BRIGHTON, Mass – It had been more than a month since John-Michael Liles had jumped into a game for the Bruins, so the 36-year-old kept it simple on Tuesday night against the Nashville Predators.
Liles finished with a plus-1 rating and a couple of shots on net in 13-plus minutes of ice time and was part of a Bruins defense that blocked a whopping 25 shots in the tight, defensively sound victory. He was also just understandably excited to be back to playing with so much on the line this late in the regular season.
“I’ve been in situations like this before, so I was just trying to stick to my game and play to my strengths,” said Liles, who has five assists in 32 games this season. “It did feel like a playoff game a bit and you get to this time of year where every point is crucial for us as well as [the other teams]. It can be challenging when you haven’t played together with somebody for a while [as a pairing], but when you keep it simple that makes it easier. As long as you talk on the ice it will work, and I think [Kevan Miller] and I have done okay with that in different situations.”
On the flip side, the 24-year-old Colin Miller will sit for the second consecutive game tonight against the Dallas Stars in favor of Liles after playing a low 11:50 of ice time in the win over the Islanders last weekend. The skilled, puck-moving Miller has two points and a plus-2 rating in 12 games in March, but clearly something isn’t good enough with Bruce Cassidy opting for Liles over Miller as of late.
“I think [Liles] has worked hard to stay in good condition and stay sharp if he got in the lineup, so we’re going to give him another chance. It’s one of those gut instincts this time of year, and [Dallas] is a good matchup for him,” said Cassidy. Miller has five goals and 12 points in 58 games for the B’s in his second NHL season. “[Miller] is young, but he’s not Brandon Carlo-young. He’s been a pro for three or four years. It’s him understanding the consistency, every-night factor or playing to his strengths and what we want out of him, and balancing that with what [Liles] did for us the other night.
“This time of year you always want young players to face these moments and play through them, but you also have to balance your lineup if you feel a veteran guy gives you a better shot to win. We’re looking at both of those things. Either way you hope that when Colin Miller gets back in that he’s better off for it, and not worse off. That’s the plan. In the meantime [Liles] gives us good, solid minutes.”
One final thing that could also be going on a bit in the background: The Bruins possibly paving the way for Charlie McAvoy to get an look at the NHL level next week and giving themselves some options of where to play him if he thoroughly dominates in Providence this weekend.
A third pairing of Liles-McAvoy would give the Bruins a much different, much more mobile look if that transpired and knocking some of the rust off Liles makes that a possibility if/when McAvoy gets an NHL cup of coffee.