Split up and briefly reunited, Bruins’ top line finally busts out vs. Leafs

No moment emphasized the magnitude of Game 4 in Toronto on Wednesday night quite like the point when, a few minutes in, a TV camera panned high above the ice and settled on Drake. The local rapper deigned to support his hometown Maple Leafs in person - despite not appearing courtside, as is his custom, at either of his beloved Raptors' first home playoff games.

Facing the prospect of a 3-1 series deficit, the importance of the occasion moved Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to make a drastic change. Move David Pastrnak down a rung in the lineup, his thinking went, and maybe each member of hockey's most dangerous line could shake his respective quiet start to the series.

In a sense, Cassidy's gambit worked beautifully. The Bruins won an enthralling 6-4 showdown with Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron playing but two shifts together at even-strength.

Still, Boston now has a curious decision to make as the series returns to TD Garden for Game 5. Cassidy could let this result speak for itself and leave Danton Heinen in Pastrnak's usual spot on Bergeron's right wing. Or he could reunite his No. 1 line in accordance with another argument: that the fleeting sequences in which the Bruins' stars skated together are what powered Boston to victory on a night the opponent dominated the run of play.

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Three minutes into the second period, shortly after Auston Matthews scored to erase Boston's early lead, Cassidy deployed Pastrnak with Marchand and Bergeron on a faceoff for the first time at even strength. The shift culminated in Pastrnak tipping home his first goal of the playoffs on a slick feed from Marchand, whom Bergeron had sprung on a two-on-one with a timely chip out of the defensive zone.

Fewer than two minutes later, with Matthews banished to the box for a roughing penalty, Pastrnak slipped unabated into the slot - all four Leaf defenders were caught puck-watching on one side of the ice - and fired a one-timer past Frederik Andersen on another pretty Marchand pass.

"(Pastrnak is) a guy we rely on to score and create offense," Cassidy said after the game. "Scorers, when they don't score, can get antsy. I'm not saying David was there, but we wanted to keep him from going there."

The Bruins nearly unraveled in the frantic last 10 minutes of the third period - the seemingly inevitable product of allowing 47 Toronto scoring chances to their 26 - but those flashes of synchronized brilliance were almost enough on their own to put Boston ahead for good.

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And even though Zdeno Chara's clinching goal officially went down without an assist, it, too, was keyed by contributions from the big guns. Marchand lifted Zach Hyman's stick on an end-around to let the puck slide to Chara at the point, and Bergeron blocked Andersen's view of the ensuing shot with a textbook screen.

After getting slammed at even-strength in Boston's losses in Games 1 and 3, Chara and defense partner Charlie McAvoy joined Bergeron, Marchand, and Heinen as the only Bruins to generate a scoring-chance margin at or above 50 percent. Together they outshone Toronto's top five-man unit of John Tavares, Mitch Marner, Hyman, Jake Muzzin, and Nikita Zaitsev - the source of the Bergeron line's shared headache in the matchups that preceded Wednesday's puck drop.

For the Bruins, the dispiriting subtext of this information is that, to a man, each of their other lines and pairings got caved in. Morgan Rielly excelled in extended action against Boston's new second line of Pastrnak, David Krejci, and Jake DeBrusk. Toronto's third forward trio was overwhelmingly good, though none of William Nylander, Patrick Marleau, and Connor Brown found the back of the net.

"We did a lot of good things tonight. We generated a lot of chances, got a lot of pucks to the net," Tavares said postgame. "We just probably made too many mistakes at certain points in the game."

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Beyond the play of Pastrnak and his usual running mates, the Bruins will head home buoyed by a couple of other encouraging trends. Their power-play clicked at 25.9 percent - the third-highest rate in the league - during the regular season; Pastrnak's second goal in Game 4, combined with McAvoy's first of the series, upped Boston's first-round success rate with the man advantage to a sparkling 5-for-11. Toronto's power play is 3-for-10 overall.

