The Buzzer: Canucks win in return from COVID-19 protocol (Sunday in NHL)

3 Stars for Sunday in the NHL

1. Boston Bruins’ top line

Honestly, you could probably pick Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak for each of the three stars for Sunday in the NHL and call it a night. Even if, uh, they played during the afternoon.

Either way, it isn’t easy to distinguish the top star from the Bruins’ 6-3 win against the Capitals.

From a volume perspective, Brad Marchand led the way. He generated two goals and two assists for four points. Interestingly, it’s been feast-or-famine for Marchand lately. Over the last five games, Marchand’s been held pointless on three occasions, yet two outbursts put him at six points (4G, 2A) in his past five contests.

With Taylor Hall bolstering what now looks like a strong Bruins second line, Boston’s in a better position to handle the occasional pointless night from one or more members of “The Perfection Line.”

Speaking of the others, Bergeron didn’t get involved in a late empty-net goal, but ended up with three points (2G, 1A) and matched Marchand’s +4 rating. Pastrnak grabbed one of his assists on that ENG, yet was still prolific with three helpers and a +3 rating.

While 1,000 Games Club Member Nicklas Backstrom enjoyed a strong showing with two assists of his own, it wasn’t enough as the Capitals fell to the Bruins and that “Perfection Line.”

2. Ilya Sorokin, New York Islanders

For a significant chunk of Sunday’s OT loss to the Islanders, the Flyers likely believed they deserved better.

Through the first 40 minutes, the Flyers generated 23-15 shots on goal advantage, firing 15 on Sorokin during the second period alone. The Flyers couldn’t beat Sorokin once, though, as the young goalie put together a 30-save shutout.

Going forward, the Islanders shouldn’t hesitate to give Sorokin reps. He’s now won four of five games, allowing two goals or fewer in each of those appearances. A lot of the Islanders’ success comes down to their defensive system, but Sorokin’s looking solid in his own right.

3. Braden Holtby/Bo Horvat, Vancouver Canucks

No doubt about it, the Canucks came into Sunday’s return from a lengthy COVID-related absence with some self-doubt. They also faced a Maple Leafs team that would be a challenge under even the most optimal circumstances.

Now, the Canucks fighting through that COVID disruption isn’t about one game. If anything, they might actually feel it more and more as the grind of their schedule truly sets in. But on Sunday night, Braden Holtby was absolutely brilliant in helping the Canucks squeeze out an OT win vs. the Maple Leafs.

It’s not as if the Maple Leafs laid an egg in the Canucks’ COVID return. Toronto fired 39 shots on goal, testing Holtby often. The veteran goalie made 37 saves, including the highlight of the night for Sunday in the NHL.

If allowing two goals disqualifies Holtby in your mind, you could instead roll with Bo Horvat. The Canucks’ captain helped his team rally from a 2-0 deficit, scoring two goals (including the overtime game-winner) and an assist.

Highlight of the night for Sunday in the NHL: Windmill save from Canucks’ Holtby

Braden Holtby left Wayne Simmonds (and the rest of us) stunned with a beautiful windmill save. Shades of Dominik Hasek here:

Stat of the Night

This is a quirky one from the NHL. That said, if the Rangers defy the odds and make the playoffs, they’ll do so in part based on dominating the Devils:

Sunday’s NHL scores

Bruins 6, Capitals 3
Rangers 5, Devils 3
Sabres 4, Penguins 2
Golden Knights 5, Ducks 2
Islanders 1, Flyers 0 (OT)
Canucks 3, Maple Leafs 2 (OT)

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins looking like contenders again, win fourth game in a row

There is a good chance we will see the Washington Capitals and Boston Bruins playing each other at some point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If the standings remain as they are, it will be a First Round matchup. If Sunday’s 6-3 Bruins win is any indication of what we will see in that potential series, it could be madness. Sunday’s game featured an ejection (Garnett Hathaway for boarding Jared Tinordi), several big hits, post-whistle skirmishes, and what seemed to be an intense dislike between the two Stanley Cup contenders.

And let’s talk about that latter point for a little bit — contenders. Specifically, how the Bruins are starting to look like a force to be reckoned with again.

Boston hit an obvious lull starting in the middle of February that saw them win just 11 out of 26 games between February 13 and April 13. The secondary scoring was non-existent, were hit hard by injuries on defense, fell to fourth place in the East Division standings, and have been trying to hold off a surging New York Rangers team for that final playoff spot in the East Division.

Their win on Sunday extended their current winning streak to four games since the trade deadline, while they have started to look like the team Boston expected at the start of the season (and the team it saw in the first 12 games).

