A last-minute decision for Bruce Cassidy to deem Patrice Bergeron out of the lineup was far from ideal for the Boston Bruins entering Game 4 Thursday night in Toronto. Yet, Tuukka Rask and the Bruins were up to the task en route to a 3-1 victory and series lead heading back to Boston.
Now, with a chance to clinch the series against the Maple Leafs Saturday at TD Garden the Bruins are in a pretty good spot to allow Bergeron to heal if necessary. Even then, Bergeron taking the ice during the team’s off day Friday at Warrior Ice Arena was an encouraging sign.
“He skated this morning, so that’s positive,” Cassidy said during his press conference on Friday. “As I said all along, the guys that are skating are closer to playing, so we’ll make a decision [Saturday] on that. So we won’t rule him out, but we won’t say he’s definitely in. But it is a positive [sign] that he’s back on the ice.”
Either way, the Bruins are in a good spot with or without Bergeron — even as Leafs forward Nazem Kadri returns from his three-game suspension.
It’s also a win-win for Bergeron. He’ll have a chance to rest a little more if he isn’t 100 percent healed from his recent upper-body injury. The Bruins would benefit, however, from Bergeron’s return, especially if Leo Komarov also returns for Toronto.
So this isn’t a sense of urgency for Bergeron’s return, right? Well, Cassidy would prefer the latter option of the aforementioned scenario, especially since the coveted fourth win of a series is always the toughest to get.
“Well I think the urgency is there for us,” Cassidy said. “I think the last [win] 90 percent of the time is the toughest [to get]. Every once in a while it’s not, but usually it is, especially against a good hockey team that has a lot of compete.
“So, I think with us,” Cassidy added, “we’ll evaluate [Saturday] through the medical staff. I can pretty much tell you that if he’s cleared to play he’ll be in the lineup. But that’s a medical decision that he has to be comfortable with and we’ll go from there.”
Having the four-time Selke Award winner is always comfortable for the Black and Gold. But Game 4 wasn’t an anomaly without Bergeron. Instead, it reinforced the trend of winning with the ‘next man up.’
The Bruins are 13-5-2 without Bergeron in the lineup; 10-2-2 in their last 14 with Riley Nash centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak on the top line.
“Yeah, obviously it’s tough to miss Bergy. He’s a guy who we miss when he’s out of the lineup, that’s for sure,” Sean Kuraly, who moved up to the third line in Game 4, said about replacing Bergeron. “But you’ve seen Riley Nash fill that spot [without Bergeron] all year. As a team, we have confidence in him to fill that spot when he’s in that position.”
Replacing Bergeron is obviously no easy task. His reliability in all three zones and ability to play in any situation makes him one of the coveted well-rounded players in the National Hockey League.
The Bruins struggled in the puck possession department against the Leafs, but their ‘block party’ (27 blocked shots) and Tuukka Rask’s timely saves got them settled. That, along with tightening up the D in the neutral zone to prevent odd-man rushes and getting timely goals from Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk — in 2-on-1 situations — helped put the Black and Gold into a clinching scenario for Saturday night.
“We have some more depth than we’ve had before, but you can’t replace a player like Patrice,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “But I think the guys who have filled that role did an outstanding job for us when he was out of the lineup, and that’s a big credit to them. And great for them. They’ve stepped up and handled those situations when Patrice plays.”
With or without Bergeron the Bruins will still need to step up in search of that coveted fourth win.