Tuukka Rask, meanwhile, should have saved the Matthews wrister that tied the score 2-2, but he made some other crucial stops, including a point-blank denial when Brown found himself alone at the side of the crease with Toronto down 4-2 in the second period. Rask now has a .942 save percentage at even strength for the series, just below Andersen's .943.

The slimness of the margin separating these goalies and their teams, combined with the scarcity of time to make adjustments in the playoffs, is what prompted Cassidy to split up his scuffling stars. Whether Pastrnak returns to the first line on Friday or not, it's clear that Game 5 will loom just as large as the spectacle that attracted Drake.

"I think when we're able to separate those guys a little bit, you're able to see more opportunities for them, and overall, I think they can just play with anyone," McAvoy said. "They're great players. They can adapt to whoever is on their wings.

"And we need them. We need them. It was nice to see them all play a hand - a big hand - in tonight's game."

— With files from theScore's John Matisz

Nick Faris is a features writer at theScore. He's on Twitter @nickmfaris.

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Stone, O’Reilly, Bergeron named Selke finalists

Mark Stone, Ryan O'Reilly, and Patrice Bergeron are the finalists for the 2019 Selke Trophy as the NHL's top forward who best excels in defensive aspects of the game, the league announced Wednesday.

Stone, who was dealt to the Vegas Golden Knights at the trade deadline, is the lone winger up for the award but is certainly deserving of recognition. The 26-year-old notched a career-high 73 points while maintaining a Corsi For relative to his teammates of 8.6 and notching 122 takeaways. A winger hasn't won the award since Jere Lehtinen in 2002-03.

O'Reilly made a tremendous impact in his debut season with the St. Louis Blues, also hitting a career high in points with 77. He started over 50 percent of his even-strength shifts in the defensive zone and was dominant in the faceoff circle, winning 56.9 percent of his draws.

Bergeron is up for the award for a seventh consecutive year. If he's chosen, he'll be the only player in NHL history to win the Selke five times. The 33-year-old appeared in just 65 games this season but notched 79 points, boasted a Corsi For rating of 57 percent, and won 56.6 percent of his faceoffs.

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Stars chase Rinne with 4 1st-period goals

Nashville Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne was yanked Wednesday after allowing four goals on eight shots in the first period of Game 4 against the Dallas Stars.

Juuse Saros, who posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average during the regular season, replaced Rinne between the pipes.

Rinne was integral in Nashville's victory in Game 3, as the Preds held on to win 3-2 despite being outshot 42-28. He entered Game 4 with a .936 save percentage and a 1.98 goals-against average in the series.

The Jekyll and Hyde act is nothing new for Rinne in the postseason. There have been times, most notably during the 2017 Cup run, when he's been lights-out, but in other instances, such as last year's playoffs, he's struggled.

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Gretzky thinks Ovechkin can ‘absolutely’ break his goals record

One of Wayne Gretzky's so-called untouchable records may be within reach after all, and The Great One is ready for it.

Alex Ovechkin's remarkable durability and prodigious scoring ability have put Gretzky's all-time goals record of 894 within striking distance. Ovechkin, who has 658 tallies to his name, would need to average 34 goals over the next seven seasons to catch Gretzky.

Gretzky thinks it can be done.

"Absolutely," he said on the Hockey Night in Canada podcast to be released Thursday, according to the CBC's Cole Shelton. "First and foremost, you got to be injury-free and Alex has been injury-free throughout his career.

"You have to play in a good organization and Alex is playing in a good organization. And you have to play with good players, and Alex is playing on a good team with good players. I just have nothing but respect for the young man. He plays the game hard, he plays physical and he wants to win."

The 33-year-old Russian is coming off his eighth 50-goal campaign and recently admitted he's eyeing Gretzky's record.

When Gretzky broke Gordie Howe's goals record in 1994, Howe was the first to congratulate him. Gretzky says he'll do the same if Ovechkin can make history.

