With nine games remaining in the regular season, the Bruins still have plenty left to accomplish ahead of the playoffs.
For one thing they have the priority of getting as healthy as possible with seven regulars out of the lineup due to injuries in Friday night’s come-from-behind win over the Dallas Stars, and that may happen as soon as this weekend with Patrice Bergeron and Torey Krug at least closing in on returns to Boston’s lineup. Beyond that the Bruins still have the potential to catch up to the Tampa Bay Lightning sitting just four points behind them with two games in hand, and still two more games against each other over the final few weeks.
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But the playoffs are closing in and the Bruins have already clinched a spot that’s yet to be specifically determined within the Eastern Conference structure. So some of the thoughts go toward the B’s lineup for the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and what Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy will do with the expected depth provided all of the walking wounded are ready to go for the postseason.
So here’s a first pass at the Game One lineup for the Black and Gold assuming everybody is healthy, and without the players being specifically tailored for an opponent as they will most assuredly be during any playoff series.
Observation on the lineup: It’s still very early in the Ryan Donato era, so this could very well change depending on how the 21-year-old looks over the next few weeks. Right now he looks like a natural goal-scorer willing to mix it up in the danger areas, and he looks advanced beyond his years in terms of hockey IQ in the offensive zone. That being said he also got a little quiet in the St. Louis game after getting pounded into the side boards by Dmitri Jaskin about half-way through the game, and there will be greater challenges to come defensively for a youngster with very little experience. All that being said, there’s going to be a playoff spot for him in a few weeks if Donato keeps scoring goals at a healthy clip. On defense it’s going to come down to a choice between Brandon Carlo, Adam McQuaid or Nick Holden in the top-6 as the other five players should be locked in as long as they’re healthy. I like the way Carlo is playing right now as he’s shown a little mean and nasty around the net in the defensive zone, and he’s really playing to his size and strength capabilities. It’s certainly not perfect right now as Carlo is getting whistled for penalties and is still on ice for some goals against, but that’s exactly how he needs to play in order to be effective in the postseason, and really at any time of year. If Carlo falters and doesn’t make the cut, then it would probably come down to first round match-ups when determining whether to go with the puck-moving Holden or the stay-at-home McQuaid.
Toughest omission: Barring injuries it’s expected that Tommy Wingels might start as a healthy scratch, so that one wouldn’t be too difficult for a trade deadline newcomer. Certainly Sean Kuraly would be a tough one to leave as a healthy scratch after a solid season as the fourth line center, and it could very easily become a situation where Kuraly stays in because Bruce Cassidy doesn’t want to mess with his fourth line chemistry. Tim Schaller would be the toughest omission from the Bruins lineup if it came down to that with Jake DeBrusk moving to a bottom-6 role based on the emergence of Ryan Donato. He’s scored a career-high 11 goals this season for the Bruins, has killed penalties and has been an offensive catalyst on a fourth line that’s been excellent for the Bruins. He’s gone above and beyond expectations this season, and plays with the kind of grit and toughness that will be needed in the playoffs. But if everybody is healthy, I’m not sure Cassidy could bench one of Danton Heinen, Jake DeBrusk or Ryan Donato for the postseason and feel good about it after the way they’ve all played as rookies. Chances are it won’t come to that as the Bruins very well could be missing at least one forward due to injury when the postseason gets rolling, but the Black and Gold will be sure to have a workable plan either way.