Kamloops defenseman Kyle Masters was taken off the ice on a stretcher after he was hit and fell backward into the corner boards with less than seven minutes remaining. There was no immediate word on Masters’ condition.

Ryan Michael, Fraser Minten, Ashton Ferster, Matthew Seminoff, Dylan Sydor, Jakub Demek, Matthew Seminoff and Ryan Hofer each scored goals for the Blazers, who bounced back from an 8-3 loss to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League champion Quebec Remparts on Friday night.

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Caedan Bankier and Olen Zellweger also added two assists each for the Blazers, who scored four power-play goals and improved to 1-1 in the four-team, 10-day tournament.

Peterborough dropped to 0-2 and must beat Quebec on Tuesday to advance.

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IIHF Hockey: Canada downs Germany 5-2

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TAMPERE, Finland –

Sammy Blais scored twice as Canada beat Germany 5-2 to capture gold at the men’s world hockey championship today.

Lawson Crouse, captain Tyler Toffoli and Scott Laughton also scored, and Peyton Krebs pitched in two assists for Canada.

“It feels really good,” Blais said. “We’ve been in Europe for a month and we’ve all waited for that moment to play for the gold-medal game. And we’re lucky enough to have won it.”

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JJ Peterka and Daniel Fischbuch scored for Germany, which was in the gold-medal game for the first time since 1992 when the playoff format was introduced at the world championship. Moritz Seider added two assists.

Goaltender Samuel Montembeault made 21 saves for Canada, while German netminder Mathias Niederberger turned away 23 shots.

Canada won gold for the second time in three years after losing to Finland in overtime in last year’s world championship gold-medal game. It’s Canada’s 28th title at the event, the most of any country. Canada also has 16 silver and eight bronze medals from the tourney since 1931.

“I could not be more proud of this group. We battled through a lot of adversity and doubt to get to this point, and this win is so special,” Toffoli said. “We have such a close-knit team that came together quickly, and we always believed in each other.

“Everyone bought in and we played a great game today, and I am incredibly happy to be going back to Canada with a gold medal.”

Peterka opened the scoring for Germany at 7:44 of the first period with a wrist shot from the top of the left circle off a breakout that beat Montembeault.

Blais responded three minutes later, scoring in his third consecutive game after finishing off a pass from centre Peyton Krebs on a two-on-one to tie the game at 1-1.

Fischbuch gave Germany the lead again on a one-timer from the slot that trickled into the net 13:47 into the second period.

Canada replied with Crouse deflecting a pass from Krebs on the power play with 2:32 remaining in the second frame.

Blais then buried his second of the game 4:51 into the third period with a backhand off a rebound to put Canada ahead.

Toffoli added an insurance marker with eight minutes left, scoring with a wrist shot on a two-on-one to make it 4-2 in favour of Canada.

Laughton scored into an empty net with two minutes left to put the game out of reach.

“The commitment of everyone on our team was unbelievable. We knew we had to come here and play for each other and commit to a team game. We came here to represent Canada and make our country proud, and I am so blessed to be a part of this group,” said head coach Andre Tourigny.

“Our players wanted to win so bad. They wanted to bring a gold medal back to Canada, and when you have that mindset you can accomplish great things, and we did that tonight.”

Following the gold-medal game, MacKenzie Weegar was named best defenceman of the tournament and was selected to the media all-star team. Crouse, Montembeault and Weegar were also named Team Canada’s three best players of the tournament following the semifinals.

LATVIA 4 UNITED STATES 3 (OT)

Defenceman Kristian Rubins scored his second goal 1:22 into overtime to lead Latvia to victory over the United States and earn a bronze medal earlier Sunday.

It’s the first top-three finish for Latvia at the tournament. Its previous best was a seventh place it managed three times.

The U.S. lost in the bronze-medal game for the second straight year. The U.S. team was cruising through the tournament with eight straight wins until it was defeated by Germany in the semifinal, 4-3 in overtime.

Rubins rallied Latvia with his first with 5:39 to go in the final period to tie the game at -33 to force overtime.

Roberts Bukarts and Janis Jaks also scored for Latvia.

Rocco Grimaldi scored twice for the U.S. in the opening period to negate Latvia’s 1-0 and 2-1 leads.

Matt Coronato had put the U.S. 3-2 ahead 6:19 into the final period.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published May 28, 2023.

 

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