Everyone is dealing with injuries this time of year and the Boston Bruins are no exception. The Bruins took the brunt of St. Louis’ heavy physicality through the first four games and could be without two of their potent blue-liners heading into a pivotal Game 5 Thursday night at TD Garden.
Matt Grzelcyk exited Game 2 after receiving a hit to the head from Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. The Charlestown native stayed home to continue his stay in concussion protocol for Games 3 and 4.
Boston’s latest victim, captain Zdeno Chara, took a puck to the face following a deflection off of a Brayden Schenn shot early in the second period of Game 4. The 42-year-old returned with his teammates for the third period with a facemask but didn’t leave the confines of Boston’s bench.
Bruce Cassidy didn’t have an update for either Chara and Grzelcyk during the team’s media availability in the ‘Arch City’ on Tuesday. The third-year bench boss will go over potential replacements for Chara and or Grzelcyk before the team returns to the ice for practice on Wednesday.
“Nothing new,” Cassidy said about Chara’s status. “Obviously he has to get back to Boston and get looked at and we’ll go from there.”
Reports indicate that Chara has a broken jaw. If so, Boston’s veteran 6 foot nine defenseman will likely be out for the rest of the series. While this is a significant blow to the team, the Bruins will have to find a way to plug this gaping hole in the defense.
Going into Game 5 without Chara or Grzelcyk would put Cassidy in a tough spot. But the Bruins have plenty of options from their deep defensive core if neither are good to go. In fact, Cassidy even hinted at the possibility of playing with seven defensemen.
The three most likely candidates to slot in on the back end are Jeremey Lauzon, Steven Kampfer and Urho Vaakanainen. Each played in at least one regular season tilt with Boston this season with Kampfer also slotting in for a suspended Charlie McAvoy — and scoring an important goal — in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against Carolina.
At age 30, Kampfer’s experience gives him the edge over both Lauzon and Vaakaninen as the Bruins and Blues enter a best of three scenario for hockey’s ultimate prize. Either Vaakaninen or Lauzon will join Kampfer if Cassidy opts to go with seven defenders.
“The back end could have a domino effect. If we’re out two D, Gryz [Grzelcyk] and Zee [Chara], you might have to play seven defensemen,” Cassidy added. “You’re putting guys in there that haven’t played a ton, so maybe we’ve got to look at how this best works out for us, use a guy situationally to take Zee’s PK minutes if need be, another guy could match up. We could be reaching into an area where a young kid has played in the playoffs, so we have to be careful there.”
The Bruins have confidence in their defensive depth. They can look no further than Connor Clifton’s development during this postseason. The former Quinnipiac standout filled in admirably for an injured Kevan Miller after earning a late-season promotion from Providence.
This case should be no different with a pair of talented puck movers like Lauzon and Vaakanainen. Neither are afraid to shy away from contact to keep the play going, an area that plagued the Bruins on Monday night.
Make no mistake, Cassidy would love to have Chara and/or Grzelcyk in the lineup for Game 5. But he has confidence in the defensive reserves like Lauzon, Kampfer and Vaakaninen. They’ll be ready for the call at a moments notice.
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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