As the NHL regular season comes to a close, we know three things about where the Boston Bruins stand:
- The Bruins have clinched a playoff berth.
- Rick Nash, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, Jake DeBrusk, and David Backes are nearing returns from their respective injuries.
- The rest of the team has stepped it up BIG TIME in the absence of the folks mentioned in #2 (the B’s are 6-2-2 in their last ten games).
This begs the question: When the Bruins get healthy again (which it looks like they will in the coming week), what is to become of players like Ryan Donato? Brian Gionta? Nick Holden? There’s not enough room on the roster for 22 skaters who have been firing on all cylinders. And unfortunately (or fortunately) for the Bruins, that is exactly what they have here. Call it champagne problems. But what will the lines look like for their first-round matchup of the playoffs?
Not more than a month ago, the Bruins looked to be in dire straits when Patrice Bergeron joined Charlie McAvoy on the injured list with a broken foot. With Backes, Nash, and DeBrusk dealing with injuries along the way, playing time opened up for recent-Olympian Brian Gionta, trade deadline acquisitions Tommy Wingels and Nick Holden, and newly signed Harvard man Ryan Donato. And all have impressed, particularly Donato, who shows signs of a sniper-in-the-making. As it has been all year, it seems whoever the Bruins plug in the lineup, whether it’s former retirees or current collegiate players, these guys will play well.
So what’s next? What is to happen to the line combinations when the roster mainstays come back from their injuries? Bruce Cassidy is going to have to make some decisions, and it’ll be interesting to see whether he sticks with the guys who have been there most of the year, or if he takes a “what have you done for me lately?” approach, giving the nod to the new guys.
For fun, I’m going to break this down with the way I would organize the lines for Round 1 of the playoffs.
1st Line – Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-David Pastrnak
DON’T FIX WHAT AIN’T BROKEN. The NHL’s most lethal line this season will spearhead Boston’s attack in the playoffs. And with a trio of 30 goal scorers by season’send, and Mr. Overtime in one Brad Marchand, there’s no reason at all to split these guys up for the postseason.
2nd line – Jake Debrusk-David Krecji-Rick Nash
David Krecji looked as good as he had all season with Nash and DeBrusk at his sides, albeit a relatively short stretch until each winger found himself hurt. Once those two come back, the strength and speed provided by Nash and DeBrusk should leave Krecji poised to produce in the playoffs. And don’t forget, Krecji has twice led the NHL playoffs in scoring before. No reason he can’t make another run at third in a few weeks.
3rd line – Ryan Donato-Riley Nash-David Backes
This is the biggest shake-up I wouldn’t mind seeing Bruce Cassidy make. Put Ryan Donato on the third line with Nash and Backes. And it’s not because I am down on usual third-line winger Danton Heinen, it’s just that I am so ready to see what Donato can do. He burst on to the scene with four points in his first four career NHL games, and looks to be big-league ready a lot sooner than we all thought. There’s just something about putting a goal scorer out there that’s too young to feel the pressure of the playoffs, and too new for other team’s to have a scouting report on, that makes him an enticing lineup choice. So I say plug him in next to a defensively sound center in Nash and a battle-tested physical vet in Backes, and let’s see what he can do. And if he doesn’t play well, Heinen can come in and take his place. Perhaps Cassidy could even let the two split time by playing the hot hand. But I want them to start with Donato.
Two goals in his first two NHL games.
OK RYAN DONATO ??? pic.twitter.com/eBpWDdJQag
— NHL on NBC (@NHLonNBCSports) March 22, 2018
4th line – Tim Schaller-Sean Kuraly-Noel Acciari
As much as I would love to give Brian Gionta a starting spot on the playoff roster, this unit is (in a few ways) almost as untouchable at the 1st line. Schaller and Kuraly are two of three Bruins to have played in every game this season, and their chemistry is palpable. These guys grind it out, they hit everything that moves, and between them have scored 25 goals to boot. Not too shabby for the so called “energy line”. I see them being a nuisance for opposing teams in the best way possible, and for that reason I leave this line as is.
Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo
Adam McQuaid-Kevan Miller
Like the 1st forward line, the 1st D-pairing is basically a lock. Chara and McAvoy have had good chemistry in a relatively small sample size, and both are able to push 30 minutes of ice time per game if necessary. The bottom four can easily be mixed and matched as needed, but I’d like for Cassidy to keep Kevan Miller in the lineup when he has to choose between Miller, Mcquaid, Matt Grzyelcyk, and Nick Holden for the final few D spots. Miller may be the most underrated defenseman on the team, and easily was Boston’s best blueliner in last year’s playoff series against Ottawa.
The Depth Guys
(AKA the first guys in if there’s an injury or poor play)
Forwards- Danton Heinen, Brian Gionta
Defensemen- Nick Holden, Matt Grzelcyk
Agree? Disagree? Let’s hear it, Bruins fans. I’m well aware that I don’t really know what I’m talking about, but don’t be afraid to remind me.
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