In one way, the Bruins are in the same boat they were in when the season started. It is still anyone’s guess as to who’ll man the right wing next to David Krejci when the Bruins open their playoff series against the Toronto Maple Leafs Thursday night at the Garden. And with that spot as yet unfilled, the composition of all the other forward lines is in question.
The big difference now is that coach Bruce Cassidy has options, and pretty good ones at that. After Saturday’s regular-season finale, Cassidy said it was an issue that still needed some in-house debate.
“That’ll get sorted out quickly this week,” said Cassidy. “Right now, we’ll have an internal discussion, and I have a pretty good idea which direction we’re going to go. Some of that will depend on looking at Toronto as well.”
If Cassidy chooses to keep David Pastrnak with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, it would be hard to argue with him. That trio shredded the Leafs last year for a combined 30 points in the B’s seven-game victory over Toronto.
Should that be the path he takes, he could go a couple of ways to fill the second line right wing spot. Karson Kuhlman has played there of late and has not looked out of place, but that’s a big ask for a rookie with a handful of NHL games under his belt. Marcus Johansson played there when he was first acquired and appeared to be the answer. But he hasn’t played there much since coming back from the injury he suffered in his fourth game with the B’s. It appeared down the stretch that Cassidy was fairly set on playing him on his natural left side and developing some chemistry with third line center Charlie Coyle.
Another option would be Danton Heinen, who has played all over the lineup, up and down, left and right.
Heinen, in fact, played his best hockey of the season when he was bumped up to the Bergeron-Marchand line in place of the injured. That duo often has a way of getting the best out of their right wing no matter who it is, but Heinen was not a passenger, either. In an 11-game run on the top line, Heinen posted 3-8-11 totals.
If Heinen could again pull his weight on the top line, it could allow Cassidy to drop Pastrnak to play with his Czech countryman and Jake DeBrusk to create two bona fide scoring lines with a third line of Johansson, Coyle and either Kuhlman or Joakim Nordstrom on the right side that could provide some punch as well. That would leave a heavier checking line of Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari and David Backes.
Not a bad group to roll out.
If Krejci had a preference for a right wing, he wasn’t giving it up. But he didn’t seem to be sweating it either.
“I guess it’s a good thing that JD was on my line the last couple years and we developed some chemistry and on the right side it’s been a little more challenging but we’ve played with a lot of players, so no matter who’s on my line now we know we have some chemistry, we know what to expect. We’re in good shape here,” said Krejci.
And no matter how he plans to attack the Leafs, Cassidy is bullish on his team.
“I feel terrific, he said. “I’m an optimist. I like our team. We play hard. We were one of the better teams from start to finish I think in the National Hockey League, specifically the second half of the year. We’ve played well at the right times. We’ve earned our way. Got Toronto, I think it’s a great matchup, great rivalry. Guys should be excited to play. Obviously this week hopefully we don’t get any bad news health wise. That’s obviously always a concern, but at the end of the day we’ve played through a lot of different things. Hopefully, we get some good news on guys like (Sean) Kuraly (hand) and (John) Moore (upper body). Sometimes they’re ahead of schedule, so those are the things that I’ll look at this week, but I like where we’re at as a team. Ready to go.”
The B’s on Sunday sent Anton Blidh, Trent Frederic, Jeremy Lauzon and Zach Senyshyn to Providence. Not only does that leave Kuhlman on the roster, which was somewhat expected, Connor Clifton also remains with the big club.
Also, Kevan Miller may not be ready for Thursday’s series opener. Miller crashed hard into the boards in Minnesota, with his right knee leading the way. He played a couple of shifts before shutting it down and he was held out of Saturday’s regular-season finale. GM Don Sweeney said Monday that Miller is unlikely to be ready for the start of the Leafs series. ...
The series against the Leafs will go every other day, starting Thursday night.
Game 2 is Saturday night, with the teams shifting to Toronto for Games 3 and 4 next Monday and Wednesday.