By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’m not an EA Sports (it’s in the game) NHL guy.
I mean, I’ll still throw on the NHL 98 soundtrack when I want to be taken back to the days of trade-overriding the Bruins into the Avalanche and NHL 06 for the PS2 remains the greatest video game in the world (challenge me and I ruin your life and score six goals on you with Sami Kapanen and only Sami Kapanen). But I haven’t picked up an NHL game since every goaltender started letting up four goals on 14 shots and that right-to-left one-timer became the easiest way to erase third-period leads at a rate that’d made even the Game 7 Maple Leafs wince.
But if the NHL department of EA Sports (it is, once again, in the game) is going to be right about one thing, I sure hope it’s that simulation that says the Boston Bruins and Vegas Golden Knights will meet in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.
Yes, yes, yes. This is insanely early to be talking about June 2020. The Bruins have yet to play a game in their natural timezone and Tuesday was the VGK’s first time playing a team other than the (winless) Sharks. The Bruins have to overcome a Stanley Cup hangover, and the Golden Knights have to not get screwed in the third period of a Game 7. We’re a long, long ways away. And yet, here I am, practically drooling over the thought of these teams meeting in round four.
It shouldn’t be hard to see why.
When you watch the Golden Knights, you watch a team that’s built to play almost any style of game. They can score with the best of them, they’re built for a back-alley brawl kind of game, and their special teams play has the ability to elevate a would-be loss into a victory on a nightly basis. The Golden Knights also haven’t been afraid to make big moves, adding Max Pacioretty, Paul Statsny, and Mark Stone since their improbable run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.
(They’re also trying to overcome disappointment on the game’s biggest stage, too.)
Assuming good health for both teams, it’s a lot like looking in the mirror, really.
“They’re a talented team, they work hard, play hard, battle hard,” Golden Knights coach Gerard Gallant said of the Bruins. “I look at their lineup and they’re skilled. They’re hard working and competitive.”
Perhaps most importantly, these teams have given us great head-to-head matchups that are worth the investment. Despite their unfamiliarity, the Bruins and Golden Knights have consistently traded punches like classic foes, and it seems that all of their meetings — again, when healthy — have gone down to the wire or close to it.
It’s not a venue-dependent kind of battle, either, as the B’s have overcome the Vegas Flu in back-to-back seasons.
“I like the atmosphere [in Vegas] and I think the players do, too,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the victory. “You come in here and there is a lot of noise going on so it isn’t hard not to get up for the game.”
And there’d be no problem getting up for another trip to Vegas this season.
Just make sure you pack some extra Pedialyte.
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-3 final at T-Mobile Arena…
David Backes is bringing the heat to the lineup out of the gate
No team wants to have a $6 million fourth liner, but it’s impossible to hate what David Backes has brought to the table in two appearances this season. Skating on a fourth line with Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner, the 35-year-old Backes had yet another bulldozer showing, and it was forecheck that really lead to Torey Krug’s goal (the game-winner by the night’s end). Backes is a natural fit here because he really is almost identical to Noel Acciari, the line’s right-side banger who left for a high-priced deal with the Panthers over the summer, and he may actually be an upgrade given his natural-if-expiring finishing power.
Is it sustainable? That’s been the question with No. 42 every time he’s shown glimpses of being the player the Bruins signed him to be back in 2016. The Bruins would seem to think that it is, but only if it’s managed properly to keep Backes’ legs fresh (Backes was a healthy scratch in Arizona). When that’s the case, you wonder about line chemistry as a whole, but if Tuesday was any indication, this line realizes that less will always be more when it’s Backes riding to the right.
Chris Wagner continues to earn late-game opportunities
Another win, another last-minute, one-goal lead shift from Bruins fourth-liner Chris Wagner. When this happens out of the gate, I’m quick to think this is some sort of reward for Wagner’s sacrifice in Game 3 of the team’s third-round series with the Hurricanes costing him a chance to play in the 2019 Stanley Cup Final (you knew that just ate at the Walpole, Mass. native). But Wagner has proven both willing to do the dirty work (attacking loose pucks, putting his body on the line) and capable of handling the tough assignments of handling being on the wrong end of the numbers game. The inevitable return of Joakim Nordstrom (practicing after beginning the year on the injured reserve due to a foot injury) may eat into Wagner’s usage in these situations, but it’s another forward Cassidy can trust in these high-leverage spots.
Second line gets put in blender in winning effort
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the Bruins are still trying to figure out what they have on the right side of their second line. In David Krejci’s second game of the year, and with Jake DeBrusk in his usual spot as LW2, it was Brett Ritchie who logged the most time to their right on Tuesday night, with over five minutes of five-on-five action together. The line didn’t really seem to have it going offensively, though, as they were outshot 7-0 over that five-minute sample. Karson Kuhlman, who won the job out of training camp, was second in line, with 4:13 of action with the Krejci-DeBrusk. The Bruins did not have a shot on goal with that trio on the ice, either. And though the focus will be on the revolving door on the right, it’s worth saying that Krejci and DeBrusk have been far too quiet through the first week of the season.