Jim Montgomery hinted at possible lineup changes after watching his team lay an egg in Game 2.
A night of uncharacteristic costly turnovers at the defensive end — especially in the third period — doomed the Boston Bruins in their sluggish 6-3 loss to the Florida Panthers.
Given the cough-ups and loose defensive coverage, Montgomery may primarily focus on reworking his pairings ahead of Friday’s pivotal Game 3 in Sunrise. But there’s plenty of reason to suggest other potential alterations could come up front and between the pipes.
“I think it gives me a pause to think about changes everywhere,” Montgomery said during his postgame press conference.
The Bruins didn’t practice on Thursday before traveling to South Florida. The first hint at potential tweaks will come during the morning skate on Friday at FLA Live Arena.
Until then, let’s look at the Bruins’ possible lineup changes for Game 3.
Will Matt Grzelcyk slot in on D?
Through a good chunk of Games 1 and 2, the Bruins’ D core struggled with their outlet passes in the defensive end.
Because of Florida’s point-based setup, Montgomery opted for strength over size, inserting a returning Derek Forbort in a third-pairing role next to Connor Clifton. Inserting Forbort over Grzelcyk looked good in theory, given the Panthers’ high-low attacking zone presence, emphasizing secondary chances through tips and rebounds.
Boston sacrificed a little of its offensive production from the blue line without Grzelcyk. The Charlestown-born product enters Game 3 as a prime candidate to enter the lineup.
The top pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Charlie McAvoy produced mixed results on Garden ice. Despite outscoring the Panthers 2-1, Florida held a 16-15 shots-on-goal advantage against the McAvoy-Orlov pair in 5v5 situations. Montgomery and the coaching staff will likely consider breaking the duo up and inserting Grzelcyk in a top pair role.
Orlov’s versatility to skate on his strong or weak side makes him a keeper. He fared well in a third-pairing role with Clifton. He also developed chemistry with Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Carlo during the final weeks of the regular season.
Forbort remains the wild card. He hasn’t lost a step on the penalty kill, but he hardly fared well in 5v5 play since returning from a lower-body injury. But with Florida’s offensive setup and the Bruins’ struggles keeping the front of the crease clean, he could get the nod over Clifton.
Regardless of Grzelcyk’s situation, Montgomery will likely have to alter some of the pairings heading into Game 3. He’ll also have an important decision regarding the last line of defense.
Will Jeremy Swayman take over for Linus Ullmark?
The defensive miscues hung Ullmark out to dry in Game 2. But the odds on Vezina favorite also proved he was human.
Usual routine shots found their way past Ullmark in the third period, including on Brandon Montour’s second goal of the night.
Ullmark hasn’t started three straight games since mid-December. Since then, he’s alternated appearances with Swayman, with neither starting more than two consecutive games.
Swayman hardly performed well in two appearances against Florida this season, going 0-1-1 with a 4.03 goals against average and .881 save percentage. Both of his appearances came in the metro Fort Lauderdale area.
But if there’s a time to at least give one appearance for Swayman, it’s Game 3. Last month, Montgomery didn’t shy away from admitting a potential continuation with the Ullmark/Swayman tandem.
“We would have no issues with it,” Montgomery told the media. “I don’t know if we’re gonna do that. I think we’ll start with one of them. Most likely, Linus is going to start the first game, then we’ll see how it goes game to game from there, but I’m not going to commit to anything beyond Game 1.”
Ullmark indeed started Games 1 and 2. Montgomery didn’t reveal his intentions for Game 3.
Conventional wisdom suggests sticking with Ullmark in an even series. But the reliability with both Ullmark and Swayman provides the Bruins with an incredible goaltending luxury.
If there’s any coach to pull off a rotation in the playoffs, it’s Montgomery. After all, he captained the legendary University of Maine 1992-93 squad to its first national championship as the Black Bears rotated between Garth Snow and Mike Dunham during the postseason, albeit in a single-elimination NCAA tournament.
Swayman and Ullmark sported healthy numbers after a layover of three or more days this season. Returning to the rotation — even temporarily — could provide a fresh perspective during the playoff grind.
Is Patrice Bergeron healthy enough to return?
Boston’s captain skated on his own for the second straight day. And while that provides another encouraging development, Montgomery couldn’t provide any insight into Bergeron’s availability for Friday.
“He skated just now, so that’s obviously a real positive sign,” Montgomery told the media at Warrior Ice Arena Thursday. “But I haven’t talked to medical [and] athletic trainers about where he’s at as far as coming with us on the trip or not.”
The Bruins sorely missed Bergeron’s steady two-way presence in Game 2. And while the team could bounce back without their veteran leader, they surely want to see him return sooner rather than later.
Indeed, the concerns continue to grow after Bergeron left the regular season finale in Montreal with an upper-body injury. The Bruins deemed his exit as precautionary at the time. Now they’re in wait-and-see mode as the series shifts locales.
Amid the frustrations, however, Bergeron remains in good spirits according to Montgomery.
“He’s a human being that doesn’t get rattled,” Montgomery added of Bergeron. “He’s holding up great…his confidence gives energy to everybody else that everything is okay, you know what I mean? That’s the way he carries himself on good days and bad days; you wouldn’t know [that he’s rattled]. So he’s in real good spirits mentally and physically, and he just wishes he could be on the ice with us right now.”
What changes could happen with the forward group if Bergeron is still absent?
With or without Bergeron, the Bruins will tweak their lineup accordingly.
If Bergeron plays, Trent Frederic and Nick Foligno become healthy scratch candidates. The trickle-down effect will likely result in Pavel Zacha returning to wing for a Czech line reunion with David Krejci and David Pastrnak. Tyler Bertuzzi could move to a third-line role with Taylor Hall and Charlie Coyle, prompting one of Foligno or Frederic with Tomas Nosek and Garnet Hathaway on the fourth line.
Without Bergeron, the lineup decisions become a little more complicated.
Montgomery blended his top lines throughout the first two games hoping for a spark. Krejci and Zacha rotated among wingers in various top-six duties. Hall, Pastrnak, Bertuzzi, Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk all encountered minutes with the two Czech centermen hoping to provide the Bruins with an offensive spark.
Aside from a blunder on Marchand’s Game 1 tally, Alex Lyon has more than held his own in the Florida crease. The Bruins, however, could improve generating quality primary and secondary chances while simultaneously addressing their turnover concerns.
Perhaps a Marchand-Pastrnak reunion could provide a temporary solution without Bergeron. Whether Krejci or Zacha slot in between is anyone’s guess.
Yet, the Bruins would risk a top-heavy approach reuniting their top two wingers. With the third and fourth lines likely remaining intact — especially after the heated incidents from the closing seconds of Game 2 — Montgomery may avoid such a move unless necessary during Friday’s tilt.
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