[Your 2020-21 NHL On NBC TV Schedule]

Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci each scored two goals on Sunday, while Tuukka Rask stopped 30 out of 33 shots in what was just his third start in more than a month.

The biggest development for Boston right now is the emergence of a second scoring line.

For most of the season Boston’s offense had been almost completely dependent on the trio of Bergeron, Marchand, and David Pastrnak. And while that trio combined for four of the Bruins’ six goals on Sunday, they are still getting way more from the newly formed second line of Taylor Hall, Krejci, and Craig Smith.

Hall has already scored two goals in his first four games with the team, while Smith has been on a roll over the past few weeks. With his two helpers on Sunday Smith now has 19 points in his past 16 games, including six multi-point games during that stretch. Smith was the prize addition of the Bruins’ offseason, and after a slow start is now finding his place in the lineup. The addition of Hall only makes that second line even more dangerous.

With Sunday’s result the top-four teams in the East are now separated by just six points. The Bruins have three games in hand on Washington, one more head-to-head matchup remaining (the regular season finale), and have seven games against Buffalo and New Jersey ahead. In other words: Do not count the Bruins out in that race.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

NHL on NBC: Hall, Mantha off to hot starts for Bruins, Capitals

NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Washington Capitals. Bruins-Capitals stream coverage begins at 12 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

In trading for Taylor Hall and Anthony Mantha respectively, the Bruins and Capitals made some of the biggest splashes of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. And, as hard as it often can be to make an immediate impact in a sport like hockey, both Hall and Mantha are off to hot starts for the Bruins and Capitals.

If we’re lucky, we’ll see plenty of what makes both star players worth trading for on Sunday, as the Capitals and Bruins square off on NBC.

Now, sure, there are some pretty big differences at play. By any reasonable measure, the Bruins traded for Taylor Hall in an absolute steal of a deal. Meanwhile, even those who are lukewarm on Jakub Vrana would have to admit that the Capitals didn’t exactly land Anthony Mantha cheaply.

There are more differences beyond the costs of trading for them. Let’s get into some of those, and take a peak at their hot starts. What can we expect going forward for Taylor Hall with the Bruins, and Anthony Mantha on the Capitals?

(Naturally, note that we’re dealing with small sample sizes here, so expect plenty of twists and turns in the future of both trade deadline additions.)

[BRUINS-CAPITALS COVERAGE BEGINS AT 12 P.M. ET – NBC]

Hall making an immediate impression during a pivotal Bruins run

No doubt about, Taylor Hall needs to knock this Bruins opportunity out of the park. Fair or not, conventional wisdom implies that he’d be lucky to land the sort of long-term, big-money contract he deserves. (Or, at least to get paid what he was worth while nabbing a Hart Trophy on a previous $6M AAV.)

Well? So far, so good.

Hall, 29, scored a goal in each of his last two games against the normally stingy Islanders. Even when Taylor Hall couldn’t score in his Bruins’ debut, he generated chances. He’s fired a hearty nine shots on goal via three in all three games.

That’s the sort of assertive, “Wrecking Ball Hall” type presence people have been waiting for. And his new team noticed.

“I didn’t know much about Taylor besides playing against him,” Bruins forward David Pastrnak told reporters after a 3-1 Bruins win on Friday. “I think he’s an elite player. Really great to have him, and he’s proving it the last couple games. He’s been unbelievable.

Some might depict this as Hall “flipping a switch” once he switched from the Sabres to the Bruins. But the real switch that flipped, so far, has been his luck.

After suffering with an absurdly unlucky 2.3 shooting percentage for two goals (and 17 assists, 19 points) in 37 games with the Sabres, Hall already matched those two goals in three games with the Bruins. The frisbee of luck absolutely returned to him; his Bruins’ shooting percentage is an unsustainable 22.2 percent.

Boston shouldn’t fear some experimentation

So, Hall won’t be this hot during his entire Bruins run, and he’s unlikely to be as unlucky as he was with the Sabres. But Boston should ponder using the rest of the 2020-21 regular season to try some things.

At the moment, Hall is delivering what the Bruins likely dreamed of: secondary scoring. His most frequent linemates are Craig Smith and David Krejci, likely just what Don Sweeney pictured. Beyond that flashy scoring, Hall’s two-way numbers have been very, very promising for the Bruins.

It’ll just be interesting to see if the Bruins at least ponder occasionally mixing Hall with one or more of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and/or Brad Marchand. Personally, it seems like good “data to collect.” What if Pastrnak, Bergeron, and/or Marchand got hurt, much like they did last postseason? It might be good to have a Plan B.

