BUFFALO — The Bruins returned to action here Thursday night, working with the equity that a five-game winning streak affords: very little in the way of roster moves.
Coach Bruce Cassidy returned with the same 12 forwards who suited up for Tuesday night’s 2-0 blanking of the Sabres, and swapped in only Steve Kampfer on defense. The move bumped rookie Jakub Zboril to the sidelines.
Jeremy Swayman (4-1-0) was in net, trading places with Tuukka Rask, a move that was planned prior to the start of a three-game set that will wrap up here Friday night at KeyBank Center.
Cassidy, in a Zoom session with the media following the morning skate, noted that he altered Wednesday’s original plan for a full off-day skate in part because a number of players (he did not denote how many) felt they needed a break after being vaccinated for COVID-19.
“It was an optional,” explained Cassidy, who took a rare day off ice himself Wednesday, leaving his four assistant coaches in charge of the workout. “We had some guys that did get the vaccine — I can’t give you an exact number — but some were feeling better than others coming after it.”
The players received the injections, said Cassidy, following the game Tuesday night.
“So we allowed them to make the decision; if you’re not feeling right, then get out of here and get ready for [Thursday],” he said. “So there was a little bit of that, and when there’s less than a full group, a different [coaching] voice can be good. It was no more than that; a little bit of change of pace.”
Sharpening up Rask
Rask, among those who opted out of Wednesday’s workout, is expected to make the start in the series wrapup Friday, though that decision won’t be made until the morning.
It’s highly unlikely a full squad will be on the ice for Friday morning’s workout, which won’t help the veteran goaltender sharpen his eye in the morning-of-game skate.
If not Rask, Cassidy could opt to start Jaro Halak, the veteran backup who last played on April 3, prior to beginning an extended stay on the NHL’s “unavailable” list linked to COVID protocols.
The plan remains for the Bruins to revert to the trusty Rask-Halak tandem for the start of the playoffs (possibly as early as the weekend of May 15-16), but it’s possible Swayman works his way into the backup role.
There will be only 10 games remaining in the regular season when the Bruins take on the Penguins in Sunday’s matinee in Pittsburgh, and as Cassidy noted earlier in the week, a key factor down the stretch will be making sure that Rask, 34, handles a sufficient workload prior to the postseason.
Because of a lower-back injury, Rask has played in only 18 games thus far, and will finish with his lightest workload since playing in only 23 games in 2011-12, when he was still No. 2 to Tim Thomas the season after the Stanley Cup win.
Sabres start rookie
The Sabres Friday night handed the net to 6-foot-4-inch prospect Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, a 22-year-old Finn who will be in the 4x6 for his first career start. Luukkonen was the 54th pick in the 2017 draft and first came to North America a year later to play for OHL Sudbury before turning pro. He was 8-9-2 with AHL Rochester this season before joining the varsity … Ondrej Kase, out of the lineup since suffering a concussion in the second game of the season, did not make the trip. He has been skating on his own in Boston, a projected return date not yet determined. It’s quite possible he won’t play again in the regular season and might also be a postseason scratch. “I don’t have a great answer to predict the future on him,” said Cassidy, while noting that Kase at least hasn’t regressed. “Obviously, we are running out of racetrack, so to speak, to get him in the lineup here. It would be nice to have that option.” … Defenseman Kevan Miller should be in the lineup Friday night, subbing out either Connor Clifton or Kampfer … The April 12 addition of Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar to the forward group has kept both Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman on the sidelines, essentially rendering them taxi squadders. Frederic, because of his willingness to engage in fights, could have the better chance of a return, especially if Cassidy senses some muscle is needed in a series, say, with the Capitals.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.