by Joe Russo
Warrior Ice Arena acted as the backdrop for what can only be considered hockey’s new normal. Four months ago the remainder of the 2019-20 campaign was put on ice amid concern stemming from Corona Virus. This past Monday was a byproduct of careful planning and fiery negotiation on behalf of the NHL and the NHLPA. Resulting in extended labor peace, a return to play format, and nearly full participation during day one of team practice.
By virtue of finishing in the upper echelon of the league standings head coach Bruce Cassidy isn’t tasked with preparing his team for a grueling best of five play-in series. The Boston Bruins qualified for the four-team round-robin style mini-tournament between themselves, the Philadephia Flyers, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Washington Capitals. Forgo the eye-roll as these aren’t some throwaway games up in Rochester. First place in the conference is on the line, therefore there will be no shortage of bad blood.
After all, iron sharpens iron.
Tuukka Rask put on a clinic on March 10, the last time Boston faced Philadephia. Frustrating the then surging Flyers with a myriad of unhuman like stops. Much of the same will be expected when they reunite on Aug. 2, Boston’s first game of the round-robin.
Constructed similarly as its predecessor, the Flyers are heavy on the puck, skilled where they need to be and execute Alain Vigneault’s system to a tee. With just three regular-season matchups to show for and a 1-0-2 record against in Boston’s favor further emphasizing the point. A strong veteran core featuring Giroux, Voracek, Couturier, Hayes, Thompson, Niskanen, and Braun is complemented excellently with an injection of youth Konecny, Farabee, Hagg, Provorov, Sanheim, and Carter Hart in goal.
Sports are often analyzed by looking at the game within the game, evermore in a mini-tournament. Placing a massive emphasis on matchups. That being said there are a few fun ones to look out for on August 3.
Brad Marchand v. Travis Konecny
If you scoured the earth in search of a proper human recreation of the now-famous spiderman pointing meme, look no further. Unabated by modern standards these two rapscallions are among the leagues elite when it comes to irritation. Couple that with high-level skill sets and you’ve got a thousand reasons to hate playing against these guys. However, their similarities don’t end at frame and tenacity. Statistically, Konecny began to show signs of his high ceiling by eviscerating his previous career-high of 49 with 61 points in only 66 games. On the other hand, Marchand enjoyed the second-best season of his career with 87 points falling short to only last season’s output. It’s not complicated, when a coach shortens his bench these guys are on the ice.
Ivan Provorov v. Charlie McAvoy
How you earn a living tells a story about them. For Ivan Provorov and Charlie McAvoy both of whom were born in 1997 mind you, it would be playing hockey in the greatest league in the world. Not only that but with the intention of one day being the face of the franchise. Early indication is, you are in good hands. Both for the purpose of this game expect the two to lug upwards of 25 minutes apiece. The ability to play both on the powerplay and penalty kill is a trait seldom found in their counterparts and helps make their coaches look like geniuses.
Carter Hart v. Tuukka Rask
Kick a game-winning field goal in front of nearly a hundred thousand screaming fans, just stand in there and strike out the heart of their lineup up a run in the bottom of the ninth, yeah just stop the puck on this penalty kill, how difficult can it be, right? The men and women behind the mask play the most pressure laden role in hockey. Pressure only heightens with draft status, Carter Hart was the first goalie selected at the 2016 draft. Viewed now more as the messiah than the 21-year-old from Sherwood Park, Alberta, confirming it doesn’t get more Canadian than that town name. Across the sheet stands Rask, who is elite. Interesting to see is how Hart fairs in his initial taste of NHL playoff hockey.
Kevin Hayes v. Charlie Coyle
Likely not to generate a ton of national buzz, but that shouldn’t take anything away from how cool this is for New Englanders, especially Massachusetts. Kevin Hayes and Charlie Coyle of Dorchester and Weymouth respectively have been connected at the hip since they were pre-teens. Now over a half-decade into their NHL tenure, Coyle represents his home town team while Hayes has done the seemingly impossible in turning his family into Flyer fans. In preparation for this piece, I stumbled upon a truly interesting ten-year-old pre-draft preview on the two for anyone hoping to get their fix of Massachusetts hockey.
In case you needed a reminder of how important Rask is to this team’s chances at a Cup.