Bruins fans were hoping to see Ryan Donato in the lineup for Game 7 against the Maple Leafs eight days ago. That didn’t happen, but the decision to re-insert Danton Heinen into the third line — after a Game 6 healthy scratch — was just one Jack Adams worthy decision from Bruce Cassidy during Boston’s 7-4 triumph over Toronto.
Eight days later, Cassidy faced yet another difficult lineup decision for a pivotal Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. This time, he’s writing in Donato’s name on the line chart for the first time since the Bruins’ 7-3 win in Game 2 against the Leafs.
Cassidy and company need a spark. The last thing they need is to head back to Tampa trailing three games to one in the best-of-seven second round series.
They could use Donato, too, especially with the Lightning’s stout D holding the Bruins at bay over the last two games. Donato’s quick shot could open things up on the attacking end, but the Black and Gold also need to be better in all three zones. Having another offensive weapon like Donato isn’t a bad thing against a Bolts squad that’s outmuscled and out-chanced the B’s over the last two games.
But who will sit to make room for the former Harvard standout? Well, look no further than the struggling third line of Heinen, Riley Nash and David Backes. Any player from that trio could see at least one game from the Level 9 press box.
Yes, Heinen looked good and notched a key first-period goal in Game 7 just two days after watching his first playoff game from the Air Canada Centre press box. His skating and decision making in the three games against Tampa haven’t been sharp. This ideally leaves Heinen as the primary option to sit again, but Donato hasn’t played left wing that much during his brief time in Boston.
That leaves Nash and Backes. Nash has just one point through 10 playoff contests and is struggling with consistency on both ends of the ice. But Nash’s success from the faceoff dot (57.4 percent) is worth keeping.
Backes, meanwhile, is coming off a game where he tallied more penalty minutes (7) than time on ice (6:09) and also played one of his worst games of his postseason career dating back to his tenure with the St. Louis Blues. Losing Backes, however, gives the Bruins one less big body to counter the Lightning’s physicality. That’s one area they have to improve on in Game 4.
Jake DeBrusk and Brad Marchand are game-time decisions. Both took the ice for the optional morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday. Expect the B’s top two left-wingers to give it a go barring any last-minute setback.
Another outside choice to sit is Rick Nash, who has just one assist since his two-goal outburst in Game 1. Despite Nash’s haunted postseason history, sitting him in favor of a talented, but still unproven product in Donato is still risky.
But Cassidy needs to take a risk, and inserting Donato is the right call. So, if I had to guess here is what the Bruins’ lineup will look like in Game 4:
Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk-David Krejci-Rick Nash
Ryan Donato-Riley Nash-David Backes
Tim Schaller-Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari
Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Matt Grzelcyk-Kevan Miller
Bruins fans: are you in need of parking to see Ryan Donato in action in Game 4 tonight? Then head over Constitution Wharf (1 Constitution Rd.) — a short walk to and from the Garden — and avoid the traffic and construction on Causeway St. Take advantage of the rate and beautiful walk that comes along with it. Mention Bruins Daily at the entrance for a prepaid rate of $12 — $3 less than the usual game night price!
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