At his morning press conference, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said that he would have a game-time decision with one of his forwards. As it turned out, there were some fairly major changes to both the front and back ends.
Sean Kuraly and Anders Bjork came out of the lineup and, on defense, Connor Clifton also was scratched. Only Kuraly, who had been playing an important role centering the fourth line, was labeled “unfit to play.”
As he hinted at in the morning press conference, Cassidy decided to dress seven defensemen, even without the services of Clifton. John Moore, playing for the first time in the playoffs this year, and Jeremy Lauzon drew in.
“Back-to-back game, for some guys it’s a heavier workload. You’re playing (Charlie) McAvoy upward of 25 minutes. We have some smaller guys that it’s been a physical series for them. So, save a little wear and tear, put some fresh legs in there,” said Cassidy. “The disadvantage of seven D is finding your rhythm as a defenseman. The second part of that is obviously up front, what if we get an injury to a forward? Now you’re really down to 10, so there can be some risk involved in the playoffs, especially considering the tight games we’ve been in like overtimes. That’s where we have to be careful. At the end of the day, one thing that has happened in the past is Connor Clifton has played forward. If he’s in the lineup he’s not unfamiliar with that. It’s not ideal obviously but it is a situation — an emergency situation that, he played some forward in Providence so he could pinch hit up there if something were to happen.”
Like every team, the B’s have brought a handful of extra forwards and defensemen but the longer this goes, it seems less likely we’d see a Zach Senyshyn or a Trent Frederic. On top of relative inactivity as far as game action — most of the reserves haven’t played since March — playoff hockey is simply a different animal, and many of the so-called Black Aces have not had a sniff of it.
More, however, is needed from the guys who’ve been in the lineup, said Cassidy emphatically in his press conference prior to Wednesday’s Game 3.
“Readiness, they skate probably five, six days a week here. They’re probably going to have a day off a week like everybody else. They’re preparing as best they can with the small group. Sometimes they skate with the big group. So, we’re trying to blend that so they do stay sharp. At the end of the day, they’re going to be behind simply because they haven’t played any playoff hockey in their career in the National Hockey League, for one. So, it’s always an eye opener. We’re watching Bjork go through that. And secondly, now they haven’t played any really live hockey. It would be a big ask. We’re not that far down the road yet,” said Cassidy. “What we do need is better from the middle of our group. That second layer of our group that have been in the league and who could be the future of the Boston Bruins. We’re not going to try to predict what’s going to happen down the road but these are guys that can really make a name for themselves in this playoff. We’ve had a decade long production from our top end and our core. They show up to play every night. What we’re looking for a little bit tonight in a back-to-back, it’s become a bit of a young leg’s playoff, if you look around. We need some of that tonight. That was a bit of the message today. It’s time for those guys to step up and pull the veteran core along. And what I mean is energy wise. Obviously, Brad Marchand to me was the best player on the ice. He doesn’t need any help. He’s fine. He’s going to show up and play. Some of the other guys that we rely on were brought in, it’s time for them to pull a little harder on the rope in the game today and we’ll see if that materializes.”
It didn’t come as any surprise that Cassidy went back Jaroslav Halak instead of going with backup Daniel Vladar, who has never played an NHL game. Cassidy said that Halak was fine physically and that it simply wasn’t necessary to force Vladar into the high-stakes situation.
“He’s never played (in the NHL) before. That’s a big ask,” said Cassidy. “If we have to, we will, and we’ll play well in front of him and hopefully he’ll be up to the task.”
As Cassidy had pointed out, Marchand not only was best player on the ice in Game 2, but he’s been playing in this postseason with his usual intensity without any of the over-the-line antics that have marred his play in the past.
But since he came under an avalanche of criticism for the licking of Tampa’s Ryan Callahan in the 2018 playoffs, Marchand has kept it mostly between the lines. He can still get under an opponent’s skin, but the trash talk and after-the-whistle scrums have mostly been in bounds.
“I think he’s got people around him that care about him and that have talked to him. That’s his family both in Boston and Eastern Canada. He’s got teammates, he’s got a coaching staff that believes in him,” said Cassidy. “I think some of that was conversations about behavior. What’s required to make you play your best and what are you doing just to sort of refocus yourself, etc. Do you need to be that guy anymore or just let your play on the ice do that talking? I think that’s the biggest message. I think he’s realized that now. He came into the league and was a bit of agitator and had to do different things than he’s doing now to stay in the lineup, so he just knows he’s a really elite player in the league now and we need him on the ice to play hockey and I think that’s the biggest thing. He’s recognized his advancement in his career and what he brings to the team. And some of it is just age, maturity. As you get older, you generally probably self-analyze better and he’s probably done a little bit of that internally himself.”
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