Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy took the intrigue out of a goaltending decision that wasn’t all that difficult to make, but admitted there are still questions lingering for the Black and Gold headed into tonight’s Game 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Jaroslav Halak will start his fifth straight playoff game for the Bruins and will play in both ends of the back-to-back in the Toronto bubble, and rookie Daniel Vladar will remain the backup with exactly zero NHL games played on his résumé at this point.
Halak allowed four goals on 40 shots while losing his first playoff game in a 4-3 OT loss on Tuesday night’s Game 2 against the Lightning, but still has a pretty solid .927 save percentage during these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Perhaps it would have been a chance to spot Vladar a game if the Bruins had gone up 2-0 in the best-of-seven series with Tampa Bay, but it wouldn’t be a wise move with the B’s and Bolts tied up in an evenly-matched series.
Cassidy did admit the Bruins may end up going with 11 forwards and seven defensemen with a game-time decision to make up front among the forward group. That would counteract the Lightning going with seven defensemen right now with Ryan McDonagh again out for Game 3 with an undisclosed injury.
“Halak is scheduled to start. He did not skate on the ice [on Wednesday morning] so he’s recovered well. That’s the plan. And then we’ll have a game-time decision. We may have to dress seven D tonight, take a forward out. We’ve kind of contemplated that going into the back-to-back — on the second night of the back-to-back — that’s something we’re mulling over. We’ll make a decision by game time.
“Back-to-back game, some guys it’s a heavier workload. You’re playing McAvoy upward of 25 minutes. Just go give — we have some smaller guys that it’s been a physical series for them. So, save a little wear and tear, put some fresh legs in there. The disadvantage of seven D is finding your rhythm as a defenseman. The second part of that is obviously up front, what if we get an injury to a forward? Now you’re really down to 10, so there can be some risk involved in the playoffs, especially considering the tight games we’ve been in like overtimes. That’s where we have to be careful.”
If it’s based solely on performance, then Anders Bjork could be the guy getting the healthy scratch as a speedy, skilled winger who's not a perfect fit for the heavy, intense style of play against the Lightning. It’s the inverse of the Carolina series against a speedy opponent where Nick Ritchie wasn’t as effective as he is right now against Tampa Bay.
Certainly, the Bruins have to be concerned about the wear-and-tear on their smaller D-men like Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk, the aging skating legs of a player like 43-year-old Zdeno Chara and the heavy, heavy workload on Charlie McAvoy’s shoulders. But they also must find a way to activate some offense with their defense corps as Connor Clifton stands as the only defenseman who has scored for the B’s during these Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Perhaps going with seven defensemen can spark the B’s back-end group a little bit while mixing things up with a forward group looking for more production out of their middle six group of forwards.