NEWARK — The NHL has yet to make public when its playoffs will begin, and the tight scrum at the top of the East Division among the Capitals, Penguins, Islanders, and Bruins makes for a fool’s errand when trying to figure Round 1 matchups.
His club needing but a single point to lock down the final East playoff berth, before facing the Devils in the first of a two-game set, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said priority No. 1 would be charting a goaltending plan for the remaining regular-season games.
“Assuming we get in, then we would look at goalie rotation — what’s the best plan?” he said. “Tuukka [Rask] won’t play [Tuesday]. What’s the best plan going forward for him?”
Rask (13-4-2) played in his 22nd game Monday and is certain to finish the season with his lightest workload since making only 29 appearance as Tim Thomas’s backup in the Stanley Cup-winning 2010-11 season.
The Bruins’ focus will be on getting Rask enough work to keep his game tuned, while avoiding aggravating a recent injury (believed to be a back strain) and remaining rested of mind and body.
The next part of the discussion, for management and coaching crew to chew over, will be whether the best fit for postseason backup will be veteran Jaro Halak (9-6-3) or rookie Jeremy Swayman (6-2-0). The first hint could come Tuesday in the rematch here, depending which of the two gets the call.
Halak, who spent much of April in COVID protocol, has made only a relief appearance of 17:19 (April 23) since his last 60-minute effort April 3. The obvious question: If he is the backup choice, is there enough time to get him the requisite work to prepare, even if his postseason role is only as Rask’s second?
Swayman, who made his NHL debut April 6, made his eighth start in 26 days in Saturday’s 6-2 win over Buffalo. Of the three available goaltenders, the ex-Maine Black Bear has been by far the busiest B over the last month. But there’s no telling whether he’ll be prepped as Rask’s backup or destined to watch the postseason from a COVID-safe location in the arena yet to be named.
“When are we starting?” asked Cassidy. “That can affect a lot of [decisions] down the stretch. Is there a little bit of time between the Washington game, No. 56 [May 11 in D.C.], and when we start?”
The best guess, with an emphasis on guess: The earliest date for a postseason puck drop would be Friday, May 14. Much of the decision-making stems around what happens in the North (Canadian) Division, specifically whether the Flames and Canucks remain in a hunt for a playoff berth. The two clubs are scheduled to play one another May 16, 18, and 19. If they’ve been eliminated before the 14th, the league likely would be comfortable opening up play then for the 16 playoff squads.
“Then, obviously, health of players always comes into it,” Cassidy said. “Who needs to play and who is good? Some of that is the eye test from us and what we think, and some of it is a discussion with the players. Then keeping your game sharp and winning hockey games. You always want to go into the playoffs playing well and winning — never want to lose sight of that.”
In terms of matchups, Cassidy agreed with a reporter’s assessment that facing the Penguins, Capitals, or Islanders is a pick-your-poison scenario.
The Bruins were the hottest of the bunch (9-2-0 going into Monday) since the April 12 trade deadline. The Penguins were 7-2-1, followed by the Capitals (5-3-1) and Islanders (4-4-1).
“There’s no easy matchups in this division,” Cassidy said. “I don’t think any coach would tell you they are looking for a certain one 90 percent of the time. There might be the odd time you have a real good record against a team and you say, ‘Hey, that would work really well for us,’ or a style of play, but I think in our division they’re all strong teams and you’ll have a handful no matter who you get.”
Milestone for Marchand
Brad Marchand played in his 800th regular-season game Monday. He began the night leading the Bruins in scoring at 27-34—61, which ranked seventh in the league. Not bad for a mid-Round 3 pick (No. 71 in ’06) who cracked the lineup more than a decade ago as a fourth-line pest.
Marchand said he was unaware that he was reaching 800 until Matt Falconer, a member of the equipment crew, mentioned it to him in the morning.
“A nice little milestone,” said the left winger, who’ll turn 33 next Tuesday. " I think the biggest thing, as you get older, it’s all about how you take care of yourself.”
Rest for Reilly mixes up blue line
Mike Reilly, a dependable back-line addition since coming aboard from Ottawa at the trade deadline, was given the night off to tend to a minor injury. Jakub Zboril drew back into the six-pack … Veteran Kevan Miller suited up as one of the back-line six, but he will not play Tuesday, keeping to his plan not to play on back-to-back nights so as not to tax his surgically repaired knee … Brandon Carlo, who exited with a injury to an oblique muscle April 1, is expected to play Tuesday and likely will be reunited with Matt Grzelcyk on the No. 2 defense pairing.
Critical stretch for DeBrusk
Jake DeBrusk (cap hit $3.675 million) remained in the lineup as the No. 4 left winger with Curtis Lazar and Karson Kuhlman. DeBrusk led the team stretch following the morning workout. He needs to catch fire, be it now or in the playoffs, for the Bruins not to shop him this offseason. He carries too high a ticket to play that deep in the rotation, especially if general manager Don Sweeney needs to turn over the sofa cushions to find enough coin to sign UFA Taylor Hall … Many Bruins received their first COVID vaccinations after the game April 20. That would position them for final injections on or about May 14. “Some are awaiting Phase 2,” Cassidy confirmed. “I’m not sure when that will fall, but it will be interesting if it is the middle of the playoffs, something I’ll have to keep an eye on.” The second injection frequently triggers flulike symptoms, including fatigue, that typically resolve in 24-48 hours.