Ondrej Kase certainly put himself behind the 8-ball with the way things played out for him early in the Return to Play process.
The Czech winger missed all of Bruins training camp and was in quarantine for the first week after the B’s made the move to the Toronto bubble, and only broke into the lineup for the final round robin game against the Washington Capitals. For a guy that had only played a handful of uneventful games after arriving from Anaheim, it was a pretty unimpressive start to this summer’s unusual Stanley Cup Playoffs.
There were doubts as to what Kase was going to bring to the table for the Bruins even as he was being counted on as a key secondary scoring contributor as the second line right wing skating with David Krejci. That exact spot has been a problem area for the Black and Gold in each of their last two postseason runs, and the jury was out on whether it would be an issue again this summer.
But those doubts have been alleviated after the first round series against the Hurricanes where the skilled, slick Kase was a perfect fit with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. Kase finished with three assists in the five games against the Canes and has quickly forged chemistry with his two linemates in an impressively short period of time.
It certainly seemed like all three were on the same wave-length when they teamed together for a pair of goals in Boston’s third period comeback in Game 4 when the team exploded for four goals in less than seven minutes of ice time. Kase had a slick pass down low to a waiting DeBrusk on the eventual game-winner and also played a role in DeBrusk’s breakaway goal that started the four-goal outburst in the third period.
He’s shown a knack for making plays and for creating his own offense in tight spaces, and those are skills that tend to show up bigger in the playoffs.
“For us, balanced scoring or whether it's the third line, the power play really pitching in, the second line, the fourth line, whatever the case may be…it's needed to advance,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy. “And we got a lot of it [in Game 4] in the third period. Especially from that line. He's a big reason. He's been good every game. Good for him.
“He's been a little bit as advertised I would say. We were told he'd be good on pucks, second-effort player willing to shoot. Gets into traffic and he's made a few more plays than maybe what was described earlier, as more of a shooter. So, he's mixed both with that line and it’s worked well. They really have been our most consistent line. In the playoffs, you need that.”
Kase really came alive with creating his own offense after managing just two shots on net in the first couple of games, but upping that to 11 shots on net in the final three games of the series against Carolina. For the Bruins, it absolutely vindicated the team for giving up a first round pick while getting Kase and freeing themselves of the David Backes contract in a huge deal with Anaheim at the trade deadline.
And, more importantly, it’s given the Bruins a second line that should become more of a scoring threat against deeper, better teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning that they will face later on in the postseason.
“I think he was a huge addition in that Carolina series. Him and Krech [David Krejci] found some chemistry with Jake there. Obviously, he missed camp. That was a little unfortunate. He got hurt when he got here [at the trade deadline] and then the pause happened,” said B’s President Cam Neely. “We didn’t get a chance to see him too much, but we watched…certainly watched him enough before we acquired him.
“We kind of knew what we were going to get. I just like the chemistry that he’s got with that line with Krejci and DeBrusk.”
The big question now is simply making sure that Kase stays in one piece through the postseason after he’s been banged up in the past with the Anaheim Ducks.
Kase took a dirty, punishing head shot from Jordan Martinook in Game 5 when the Carolina skater slammed his head off the end boards. The penalty called on Martinook ended up opening the scoring for the Bruins on the power play and sparked the clinching win for the Black and Gold, but Kase only played a couple of minutes in the game after that sequence.
Given how important he was to the B’s second line stepping up the threat level against opponents, it will now be a priority to make sure Kase stays healthy and in the lineup where he’s looked like a good fit in his first extended play with the Black and Gold.