The Bruins stuck with Jaroslav Halak in goal for Game 3 against the Lightning Wednesday night, his third game in four nights. Puck drop was set for less than 24 hours after Halak faced a heavy workload in Game 2: 86 shot attempts, 40 shots, and 36 saves.
Those numbers aside, coach Bruce Cassidy trusted that his 35-year-old netminder was rested enough for another go, keeping Dan Vladar’s NHL odometer at zero games.
Until the second period, that is. The Lightning lit up Halak, and Vladar became the fourth goalie in more than 50 years to see his first NHL shots in the playoffs.
The others: Jake Allen (Blues) in 2012, Mike Richter (Rangers) in 1989, and Daniel Berthiaume (Jets) in 1986. The latter two were starters.
Asked before the game how the 23-year-old Vladar would handle playoff heat if called on, Cassidy said, “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 afraid of putting him in there.”
Cassidy didn’t have to, given the conditions in the NHL’s playoff bubble. Travel between cities makes a typical back-to-back more tiring. Not so in this scenario. Though the schedule has been compressed, Halak was able to refuel, rest, and sleep in after Game 2.
Former NHL goalie Kelly Hrudey understands Halak’s situation. Hrudey held the record for saves in a game — 73, in a four-overtime playoff affair with the Islanders — for 33 years, until Columbus’s Joonas Korpisalo stopped 85 pucks in five OTs against Tampa Bay in the first round this year.
Commenting on Sportsnet’s broadcast in Canada about Game 2 of the Vegas-Vancouver series, Hrudey noted how the Golden Knights stressed Canucks goalie Jacob Markstrom.
“I’m looking at 93 shot attempts and I’m thinking, ‘He must be exhausted!’ ” Hrudey said.
Entering Game 3, Halak had faced 77 shots and 139 attempts in a 51-hour period. He was set for his greatest two-night workload since Jan. 13-14, when he entered the latter game in Columbus after starting the night before in Philadelphia. Halak relieved an injured Tuukka Rask with 1:12 gone in the first period.
Going to the 7-11
With a few ailments among his forward unit, Cassidy went with 11 attackers and seven defensemen.
Sean Kuraly, Anders Bjork, and Connor Clifton were scratches. Par Lindholm drew in, as did defensemen John Moore and Jeremy Lauzon.
Moore was playing his first game since March 10. Lauzon played twice in the Carolina series. Lindholm played three times.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper used an 11-7 lineup in Game 2, balancing the weight his blue-line corps would carry in the absence of heavy lifter Ryan McDonagh. The injured defenseman was missing again in Game 3.
Cassidy said he contemplated an 11-7 roster heading into the back-to-back. In doing so, he could keep Charlie McAvoy’s minutes reasonable and save wear and tear on “some smaller guys” (read: Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk) that have taken a pounding from Tampa’s forecheck.
“The disadvantage of seven D is finding your rhythm as a defenseman,” Cassidy said. “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.”
Middle men needed
Bjork’s first postseason has not been a smooth ride.
Bjork’s ice time (19:34 at five-on-five) is the lowest of any Bruin in the Tampa Bay series. He was the only Bruins skater to not see the ice during the four minutes and 40 seconds of overtime in Game 2.
The speedy winger has taken 21 hits in the playoffs, according to Natural Stat Trick, second-most among Bruins forwards. No Bruin has been hit more in the Tampa series than Bjork (eight).
While he has drawn four penalties in nine playoff games, tied for most on the team, his five giveaways are tied for second-most among forwards, which isn't ideal for a player not known to hang onto the puck and make plays.
Cassidy acknowledged Bjork has had a tough go, but he is not alone.
When asked about the game-readiness of Black Aces such as Trent Frederic and Zach Senyshyn, the coach said it would be a “big ask,” and pivoted.
“What we do need is better from the middle of our group,” he said. “That second layer of our group that have been in the league and who could be the future of the Boston Bruins.”
Without naming them, Cassidy was likely speaking about his age-23-to-25 players: Jake DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo, Bjork, Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, and Clifton.
“These are guys that can really make a name for themselves in this playoff,” Cassidy said. “We’ve had a decade-long production from our top end and our core. They show up to play every night.”
In a back-to-back, he said, “It’s time for those guys to step up and pull the veteran core along. And what I mean is energy-wise. Obviously, Brad Marchand to me was the best player on the ice [in Game 2]. He doesn’t need any help. He’s fine. He’s going to show up and play.
“Some of the other guys that we rely on were brought in. It’s time for them to pull a little harder on the rope.”
Marchand again was good in Game 3, scoring the Bruins’ only goal.