The time has come for the Boston Bruins to shake up their bottom-six forwards and insert a few new players into the mix entering a pivotal Game 5 of their second-round playoff series against the New York Islanders.
The Islanders evened the series with a 4-1 victory in Game 4 at Nassau Coliseum on Saturday night.
The Bruins, for the first time all series, were out shot and didn't have the upper hand in scoring chances. Furthermore, the B's failed to tally a single shot on net over the final 6:18 of the third period.
It was puzzling to see the fourth line of Chris Wagner, Curtis Lazar and Sean Kuraly on the ice with 2:20 left in the third period and the Bruins trailing 2-1. If the top-six forwards were tired, then head coach Bruce Cassidy should've called a timeout before one of several defensive-zone faceoffs in the last half of the third period to give those guys a breather.
The Bruins' fourth line struggling offensively is nothing new, though. It's been an issue throughout the series, including Game 3, when this trio was on the ice for Mathew Barzal's tying goal with 5:26 left in the third period that forced overtime. Not long after that goal, Kuraly took a dumb penalty with 2:15 remaining in regulation that the B's were lucky to overcome before heading to OT.
It's one thing for the fourth line to be on the ice for a goal -- that's going to happen sometimes, especially when the opponent can dictate the matchups as the home team with last change. But putting them back out there in regulation after that Barzal goal Thursday night when the Islanders had all the momentum and the score was tied made little sense.
The Bruins have 10 goals from forwards through four games in Round 2, and only one of them -- a Charlie Coyle tally in Game 2 -- has come from a player in the bottom-six.
Cassidy needs to remove Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly for at least a game and insert Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.
Kuraly has zero points in eight playoff games and only one shot on net against the Islanders. Wagner also has been held scoreless in the playoffs so far.
Frederic isn't an offensive dynamo by any means, but he plays a very physical game and has proven to be effective at getting under opponents' skin -- just ask Capitals forward Tom Wilson. A young, motivated player making his postseason debut in front of a raucous home crowd could provide a much-needed spark of energy for the bottom-six.
Kuhlman had an assist in Game 2 -- his lone appearance of the playoffs -- and brings excellent speed and tenacity each shift. You're not going to have many shifts where Kuhlman isn't bringing good energy.
Here are the lines Boston should consider for Game 5:
Why keep DeBrusk in the lineup when he hasn't scored a goal since Game 2 of the first round? Sure, he's been cold of late, but taking a guy who scored 62 goals in his first three pro seasons off the ice and keeping in a fourth-liner such as Wagner or Kuraly doesn't solve the Bruins' problems. DeBrusk is the more likely player of the three to catch fire and score.
The bottom-six doesn't have to play amazing offensively for the Bruins to win this series, it just can't be as bad as it's been through four games. Not only does Cassidy need to rely less on the bottom-six in Game 5, especially in the third period, he absolutely should make changes to those lines with a few fresh faces.