Bruce Cassidy slept over his decisions shortly after watching the Boston Bruins fall to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime in Game 2. One announcement came as expected during his pregame media availability for Game 3: starting Jaroslav Halak in the second game of a back-to-back.
The next news item from Cassidy’s presser came as a bit of a surprise. Nothing is set yet, but the Bruins may channel the Lightning on the back end in going with seven defensemen Wednesday night.
“We have a couple game time [decisions] — certainly one game time decision up front. Halak is scheduled to start. He did not skate on the ice today so he’s recovered well. That’s the plan,” Cassidy said. “And then, like I said, we’ll have a game-time decision. We may have to dress seven D tonight, take a forward out. We’ve kind of contemplated that going into the back-to-back – on the second night of the back-to-back, that’s something we’re mulling over. We’ll make a decision by game time.”
The Bruins took five extra defensemen with them to Toronto. Of the five, Jeremey Lauzon was the only one who saw game action inside the bubble. He’d likely get the nod next to Matt Grzelcyk on the third defensive pairing if Cassidy chooses the seven D route.
Connor Clifton would then likely move to forward duty. He saw time on the wing down in Providence in similar scenarios. This gives Cassidy some flexible options to insert Clifton into a likely bottom-six role.
The potential lineup change isn’t so much over performance issues — or even injury-related — but rather the impending second half of a back-to-back. Boston’s D had a heavier workload in Game 2 and Cassidy wants to ease their minutes for their second tilt in 48 hours.
“Back-to-back game, some guys it’s a heavier workload,” Cassidy said. “You’re playing [Charlie] McAvoy upward of 25 minutes. Just to give…we have some smaller guys that it’s been a physical series for them. So, save a little wear and tear, put some fresh legs in there.”
“The disadvantage of seven D is finding your rhythm as a defenseman,” Cassidy added. “The second part of that is obviously up front, what if we get an injury to a forward? Now you’re really down to 10, so there can be some risk involved in the playoffs, especially considering the tight games we’ve been in like overtimes. That’s where we have to be careful. At the end of the day, one thing that has happened in the past is Connor Clifton has played forward. If he’s in the lineup he’s not unfamiliar with that. It’s not ideal obviously, but it’s a situation – an emergency situation at that. He played some forward in Providence so he could pinch-hit up there if something were to happen.”
Cassidy doesn’t have to look too far for a successful seven D program. The Lightning went that route when Ryan McDonagh missed Game 2 after exiting Game 1 due to injury. The former Rangers captain won’t suit up for Game 3 either.
The Bolts found a good offensive rhythm in Game 2 with only 11 forwards. The Bruins looked a bit out of sync in the defending end giving up breakaways, odd man rushes, and other quality scoring chances following communication breakdowns. Having an extra defenseman in the lineup may not be a bad thing following a rough night.
Could the Bruins still play Dan Vladar?
Halak didn’t have the sharpest of outings in Game 2 even without much help from his fellow defensemen. But, barring any last minute developments, he’ll tend to the net again for his second start in as many nights.
His backup, Dan Vladar, hasn’t made an appearance in the NHL level during his first few years with the organization. The way things played out in overtime on Tuesday will keep him on the bench barring a relief appearance or an injury to Halak.
Yes, the Bruins have faith in Vladar. After all, they signed him to a three-year extension this weekend with a one-way clause — meaning he’d have to clear waivers if upper management wants to send him to Providence — in the final season. But he’ll be part of a promising goaltending core of the future featuring the likes of Jeremy Swayman and Max Lagace, not the present.
Cassidy didn’t have any reservations playing Vladar if things go awry. But Boston’s bench boss acknowledged the monumental task of potentially inserting an unproven goaltender into the beast of postseason hockey.
“I don’t know, honestly. I’ve never seen him play an NHL game, so that’s a question that he would answer himself. We’re not nervous of putting him in there, we’re not afraid of putting him in there,” Cassidy said. “Is it necessary, first of all? A, that has to do with what we said before with Jaro [Halak] and B, because of the situation, he’s never played, that’s a big ask. That’s where we’re at. If we have to, we will, and we’ll play well in front of him. And hopefully, he’ll be up to the task.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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