"My dad said when I broke Gordie Howe's record, and I was a little bit embarrassed, he said, 'You know, one day someone is going to come along and maybe break your record and you just make sure you handle it yourself the same way Gordie Howe did,'" Gretzky said. "And that is what I am trying to do.

"Listen, I have nothing but respect and time for Alex, and good for him. If he does get close and does break it, I'll be there at the game, hopefully. And, hopefully, I can be the first guy to shake his hand."

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Reaves embraces ‘Muffin Man’ nickname, jokes he’d consider WWE

Ryan Reaves doesn't seem opposed to his newfound nickname.

On Wednesday, the Vegas Golden Knights forward responded to Evander Kane giving him the "Muffin Man" moniker one day prior.

"That's my new nickname, so you can call me that," Reaves told reporters, including the Las Vegas Review-Journal's David Schoen.

Reaves also addressed Kane's assertions that Reaves "sure does a lot of talking," and that "he thinks it's the WWE."

"If Vince McMahon wants to call me when I retire I could always use a few extra bucks," the Golden Knights agitator told reporters, according to The Athletic's Jesse Granger.

Reaves joked that he'd use his new nickname in the ring and walk out to the nursery rhyme, "The Muffin Man," which the Vegas DJ played when Kane was ejected from Game 4 on Tuesday night.

Before Tuesday's contest, Kane took a shot at Reaves' effort in their Game 3 fight.

"For the so-called toughest guy in the league, I don't know if he landed a punch," Kane said. "At times I thought I was fighting the Muffin Man. Didn't expect that, I expected more of a battle."

The two players finally fought with about two minutes left in Game 3 after jawing at each other for much of the contest.

Vegas shut out San Jose 5-0 on Tuesday to take a 3-1 series lead.

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Flames rookie Valimaki to make playoff debut in Game 4 vs. Avs

Juuso Valimaki will get his first taste of postseason action Wednesday night.

The Calgary Flames defenseman is officially in the lineup for Game 4 of the team's first-round playoff series against the Colorado Avalanche.

Valimaki, a 20-year-old rookie, appeared in 24 regular-season contests for Calgary, chipping in three points and averaging 15:29 of ice time.

The Flames selected him 16th overall in the 2017 draft.

Colorado currently leads the best-of-seven series 2-1 after a 6-2 victory in Game 3.

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Hurricanes’ Ferland unlikely to play in Game 4

Carolina Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland is not expected to play against the Washington Capitals on Thursday night.

"I would say (he's) still a ways away," Hurricanes head coach Rod Brind'Amour told reporters, including ABC11's Joe Mazur, on Wednesday.

When asked if he was ruling the 26-year-old out for Game 4, the Carolina bench boss replied, "Pretty much."

Ferland left Game 3 on Monday night and didn't return with what the club classified as an upper-body injury.

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Report: Only Crosby, Malkin ‘untouchable’ for Pens on trade market

The Pittsburgh Penguins reportedly view just two of their players as unavailable to other clubs in potential deals.

Only Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are considered "untouchable" when it comes to a potential Penguins trade, a team source told The Athletic's Rob Rossi.

However, the source said Pittsburgh is very unlikely to part with forward Jake Guentzel and goaltender Matt Murray, too, and that signing the netminder to a contract extension is "the No. 1 thing to get done" in the offseason.

Following a 3-1 loss to the New York Islanders that swept the Penguins out of the playoffs Tuesday night, Phil Kessel was asked if he expects to be dealt.

"That's a tough question to start, but I don't know at this point," the forward said, according to Rossi. "We'll see how it goes this summer. I've never worried about it. Obviously, two years in a row it didn't go the way we wanted it to. We'll see."

The Penguins explored trading Kessel last summer, and he was agreeable to playing for the Arizona Coyotes, multiple sources told Rossi.

Crosby and Malkin both have full no-trade clauses and are signed through 2024-25 and 2021-22, respectively. Guentzel inked a five-year, $30-million extension with the club in December and Murray is under contract through 2019-20.

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