One week away from launching their playoff run — be it short or long or somewhere in between — the Bruins Wednesday afternoon are expected to have Tuukka Rask back in net and returnee Nick Ritchie working left wing on the No. 2 line centered by David Krejci.
“You look at other games around the league — even the Washington-Tampa game, that was pretty much a war out there,” mused Bruins winger Jake DeBrusk, “and we know we are walking into teams that are pretty much ready already, so I think it will be good for us to get exposed to that. It usually brings out the best in us.
“We definitely need a response here — and fast.”
The game on Wednesday, 4 p.m. in Toronto, will have the Bruins facing Tampa Bay in Game 2 of a three-game round-robin series that will determine whether the Bruins are seeded first, second, third, of fourth when first-round Stanley Cup play begins next week.
Thus far, the Bruins have been flatter than the Alberta plains since arriving in the Eastern bubble, suffering an exhibition loss to Columbus last Thursday and then getting dismissed, 4-1, by the Flyers Sunday.
They have been low on energy, short on execution and scoring, and nearly bereft of the aggressive contact that is always essential for postseason success. Nothing about their first two games was essential in the overall Cup scheme of things, and that will be true again Wednesday and Sunday (the round-robin wrapup vs. the Capitals), but they need to start recovering their A-game before entering next week’s elimination play.
“We’re trying to build our game and get better every time out.,” coach Bruce Cassidy noted after Tuesday’s workout in Toronto. “We’re going to need to be [better] if we want to beat Tampa. Looking forward to it, and I think the guys are, too.
“It’s a tough mental part right now. You don’t know who your opponent’s going to be next week. You still want to pick up wins, but you are trying to balance that urgency with preparing for your first playoff opponent.”
Ritchie, yet to see any action in Toronto, returns on Krejci’s left, the spot he was pegged to fill when the Bruins acquired him from Anaheim at the February trade deadline.
“It was tough, obviously, missing some time,” acknowledged Ritchie, who at 6-2, 230 is the biggest body in the club’s top-six group of forwards. “But I’m feeling good now and looking forward to playing.”
Karson Kuhlman practiced on Krejci’s right wing Tuesday, a spot he is expected soon to cede to Ondrej Kase, the Bruins’ other deadline pickup from the Ducks. Jack Studnicka filled that spot in the two previous games in Toronto, but he’ll be a scratch vs. the Lightning.
“The trade was made for that purpose,” said Cassidy, noting that Kase was acquired specifically as a Krejci running mate. “We know we can draw [David Pastrnak] down, but then who goes up [to join Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron]? It would be nice if Ondrej and David got some chemistry —a guy who likes to make plays and a guy who likes to shoot. That was the design.”
Otherwise, Bergeron’s No. 1 line remains intact, while Charlie Coyle will center Anders Bjork (LW) and DeBrusk (RW). DeBrusk looked comfortable at that spot in the days leading up to the unexpected long break that began March 12.
Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly, and Chris Wagner (the lone goal Sunday) will remain intact as the fourth-line grind gang.
Time is a factor
Cassidy said he remains uncertain whether to come back with Rask for Sunday’s wrapup vs. the Capitals. One factor, he said, would be the time of faceoff (TBD). He might prefer for Rask to start, but also would want him rested sufficiently for next week, especially if the Bruins open Tuesday instead of Wednesday. “Let’s get him through [Wednesday], then have a conversation,” said Cassidy. “Some of those things will be determined by the schedule and how he feels.” … Studnicka skated in a spares group with fellow forwards Trent Frederic and Kase, along with extra blue liners Jakub Zboril and Urho Vaakanainen … Ritchie, on how he fits with Krejci: “I don’t need to think about it too much; it’s a hockey game at the end of the day. Hopefully I can complement him by playing the style I play — his creativity combined with me driving a straight line to the net, winning puck battles, hopefully that works out for us.” … Jaro Halak, in net for the full 60 against the Flyers, had not appeared in a postseason game since 2015 with the Islanders.