The Bruins will obviously always play the schedule that’s in front of them, but it was a bit of a head-scratcher when the second-round series schedule between the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning was released following Friday night’s decisive games.
The Bruins will open their series vs. Tampa Bay on Sunday night, and will potentially play two sets of back-to-back games in the series with Games 2 and 3 back-to-back on Tuesday and Wednesday, and Games 6 and 7 potentially on Tuesday and Wednesday next week as well.
Some of it is about showcasing what the league believes is the marquee matchup in the second round with primetime games on both Friday and Sunday. But that leaves the B’s with a difficult challenge of playing three games in four days twice in the series while being forced to ride a 35-year-old goaltender in Jaroslav Halak after Tuukka Rask opted out of the playoffs.
Bruce Cassidy admitted he was “surprised” when the schedule came out with the back-to-backs and acknowledged the goaltending challenge is the biggest part of it all. Cassidy even toyed with the idea that rookie Daniel Vladar could play at some point in the series given the dense schedule of games, but it’s difficult to see that happening unless Halak’s performance really drops off due to physical or mental fatigue.
“A little surprised it came out that way [and that] we wouldn’t alternate night and play at 7 or 8 p.m. I’m not part of that decision-making but it sure would be easier for us, I’m sure Tampa would say the same. But, at the end of the day, you play the games where they tell you to play and what time,” said Bruce Cassidy.
“For us, obviously the biggest challenge is the advantage we lost in March with two healthy goalies. Now, Tuukka is not here so do we play [Daniel] Vladar as a backup? Or do we have to ride Halak? That’s a lot to ask for Jaro.
“So that’s going to be a decision we make down the road. That’ll be the biggest challenge. I think for our players, we have eight defensemen we feel can play. So, the depth part of it, three in four nights with a back-to-back, we can move different pieces in and we don’t feel that our game drops off significantly, or at all when we move pieces around.
"We have the same luxury up front. But, if a guy gets a nagging injury and we start those back-to-backs, he doesn’t have a chance to recover. That can work against any team. Those are the intangibles of it and the unknowns a little bit. Our guys will be ready to play and hopefully we don’t run into those scenarios where guys do need extra time to recover.”
As the saying always goes, both teams have to play the same schedule so there shouldn’t really be any inherent advantages. But there’s absolutely no easing Halak into this pivotal second-round series either given that the Bruins and Lightning will be playing seven grueling, intense games over a sparse 11-day period starting tomorrow night.