[More: Winners and losers of the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline]

Theoretically, the Bruins might also get more out of Hall that way. After averaging 18:41 TOI per game with the Sabres, Hall’s logged 15:06 on average with the Bruins.

To be clear: this is a very good problem to have. Yet, you can bet that Hall wants to make the most of this opportunity, as he has millions (and years) on the line. If he can prove that he can deliver in big games with the Bruins, Hall could reverse the (largely unfair) narrative building in the minds of some hockey people.

Considering the age of certain Bruins — particularly Bergeron — they owe it to themselves, and Hall, to find out what his ceiling really can be in Boston.

Anthony Mantha a man possessed for the Capitals

While millions (and pride) are on the line for Taylor Hall as a trade deadline rental for the Bruins, the Capitals likely have more of a long haul outlook for Anthony Mantha.

After all, Mantha’s still in the meat of his prime at 26 years old. The big winger is also cost-controlled, as his team-friendly $5.7M AAV runs through 2023-24.

But, being that Mantha has been slogging through the rebuild years of the Red Wings, could you blame him if he’s just bursting with energy and relief right now?

Judging by Mantha’s early production with the Capitals, it sure seems that way. Through his first three games with the Capitals, Mantha’s scored three goals (one in each game) and notched an assist in his debut. It sounds like he’s fitting in with his new team, while gaining praise from someone who also suited up with him in Detroit.

“I’ve played with him a long time,” Nick Jensen said of Mantha after that debut, via Japer’s Rink. “He’s got, like, the complete package going on. Big, strong, fast, you saw it tonight, he’s got a great shot… he’s got a lot of skill, too,” Jensen said. “Most people think big, strong, it’s more of a physical game but you can’t underestimate the amount of skill he has.”

Scratching the surface?

Much like with Hall and the Bruins, it will be interesting to see if Mantha forces the Capitals to put him in even more prominent positions.

Again, it’s early, but Mantha’s averaged 16:08 TOI per game with the Capitals, versus 18:15 per night with Detroit. Obviously, the Sabres and Red Wings needed to lean on Hall and Mantha more than their new teams will, but it will be interesting to see if the Bruins and Capitals find the “sweet spot” for those trade deadline acquisitions.

Because, sure, the Capitals have time to get to know Mantha — they don’t need to rush it. But like the Bruins, this is a Capitals team with some aging stars. They’d be wise to at least give Mantha a chance to prove that he’s worth knocking someone (or even a couple players?) down in the pecking order, and maybe should make that determination sooner, rather than later.

Ultimately, these are all high-level discussions, though. These are the sort of internal debates that would likely leave other teams very envious of the Bruins and Capitals.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Taylor Hall, other trade additions making immediate impact for Bruins

Before the NHL trade deadline Taylor Hall and the Boston Bruins both looked like they were desperate for some major changes.

Hall needed a different team and another fresh start after a miserable season in Buffalo, both individually and on a team level.

The Bruins needed another scorer to balance out a lineup that has been too reliant on just one line.

It has only been two games but so far it looks like both sides are already getting exactly what they needed.

Hall scored a goal for the second game in a row for the Bruins on Friday night in a 3-0 win over the New York Islanders, helping him match his total in three games with the Bruins versus what he did in 37 games with the Sabres.

The Bruins are now 3-0-0 since the trade that brought them Hall and Curtis Lazar, outscoring their opponents by a 10-3 margin. The past two games, though, have been the most impressive as they completely dominated a very good New York Islanders team that is ahead of them in the East Division standings. Boston controlled the past of both games with Hall and Lazar combining for three of the Bruins’ seven goals in the two wins.

If Boston is going to make some noise in the playoffs this season that is exactly what they are going to need.

All season the bulk of the Bruins offense has come from the trio of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. When those three are not on the ice or carrying the offense, there has been nobody else to do it. Even though Hall had a terrible run in Buffalo, there is plenty of evidence that he should be able to bounce back (high shot numbers; low shooting percentage due that should increase with some better luck).

But while Hall and Lazar have made contributions offensively, the Bruins have also been able to get some major minutes out of their other — and perhaps more overlooked — addition, defenseman Mike Reilly.

Reilly has played more than 22 minutes in each of his first three games after being acquired for a late-round pick from the Ottawa Senators and has been great in those minutes. The returns are early, but so far it looks like Don Sweeney should be pretty happy with the moves he made. Especially when it only cost him Anders Bjork, a second-round pick, and a seventh-round pick.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.