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.
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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.
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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.
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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: