As the regular season winds down, there are still some uncertainties surrounding the Boston Bruins as they head to the postseason.
Where the B’s will end up in the Eastern Conference standings, and who they will face in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs are two questions that may not be answered until the final game of the season on April 8th.
But the biggest, and most intriguing, question mark with the B’s focuses on who will be lacing up the skates when the puck drops for the first game of the playoffs.
Boston is hoping to regain full health prior to the start of the postseason, and began seeing bodies return to their lineup on Sunday night with Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug jumping back into their starting slots. The Bruins have a ton of depth due to savvy moves at the Trade Deadline and their entire roster playing at an extremely high level for the last four months.
With that in mind, coach Bruce Cassidy and GM Don Sweeney have some very tough decisions regarding their lineup for what could be a lengthy playoff run.
Assuming everyone is healthy for Game 1 of the first round, here are my projected lines:
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Rick Nash
Ryan Donato – Riley Nash – David Backes
Tim Schaller – Sean Kuraly – Noel Acciari
I hate the fact that Danton Heinen and Brian Gionta are not in my lines, but that shows just how deep this current Bruins roster is at the moment. Heinen’s production has dipped dramatically after a fantastic first three months of his NHL career, as he has just four points (1 G, 3 A) since February 10th, but the rookie has played well and has seen a drastic uptick in ice time during the last four contests. Gionta has been rock solid since signing with Boston, but does not have a point in his last eight games and has seen over 15 minutes of ice time just once in that stretch.
To me, the first and fourth lines are absolute no-brainers. Obviously, the trio of Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak has to stay together, as they have become one of if not the best line in the entire NHL. Boston’s fourth line also has to be towards the top of the league as well, with Schaller and Kuraly essential on the penalty kill, while Acciari can not only bring the body but is capable of being bumped up in the lines (he played with Krejci and Donato on Sunday night vs. Minnesota). Combined, the fourth line has produced 25 goals and 18 assists, with both Schaller and Kuraly suiting up in all 74 games to date.
The big question comes down to the wing spots on both the second and third lines. Rick Nash should stick with Krejci on the second line, as they were developing lots of chemistry prior to Nash’s recent injury, and the combo of Backes and Riley Nash has been very impressive all season long. You can make a case for Heinen to replace either DeBrusk or Donato, but I think Danton is the odd man out. DeBrusk was playing at a phenomenal level before taking a shot to the head, as his hustle was creating turnovers and drawing penalties, and he was really gelling with both Krejci and Nash on that new-look second line. Donato showed Boston why he deserves to be on the playoff roster in his NHL debut, with his quick shot and presence on the power play adding another dimension to an already dangerous Bruins offense. I just can’t see Boston burning a year of Donato’s contract and leaving him off the playoff roster – at least to start – and Donato will have to play poorly in order for Heinen or another scratched forward to take his place.
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Nick Holden
Matt Grzelcyk – Kevan Miller
Truth be told, I am not a huge fan of Brandon Carlo. I thought that he should have been benched at various points this season, and he definitely should have watched at least one game from the rafters just like other struggling players have this season. Carlo has made too many costly mistakes, turned the puck over way too much, and draws penalties that are often untimely. But Carlo is still just 21 years old, and is still an integral part of the present and future of this Bruins’ defense. Carlo has played better as of late, jumping into the offensive zone more frequently while throwing his body around and flashing a little bit of nasty here and there. It looks like someone told him that he could be the odd man out once McAvoy returns, because if this version of Carlo had been more prevalent throughout the season there would be no question that he would be on the side of Krug when the playoffs begin.
I believe that Nick Holden deserves a shot at the postseason roster. Has anyone said one word about Holden on defense since he came over in a trade at the deadline? I haven’t heard one thing about him or his play on the back end, which is a good thing when you’re playing defense. Holden moves the puck well, he’s flashed a bit of offense, and he rarely makes a big mistake. He has also clearly gained the confidence of Cassidy, as Holden has eclipsed the 20-minute mark in ice time six times since coming to Boston, including back-to-back games of 24:56 and 25:31 at St. Louis and at Dallas last week.
I guess one could make a (terribly bad and incorrect) argument to take Matt Grzelcyk out of the lineup too. I mean he only has a +22 rating in 54 games played, and Boston has only gone 39-10-6 since he was recalled from Providence in late November. Yeah he stays in the lineup. And I honestly think Carlo stays too, but in my opinion it should be Holden paired with Krug.
This was never really in doubt, but Rask did hit a bump in the road from mid February to mid March after being unconscious for nearly three months. If the Bruins get the Rask that showed up in Tampa (23 SV, SO), Dallas (42 SV, W), and Minnesota (25 SV, W) in the playoffs, this team will be holding the Stanley Cup this season. If they get the Rask that allowed four or more goals in six of his last ten starts prior to the game against the Stars, then there could be another quick exit for the B’s. It’s really as simple as that in the playoffs. Luckily for Boston, they have a more-than-capable backup that has been outstanding all season long in Anton Khudobin. But let’s all hope we don’t see much Dooby Time in the postseason.
Feel free to leave me comments on whether you agree or disagree with my lines and/or my reasoning. We can all agree on one thing: WE WANT THE CUP!
Adam Belue (@albinomamba44)