NEWARK — Their playoff berth locked down here Monday night, the Bruins returned to the Prudential Center 24 hours later with a slightly revised look on defense, with the return of veteran blue liners Brandon Carlo and a rested Mike Reilly.
Kevan Miller and Jakub Zboril, both of whom played well in Monday night’s 3-0 win over the Devils, moved to the sideline.
Reilly, Carlo, and Miller, noted coach Bruce Cassidy, all are pegged as fixtures on the back end once the playoffs start, along with Charlie McAvoy, Jeremy Lauzon, and Matt Grzelcyk, who potted his fifth goal of the season Monday.
“Who’s the best D partner for Reilly?” asked Cassidy, who is still sorting out how best to assemble the pairings. “Carlo’s coming to the game late, and [Reilly] hasn’t really played with McAvoy, so it might be Miller by default. But could it be Brandon Carlo? That would allow us [to pair] McAvoy with Lauzon — if we want to keep it that way — and then Grzelcyk with Miller or Carlo.”
In short, there is still some minor tinkering with what the Bruins believe will be a stout rear six, with Steven Kampfer, Jarred Tinordi, Connor Clifton, and Zboril providing the depth that is often desperately needed in the postseason.
“I don’t think it’s messing around too much, by any means,” said Cassidy. “Those are probably going to be our six, if everyone’s healthy. It’s just who goes with who, depending on matchup.”
Carlo, who suffered a concussion March 5 when hammered by Washington’s Tom Wilson, was back in the lineup for the first time since April 1. Post-concussion, he played his first game March 30 vs. the Devils, then exited again when straining an oblique muscle after logging only 6:59 vs. the Penguins two nights later.
Cassidy opted to start the night by reuniting Carlo with Grzelcyk on the No. 2 pairing, and Reilly partnered with Clifton on the No. 3 pairing. Lauzon remained with McAvoy on the No. 1 pairing. Carlo also played some with Reilly.
Halak gets start
Tuukka Rask, who tied Billy Smith Monday with 305 career victories (No. 32 all time), moved out of the net for veteran backup Jaroslav Halak to face the Devils Tuesday.
Halak (9-6-4), making his first start since April 3, was sidelined much of the month while on the COVID-19 “unavailable” list.
Rask, who also recorded his 52nd career shutout Monday, will enter the postseason slated once again to start every game. The question remains whether his backup will be Halak, the trusted veteran, or rookie Jeremy Swayman, who has been very impressive (6-2-0) in his relatively small sampling.
Cassidy said in his Tuesday morning Zoom session that he has Rask pegged to play two more games, both at home, which would have him in net for one of the upcoming games vs. the Rangers, and then Monday night vs. the Islanders (a potential Round 1 matchup).
By that calculation, Rask would not be the guy for next Tuesday’s season wrap-up in Washington. But that could change if, say, a win there could mean clinching first place in the division and home-ice advantage for the first two playoff rounds.
“Tuukka won’t play back-to-back,” said Cassidy. “We won’t put him in that position; we haven’t done that all year. So he probably wouldn’t be in the Washington game. After that, we’ll sort out who gets what game.”
It’s possible that some of the older veteran forwards — mainstays Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, and Brad Marchand — will be rested for a game or two down the stretch.
“Maybe; we have one more back-to-back after tonight,” said Cassidy. “We did not really think about it [for Tuesday night], because Monday wasn’t really a taxing night, minute-wise, on the forward group. But next Monday-Tuesday, how do we make that split?”
Much of that could depend on the playoff schedule and the opponent, all of which remains in question.
“What if we go into Washington and it’s for first place, or for home ice?” Cassidy said. “But first and foremost it will go to the players’ health — where are they at, how do they feel? — and then it will go from there.”
Nick Ritchie equaled his career-high mark of 14 goals with his opening strike Monday night. Ritchie looks to have settled in at left wing on the “656 Pound Line” with fellow heavies Sean Kuraly and Charlie Coyle, the latter of whom had flipped from pivot to right wing before suffering an undisclosed injury in the third period Tuesday night. “He’s been playing some good hockey. It’s been fun to play with him and Ritch,” said Kuraly, who fired nine shot attempts, landing four on net, one for a goal. “It puts a kink in it, you have to mix it up. Just hope Charlie is all right. I think he’ll be fine, but it’s kind of a bummer to lose a guy like that.” . . . The Bergeron line, with Marchand and David Pastrnak, posted a 1-2—3 line Tuesday and has totaled 16-23—39 in the 13 games since the April 12 trade deadline . . . The Krejci line, with Taylor Hall and Craig Smith, was shut out Monday, but got a goal from Hall and assist from Krejci on Tuesday. Their 13-game totals: 17-19—36 . . . Jake DeBrusk was the lone Bruins forward not to land a shot on net . . . Bergeron was a machine at the faceoff dot, winning 18 of 26, a number at the expense of New Jersey’s Mike McLeod (6 for 20) . . . Bergeron also landed all seven of his shot attempts . . . It’s sometimes difficult to remember that Ondrej Kase is still a Bruins employee. The 25-year-old winger, dealt a concussion in Game 2 of the season, remains in Boston and sometimes skates on his own at Warrior. There is no current plan as to when he might be able to participate in a team on-ice workout. He was injured Jan. 16.