The Bruins are at their best when their work ethic and skillset compliment each other. That allows head coach Bruce Cassidy to roll out all four of his lines with relative ease on any given night.
They haven’t had that luxury during their first-round series with the Maple Leafs aside from Game 2. That could change Friday in a pivotal Game 5 with Sean Kuraly’s return all but certain.
The former Sharks prospect sustained a broken hand during Boston’s 5-1 victory over the New Jersey Devils on March 21. In all he missed a total of 12 games beginning with the Bruins’ playoff-clinching night against the Florida Panthers on March 23.
Weeks of skating and stickhandling with Kim Brandvold put him in prime position to return for the first round series. Now he’ll get that wish as he’ll likely slot back to his usual fourth line spot with Chris Wagner at his opposite wing and Noel Acciari centering.
“I feel good,” Kuraly said following Boston’s optional skate at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday. “I feel back to 100 percent and I’m looking forward to getting going.”
Kuraly may be ready, but the former Miami University forward will wear a splint on his hand for the time being. But his arrival makes the fourth line a little more dynamic.
Without Kuraly, the Bruins’ makeshift fourth line of Acciari, Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom struggled to make an impact, especially in Toronto. The Leafs fourth line outscored Boston’s aforementioned trio 2-0 and outshot them 13-5 during Games 3 and 4 at Scotiabank Arena.
Nordstrom, Acciari and Wagner fared well in the first two games in Boston. Their energy in Game 2 from the opening puck drop and their shutdown prowess against Toronto’s top line of Zach Hyman, John Tavares and Mitch Marner set the tone to even the series.
With the benefit of last change, Cassidy will likely go down that route again with Kuraly replacing Nordstrom. For as good as Nordstrom performed in Game 2, Kuraly’s arrival brings a different dynamic to a line he’s all too familiar with.
“They were a good line for us all year, and Sean was a big part of that,” Cassidy said pregame. “He’s a guy who can get loose pucks out of our [defensive] end and get it into our [attacking] zone. That’s what we missed the other night. And he’s very good at protecting the puck in [the defensive] zone, so he’s certainly a hard guy to get the puck from.”
Staying hard on pucks, as Cassidy often mentions, is key this time of year. Every team has to fight for time and space as the series progresses.
Toronto’s fourth line of Tyler Ennis, Trevor Moore and Conor Brown found cracks against Nordstrom, Acciari and Wagner. They won’t have that same matchup in Game 5 with the Bruins having last change.
And yes, Kuraly will have a shift or two to fight off his rust following a 12-game absence. But his unique skating style and skillset along with a history of solid postseason performances give Cassidy and the Bruins coaching staff a potent fourth line to work with.
“Yeah, I think it’s going to take as long as it takes [to shake off the rust],” I’m going to be ready when the puck drops. I’ve been skating for two weeks, so we’ll see,” Kuraly said. “My plan is to be ready when called upon, and that’s what they expect out of me. So those are my expectations.”
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