As feel-good as any Stanley Cup Playoff game undoubtedly is, there is also time for evaluation and improvement.
It will be a quick turnaround time for the Boston Bruins after they took a 4-3 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday afternoon in the Toronto bubble at Scotiabank Arena, and that won’t give the Bruins coaching staff much time to break things down. The biggest decision will be who they should go with between the pipes -- Tuukka Rask in a back-to-back situation or backup goaltender Jaroslav Halak.
There are good reasons to go with either one of them already up 1-0 over Carolina in the best-of-seven series.
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But there are other decisions to be made, and one that the Bruins should go with starting in Thursday’s Game 2 is the removal of Nick Ritchie from the lineup.
Ritchie came into this postseason as a real question mark after playing little more than a handful of games for the Bruins after arriving at the trade deadline from Anaheim in exchange for Danton Heinen.
In theory, the 6-foot-2, 235-pound Ritchie would provide needed physical thump to the Boston lineup and play the power forward game on the wing along with big, strong third line center Charlie Coyle. But Ritchie simply played like a weak link in Boston’s overtime win against the Hurricanes in his first real playoff experience with the Black and Gold.
The 24-year-old Ritchie finished without a shot on net in 12:50 of ice time with the Bruins on Wednesday and had four hits while sometimes taking the body against the Hurricanes. But he wasn’t nearly a big enough physical presence, and even worse played a key role in a pair of goals against for the Bruins while making both mental and physical mistakes at crucial moments.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t going to hammer anybody for it after a playoff win, but Ritchie’s subpar performance certainly didn’t go unnoticed either.
“I think [the young guys] were looking after their own game. I think just one line was on the ice for a couple goals and this is Bjork’s first playoffs with us, Ritchie,” said Cassidy, referencing the third line being on the ice for a pair of goals against as well as Charlie Coyle’s second period goal for Boston. “[The veteran guys] were like ‘hey, listen stuff happens.’ Let’s make sure we tighten up the next time. Keep playing your game. They got a big goal for us, too, so there is a little bit of that communication to the new guys.
“We talked to Lauzy [Jeremy Lauzon]. Charlie [McAvoy] had to go to the dressing room for a second so Lauzy got a few extra shifts. You just battle and play. I think you have to get the first couple [of playoff games] under your belt. No one is tearing anybody down here. It’s not the time of the year to do that. We’re trying to motivate and encourage guys for sure, but the players are good that way. That’s why they’re winners. [Ondrej] Kase is another guy, first game. I thought he was fantastic. He’s on pucks all night, played his game. Had some good looks. A nice play on [David] Krejci’s goal. That line arguably was – you always look at the tape, whatever the tape after and they’re probably our most dangerous line tonight. So that is something that we talked about. Secondary scoring. Get a goal out of Charlie Coyle, third line.”
In the first period, Ritchie gave up on a play along the boards and drifted away from Warren Foegele as the entire unit of Bruins defenders puck-watched rather than working to get the puck out of the zone. Eventually it turned into a Joel Edmundson scoring point shot from the high point that Ritchie wasn’t able to put a body in front of on its way to the net. But the bigger issue was Ritchie simply giving up on a play when he was the closest to be able to give defensive support on a play that ended up going bad.
It was Ritchie again in the third period losing a battle along the boards to the much smaller Martin Necas that extended Carolina possession, and eventually ended with Haydn Fleury scoring on a point blast with a screened Tuukka Rask in front.
In both instances board battles were lost that ended up with pucks in the back of the Boston net. And if Ritchie isn’t even going to win the board battles, what is the point of his size and strength that’s bringing to the table?
Wednesday’s game was physical to be sure as a playoff opener, but it wasn’t overly nasty to the point where you need Ritchie for intimidation purposes. The Bruins would be much better off going with the speedy, two-way play of Karson Kuhlman in Game 2 on the third line while also sliding Anders Bjork to his natural left wing spot on the third line. That would give the Bruins a much faster third line that could better combat the speed and pressure that the Hurricanes are bringing to the table against the Black and Gold.
Perhaps a healthy scratch would also send a message that there’s no room for him in the lineup if he isn’t decisively winning his physical battles and playing up to the size/strength combo he was blessed with as a hockey player. Either way, the Bruins should learn from some of the mistakes that didn’t end up costing them permanently in Game 1, and Ritchie made way too many of them to stick around in the Boston lineup.