BOSTON – The Bruins have talked glowingly on plenty of occasions about their overall team depth at the NHL level and certainly also about their organizational depth when it comes to being well-represented at all levels of hockey. That NHL roster depth was front and center on Thursday night in Toronto as the B’s effectively shook off a last-minute injury to Patrice Bergeron (upper body) that kept him out of the lineup for Game 4, and managed to overcome with a 3-1 win over the Maple Leafs at the Air Canada Centre.
Riley Nash stood as one of the main reasons the B’s came out on top in Game 4 vs. Toronto while filling in at top line center for the absent No. 37 just as he’s done throughout the regular season while helping Boston put up a very unlikely 13-5-2 record this year when Bergeron is injured.
“He’s been a real good player for us. I don’t know if I’d call him an unknown, but he’s a guy that’s really elevated his game this season as it’s went along,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of that has been opportunity. When Bergeron goes out, he has a chance to play with Marchand and Pastrnak. You saw it. He’s done a really good job when we’ve put him in there. He’s had a little bit more of an opportunity to have an offensive role.
“It’s always been in him, but it’s up to the player to bring it out and it’s up the coaching staff to put him in those positions if the situation dictates and encourage them to do it. I think we’ve met halfway there and it’s worked out well for him.”
Nash didn’t end up on the score sheet for the pivotal Game 4 win, but what he did do what was win an ultra-important D-zone face-off that set up Brad Marchand’s game-winning goal.
After a long shift, the Bruins were whistled for icing and stuck out there for Nash to take a draw against Auston Matthews in the defensive zone. It appeared to be a pretty good spot for the Leafs, but instead Nash won the draw, Adam McQuaid threw a puck up the boards and David Pastrnak beat a pinching Jake Gardiner to turn it into a 2-on-1 odd-man rush.
Pastrnak fed Marchand with a no-look dish when everything in the building thought he’d shoot the puck, and Marchand buried a shot that permanently turned the momentum in the game. It was clearly a pivotal play in the game, but it was Nash’s understated, important role in the play that does a good job of representing what he’s meant to the Bruins this season.
“That was one [face-off] where you just try and battle,” said Nash. “You don’t expect the outcome that we got out of that. “It’s baptism by fire [filling in for Bergeron]. You’re thrown in there and you’ve gotta get it done.”
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Nash put up career highs in goals (15 goals) and points (41 points) during the regular season mostly centering the third line, but he was also the perfect candidate to play the role of poor man’s Bergeron with his strong two-way play, good skill level and smart, efficient style he employs on the ice. That’s something he’s done with aplomb all year, and it gives the Bruins confidence they have an option when their best player has to sit out due to injury.
Clearly, the B’s aren’t as explosive offensively or as dominant puck possession-wise when Nash is filling in for Bergeron, but it’s tough to argue with the won-loss record when that’s been the case this season.