Bruins' third line passed first test against Lightning
Perhaps the biggest question facing the Bruins heading into this series against the Tampa Bay Lightning — beyond how they'll survive the potential of two back-to-backs with one NHL goalie — was the play of the third line.
Coach Bruce Cassidy eventually found the right mix in the Carolina series using Sean Kuraly on the left wing and talented rookie Jack Studnicka to play with center Charlie Coyle while Par Lindholm filled in Kuraly's usual fourth line center role.
But with the Lightning putting a bigger emphasis on size and toughness, Cassidy opted for a beefier lineup, re-inserting Nick Ritchie on the left wing and the stronger Anders Bjork on the right.
If Game 1 was a pass/fail course, the trio earned the coveted "P" during a 3-2 victory over the Lightning. While both Ritchie and Bjork played fewer than 10 minutes, Ritchie landed five hits and Bjork had three shots on goal. Special teams and situational spotting bumped Coyle's ice time to 14:28.
"Well they were on the ice for no chances against, so that's a good start in terms of not giving up anything. Clearly, we have higher standards than that, but you want them to be solid away from the puck," said Cassidy. "I think they got into their rhythm in the third period, there were penalties in the first and second. Ritchie and Bjork right now aren't on either special teams which is a problem to get them their minutes, we understand that. But we've got to put the people out there we feel best able to do the job. Now Coyle obviously plays on the second power play, kills penalties, so he'll always get his minutes.
"I thought they generated well in the third, Bjork had some good looks, high tip, cut inside ice late, good leg saved by (Andrei) Vasilevskiy. Ritchie protected pucks better in the third, I thought he was a presence finishing some checks, so all in all a step in the right direction compared to maybe the Carolina series. They contributed to the win, that's the way I looked at it, so that's what we want. Hopefully they start finishing some plays on the wings, but they weren't alone, there's some other wingers in our lineup too that are a little snake bit. So play to your strengths, give us what you got, respond when it's your time to go over the boards and I think they'll grow as a line."
The dreaded back-to-back is now upon Cassidy, and the series could very well hinge on these two games. Ideally, his team can play a nice tight defensive game on Tuesday, limit Tampa's chances and give Jaroslav Halak a comfortable night so that the coach will have no qualms about playing the 35-year-old netminder two consecutive nights.
Don't bet on it. As well as the B's played in Game 1, they allowed 37 shots on net (72 total shots).
After Halak, the next man up is Daniel Vladar, who has yet to play an NHL game and has not played in any game since March.
"Too early to tell," said Cassidy of his plans for Wednesday's Game 3. "(Sunday) night was a busy night for Jaro as it went on, and he responded well, took the day off the ice (Monday), so that will help him recover. Let's get through the game (Tuesday) night, might also be a situation of where we are in the series. Sometimes you've got to look at your lineup and say 'OK do we have the luxury of making any changes, how it will affect us, how does it affect the group throwing another guy in there?' I think our guys play hard no matter who's in there, they said it before with Vladar, he competes in practice every day, just signed a new deal, happy for him.
"But at the end of the day I think it'll be a decision we probably make Wednesday morning after we sort through the game on Tuesday and see where Jaro is at physically and have Danny prepare Tuesday night, just say 'hey you got to prepare like you're going in the net' and if it doesn't happen well we don't lose anything."