Noel Acciari

Haggerty: Donato scratched in Game 1 makes perfect sense for B's

Haggerty: Donato scratched in Game 1 makes perfect sense for B's

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins made it official on Thursday following morning skate that rookie winger Ryan Donato will be a healthy scratch for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs. 

Donato scored five goals in 12 games for the Black and Gold at the end of the season while essentially stepping in for a concussed Rick Nash, but the 21-year-old ex-Harvard star will be a spare forward for the start of the playoffs.

In the end, it came down to Donato not replacing fellow rookies Danton Heinen or Jake DeBrusk on the wing and the Bruins not being comfortable with handing third-line center duties over to the youngster with Riley Nash injured and out for Game 1. Donato wasn’t going to be a candidate for a fourth-line spot on a trio that Cassidy sometimes uses for defensive purposes and with Donato still feeling his way through the defensive part of his game.

The B’s theoretically could have slid David Backes over to third-line center to make for a winger combination of Heinen and Donato, but a slower-skating center skating with two rookies could be asking for trouble against the Leafs' quick-attacking forwards. Moving multiple players out of position or pushing Donato to center could have backfired in a big way against a team looking for B's defensive cracks, so it was certainly the reasonable, most logical play going into Game 1. 

“It was very difficult. He played very well for us. He’s a guy that’s shown he’s not going to shy away from the big moments and we talked about having young guys in there. He would have handled it fine and he will handle it well when he gets in there, but it was just a decision that best fits our lineup,” said Bruce Cassidy. “With Riley Nash out as a guy that plays a lot of minutes for us, we have to make sure that we’re really solid down the middle. What if something else happens, you know? How do we make those in-game adjustments?

“Donato has played some center, but not very much at the NHL level. Those are some of the things that go into it. Jake is healthy, Heinen has played well lately and we like Schaller down there [on the fourth line] so it’s a bit of a positional thing as well. At the end of the day, that’s the lineup we chose and we’ll see how it plays out for Game 2.”

One role that Donato definitely could play is an offensive sparkplug in a series, a la Tyler Seguin in 2011, when he turned it on in the conference finals against Tampa Bay and broke out offensively in the middle of the series. If the Bruins struggle to generate offense against Toronto, then, by all means, it would make sense to look for ways to insert Donato into the series.   

Instead, for Game 1, it will be hard-hitting, Noel Acciari manning the third-line center spot and Tommy Wingels getting the nod on the fourth line with Sean Kuraly and Tim Schaller. Both Kuraly and Rick Nash are healthy and ready to go after missing the end of the regular season with injuries. The Bruins will opt for Adam McQuaid as their sixth defenseman over healthy scratch Nick Holden.

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings for Game 1:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Nash

Heinen-Acciari-Backes

Schaller-Kuraly-Wingels

 
Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Miller

Grzelcyk-McQuaid

 
Rask

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Riley Nash missing from B's practice, less probable for Game 1

Riley Nash missing from B's practice, less probable for Game 1

BRIGHTON, Mass – One day after getting on the ice in a positive sign, Riley Nash was missing from a full Bruins practice on Tuesday morning at Warrior Ice Arena ahead of Game 1 Thursday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden. 

Nash missed the final five games of the regular season after getting hit in the side of the head with a Torey Krug shot. He needed more than 40 stitches to close up a gash around his right ear and neck.

Bruce Cassidy said that Nash’s absence “doesn’t make it more probable” he’s going to play on Thursday night, which in my hockey coach translation sounds like it’s “less probable” that Nash is going to be ready to go. It makes one wonder if there’s a bigger injury at play than the swelling and stitches associated with getting hit in the side of the head with a shot, but don’t expect the Bruins to shed light on that at playoff time.

“He didn’t skate today, so that doesn’t make it more probable that he would play on Thursday,” said Cassidy, who said he wouldn’t term it a setback with the third-line center quite yet. “But I’m not going to rule him out.”

Cassidy didn’t term it a setback, but indicated that fellow missing forward Noel Acciari (off the ice with a maintenance day) would be the guy most likely to step up and fill in for Nash as the third-line center for Game 1. Brian Gionta stepped up and filled in as the third line center at practice Tuesday, but clearly wouldn’t be the choice for that spot on Thursday night.

It looks as if Ryan Donato might be the odd man out as the spare forward in Game 1. Said Cassidy: "One of the questions is how many young guys can you have in your lineup at once and sustain your level of play in the second season? A Game 1 [scratch] doesn't mean [being out for] Game 2. Things can change in a hurry."

Here are the line combos and D-pairings from Tuesday’s practice with Rick Nash also termed “probable” to return for Game 1 on Thursday night vs. the Maple Leafs:

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Nash

Heinen-Gionta-Backes

Schaller-Kuraly-Wingels

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Miller

Grzelcyk-McQuaid

Holden

 

Rask  
 

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What we learned: B's own the third, Chara's still go it

What we learned: B's own the third, Chara's still go it

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-2 comeback win in over the Oilers on Tuesday night in Edmonton.

1) The Bruins continue to be a dominant force in the third period.


That's a testament to their superior conditioning this season and the way they use their depth to overwhelm opponents in a 60-minute game. The Bruins scored their three goals in the third period to come all the way back from a two-goal deficit and have now outscored opponents 68-38 in the third this season in a jaw-dropping statistic. Basically, the Bruins are a plus-30 in goal differential at the time it matters most. They outshot the Oilers 14-6 in those final 20 minutes and continued pouring it on after they’d hit a couple of posts and missed some golden scoring chances earlier in the game. Some of that was certainly a testament to their resolve and character as they just keep on coming even when they’re getting a little frustrated by the game’s circumstances. Still, some of it is also about a clear time in the game where the Bruins have owned just about all their opponents this season. The third period is theirs.

2) Noel Acciari is finally looking healthy and back to form on the fourth line.


Acciari went through a 10-game scoreless drought and wasn’t playing up to his usual physical standards while he was playing through a lower-body injury in January. Acciari sat out for a couple of weeks to rest the injury, came back midway through February and in the past couple of games is finally back to the hard-hitting, hard-charging factor on the energy line (two hits and a couple of takeaways in his 13 minutes of ice time) that can actually provide a little offense. Acciari’s wraparound goal in the third period was important, too, as he spearheaded the three-goal outburst in the final 20 minutes. The Rhode Island kid now has seven goals on the season and has a legit chance of hitting double-digits this year if he can remain healthy down the stretch, which will always be a challenge given his no-holds-barred style.

3) It’s time to stop fooling around with the trades for left-shot D-men and sign Zdeno Chara to a contract extension.


Chara was immense shutting down Connor McDavid and holding him to two shots and continues to play excellent shutdown defense the past month against some of the top scoring stars in the league. Who can forget the way he completely smothered Auston Matthews in Toronto’s last trip to Boston as the B's gear up for another meeting with the Leafs on Saturday night? Chara has been an excellent warrior, leader and sort of an on-ice coach for the young D-men on the Bruins this season. He’s done everything that Boston has asked of him. Before making a blockbuster trade for a Ryan McDonagh or any other left side D-men that could ostensibly be seen as a long-term replacement for the Bruins captain, they should take care of things with Chara and try to get him locked down ahead of the playoffs. Nobody suspects it’s going to be an issue for the player in any way, shape or form and clearly, a contract year has brought out the best in a player who's a team-best plus-26 on the season. But I don’t think there’s that much more for Chara to prove about their still being gas left in the tank. It’s a reasonable assumption that he can play to this level next season at 41 as well. Certainly, he’s going to have his rough moments when the Bruins play 16 games in March and the playoff grind will always be a challenge for a 40-year-old, but Chara has already proven that Tom Brady isn’t the only 40-year-old ageless wonder still doing his thing in Boston these days.

Plus


*Bruce Cassidy deserves plenty of credit for switching out Riley Nash and David Krejci in the third period while still trailing. That proved to be the impetus behind the B's final two goals. Nash fed a crashing Matt Grzelcyk for the tying strike with his new linemates, and then Danton Heinen fed Krejci for the winner to put the B’s on top for good. Those are masterful adjustments from the B’s coaching staff.

*Chara played 22:39 of ice time while completely shutting down McDavid, had five shots on net and five blocked shots in a yeoman’s effort on the second night of back-to-backs. You know, 40-year-old players aren’t supposed to be able to do that stuff. Impressive,

*David Backes won a key one-on-one battle with Drake Caggiula along the side boards to set up Krejci’s goal, had five shots on net and was a stalwart, physical beast for the Bruins against a pretty rough-and-tumble Oilers crew.

Minus


*No shots on net in 13:22 for Milan Lucic. He did have six registered hits, but he wasn’t noticeable at all in a game where you’d expect the motor to still be running high.

*The same can be said for Patrick Maroon, who had a shot on net and a hit along with a minus-1 rating in 17:23 of ice time for the Oilers. If that was an audition to be a member of the Bruins, he didn’t really do a heck of a lot to impress them after killing them the past few years.

*One shot on net in 13:43 of ice time for Ryan Spooner, who was dropped to the third line with Nash in the third period. The Oilers might be a tough match-up for Spooner given their size and strength, but he’s got to find a way to be effective against those teams down the stretch.

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