Stretch run starts with next man up
The Bruins dealt with the injury bug and the next man up philosophy earlier in the year, and they’ve benefitted from having good depth to work with. Monday’s picture day and practice were symbolically telling on how challenging the next few games will be.
Not only did the picture day including Brandon Carlo and David Backes pushing an injured Patrice Bergeron — sitting in a chair as he nurses his foot injury — but the sight of Charlie McAvoy in flip-flops two days after sustaining a lower-body injury 37 seconds into Saturday’s 2-1 win over the Canadiens signified that the Bruins were going to have another injury to deal with.
Add a nagging lower-body injury to Tuukka Rask as the third regular that will likely join Bergeron and McAvoy on the twine for Tuesday’s matchup with the Red Wings. Certainly not ideal for any team to be without their top-line center, top right shot defenseman and starting goaltender going into any game, let alone more.
Ideally, Bruce Cassidy would love to have all three back in the lineup as soon as possible. But with their three-point lead and five games in hand on the Maple Leafs for home ice, the Bruins are in a good spot where they don’t have to rush Bergeron, McAvoy or Rask back into game action.
It also gives Cassidy a chance to look at some of his depth players, like Tommy Wingels, Brian Gionta and Nick Holden, and evaluate where they could fit in come playoff time.
“Well, we’ve been doing that since October, to be honest with you. I think our guys have relished [at the opportunity] and it goes to show you the depth that we have…We’re not too concerned with that part, you don’t want to go through the whole lineup losing players every night,” Cassidy said.
“I think that teams go through certain stretches [without key players]. We’re no different right now without Bergy [Bergeron] and Charlie — and if Tuukka is extended that’s three important and very key guys. But we feel that we have the depth as long as we get them back in a reasonable amount of time.”
The Bruins are in familiar territory. Going through their tough injury-plagued stretch in the fall sparked a youth movement that inserted life into the organization. Instead of figuring out how to replace Brad Marchand, David Backes, Adam McQuaid and former Bruin Ryan Spooner, the Black and Gold saw Anton Khudobin provide some much-needed relief between the pipes and rookies the likes of Jake DeBrusk, Matt Grzelcyk and Danton Heinen earn their stripes as nightly contributors.
Additionally, the Bruins were without McAvoy’s services for four games following his heart procedure in January. Even without their Calder Trophy candidate, they went 3-1 prior to his Feb. 3 return.
Fast forward where Cassidy and company are going through another phase of next man up. Whether its Riley Nash replacing Bergeron on the top line, Gionta and Wingels being thrown into third line duty shortly after arriving, or Holden helping out on the blue-line, the Bruins keep finding ways to win.
That philosophy will be tested Tuesday — without McAvoy, Bergeron and Rask — as the Bruins start their season-ending stretch of 19 games in 34 days.
“It is what it is. Nothing we can do about this condensed schedule,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “You have to be ready, you have to be prepared — and I think that every team faces a little condensed schedule at some point at some point of the season.”
“It’s great that we have the capabilities and the structure here that we can throw anyone in the lineup at any point and mix and match [D] pairings and forward lines as well,” added right-shot defenseman Brandon Carlo, who will take McAvoy’s spot next to Chara starting Tuesday night. “I think we’re kind of hoping that everyone can get the same result with the stretch right now so that everybody can be ready for playoffs. You know, I think we’re just working toward an ultimate goal of continuing to go on the streak that we’ve been on.”
That streak is three wins in a row, all without Bergeron. They’ve gotten stellar play from the deadline quartet (Holden, Gionta, Wingels and Rick Nash), but the B’s know it will take all members of the 23-man roster playing their part to get through this rough stretch.
Settling into their roles haven’t been an issue for the deadline quartet recently, nor has it been a problem for any other Bruin three-quarters of the way through the 2017-18 campaign.
“You’re coming into a good team and you want to fill whatever role is asked and come in and fit in seamlessly,” the former Boston College standout Gionta said. “So, I think that’s been the transition so far for the guys that have been coming in and the guys have been great in this room.”
“I’ve been in the league for five years now, so my approach to the league hasn’t really changed,” the former Ranger Holden added. “Mentally you change the little things that you’re doing pregame where you obviously have to focus…but the guys that have come in have obviously done a good job contributing right away and being able to help this team win.”
Producing wins — and eventually getting a clean bill of health — is all that Cassidy can ask for.