The Boston Bruins are still riding the highs of an emotional Game 1 win over the New York Islanders in front of a packed TD Garden. But they’ll enter Game 2 without one of their potent top-six forwards.
Craig Smith exited Saturday’s 5-2 win after sustaining a lower-body injury. On Monday, head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed that the former Nashville Predator remains day-to-day and won’t suit up for Game 2.
Smith’s absence marks the first case of Cassidy altering his four forward trios because of injury this postseason. The Bruins will tab Jake DeBrusk to fill Smith’s second line vacancy next to David Krejci and Taylor Hall. Karson Kuhlman will make his postseason debut in a third-line role with Charlie Coyle and Nick Ritchie.
DeBrusk became a second-line mainstay during his 2017-18 rookie season. He showcased flashes of brilliance in his first three seasons, providing the Bruins with a steady secondary scoring presence.
The fourth-year forward hit a roadblock in 2021. Injuries, inconsistencies and a lengthy stint in COVID protocol halted DeBrusk’s production in the pandemic shortened season. His lowlights came with a pair of stints in the press box as a healthy scratch. DeBrusk struggled to garner secondary scoring chances, often losing 1-on-1 battles along the boards while finding difficulties assisting the team in the transition game.
But DeBrusk slowly found his rhythm late in the year in a fourth-line role. His assertiveness in all three zones kept him in the lineup entering Game 1 of Boston’s opening-round series with the Washington Capitals. The 2015 first-round selection netted tallies in each of the first two games against the Caps.
DeBrusk, who earned third line duty later in Round 1, hasn’t lit the lamp since his first-period marker in Game 2. But his consistent work ethic helped the Bruins find increased scoring production on the bottom-six. This prompted Cassidy to tab DeBrusk over Kuhlman — making his 2021 postseason debut — in a top-six role for Monday’s matchup with the Islanders.
“The easiest thing would’ve been to drop Kuhlie [Kuhlman] in there and then let all the lines stay the same, and you get some continuity,” Cassidy said of his decision. “Krech [Krejci] has played with Kuhlie in the  playoff run, but we also want to give Jake the opportunity to play with Krech again…and I know he looks up to Taylor Hall, so maybe that will spur him on a little more.”
On Monday, DeBrusk will reunite with Krejci and skate with a player he looked up to during his days with the Oilers in Hall. This also provides the speedy Kuhlman some familiarity with a skilled puck-possession centerman in Coyle. But Cassidy won’t hesitate to switch things up with DeBrusk and Kuhlman if an opportunity presents itself.
Inserting a quick-skating Kuhlman in a third line role provides some familiarity in personnel and structure. Adding a hard-nosed speed element in DeBrusk with Krejci and Hall gives the Bruins a solid short-term option as Smith heals from his lower-body ailment.
“[DeBrusk] is certainly a guy who has played in the top-six. Kuhlie has played with Coyle before as well. So we put some speed on the right side, which Charlie is used to now with Jake,” added Cassidy. “So again, you just have to play your own game no matter what line you’re on, but again, that’s how we’re going to start. We’ll see how it ends up like every game. We might have to make some moves in-game if we don’t like what we see, but hopefully, it’s a good fit for everybody.”
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