CHICAGO — In the third period here Sunday, which the Bruins entered with a 2-1 lead, coach Bruce Cassidy played mix-and-match with his second and third lines. He was sending a message to a couple of his players, particularly wingers David Pastrnak and Matt Beleskey, both of whom started the matinee as second liners, only to finish it second-rate.
In explaining the moves, Cassidy first said he made them to find “consistency in defending,” then amended his words to say it was about shaping lines that were harder to play against.
“I think there were some players tonight . . . , ” said Cassidy, reluctant to name names immediately following the 3-2 win over the Blackhawks, “ . . . the one message before the game, we’ve always had our legs in these back-to-backs . . . our energy’s been good. But it’s will [i.e. effort] around the puck. When [the Blackhawks] have the puck, they are very dangerous.”
Cassidy wanted to see more of that in his Black-and-Gold rank-and file. His second line started the day with Beleskey on left wing with David Krejci and Pastrnak on the right. By game’s end, rookie call-up Sean Kuraly (four shot attempts to Beleskey’s two) was Krecji’s left winger, and Drew Stafford (two shots on net to Pastrnak’s zero) was the right winger.
“We’ve got to have our share of the puck,” said Cassidy, “and willingness to compete, take a hit, absorb some contact to keep it. I thought a couple of players were giving up too easily.”
Message-sending? You bet, said Cassidy.
“Listen,” he added, “we are digging in . . . be hard on the puck . . . the soft plays, there’s really no good time of year, but this is really not the good time of year.”
Ready to clinch
The Bruins can clinch a playoff berth Tuesday night if they defeat the visiting Lightning in regulation.
Any win, be it regulation, overtime, or shootout, would leave the Bruins with 94 points after 80 games. But if the Lightning (88 points in 78 games) were to leave the building with 89 points, they would still have the chance of surpassing the Bruins in total points.
Even with a regulation win Tuesday, the Bruins still would not know their final seeding (or first-round opponent) for the playoffs. Ultimately, the Atlantic Division will deliver the weakest wild card (in terms of points) to the tournament and will face the Eastern Conference top seed. As of Monday morning, three clubs (Washington, Pittsburgh, and Columbus) still were in contention for the conference’s No. 1 standing.
His time has come
Cassidy’s third-period line shuffling on Sunday could open a window of opportunity for Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson to make his NHL debut Tuesday night. Forsbacka Karlsson agreed Sunday to leave BU following his sophomore season and sign his three-year entry-level contract — and in doing so immediately burned a year off the contract.
Bruins president Cam Neely confirmed late Monday afternoon that the club had assisted Forsbacka Karlsson in applying for his work visa, but it remained in question whether the visa can be processed prior to the game against the Bolts.
A righthanded shot, Forsbacka Karlsson was drafted in 2015 as a center, but most centers adapt easily to the wing. If Cassidy wants to look at him on the right side, a logical place to start would be on the third line, with Ryan Spooner at center and perhaps Stafford shifted to his off (left) wing. Such a move would take Beleskey out of the lineup.
As of late Monday morning, the Bruins had not assigned Forsbacka Karlsson a sweater, though No. 17 might be appropriate — covering the year he signed, as well as a nod to Boston’s other JFK, born May 29, 1917.
Forsbacka Karlsson will be on the ice for the first time with his new teammates Tuesday in the morning workout, held at Warrior Ice Arena in Brighton.
Anton Khudobin said after his win Sunday, his sixth in a row, that he was nervous prior to taking the ice at the United Center. He had not played in a week and with an 11:30 a.m. start (Central time), he missed the routine of the day-of-game skate.
“I was nervous, but the guys did a hell of a job,” said Khudobin, who faced 43 shots, a season high against the Bruins. “They boxed out and I was able to see the puck . . . and then I relaxed.”
Khudobin will return to his backup role Tuesday, Cassidy sure to go with Tuukka Rask the rest of the way, or at least until a playoff spot is secured. Rask won his third straight start Saturday against the Panthers, then watched while Khudobin improved to 7-5-1.
Kuraly’s spot at risk
Kuraly was in the lineup for his sixth NHL game on Sunday. With the signing of Forsbacka Karlsson, it’s possible that Kuraly will be returned to AHL Providence, but Cassidy sounded impressed by the former Miami University standout.
“He’s hard on the pucks, pursues pucks, I think he will help our lineup in that regard,” said Cassidy, noting that he sees some Brad Marchand-like tendencies in Kuraly’s overall game.
“He wants to be on [the puck],” he added. “That plays well for a winger. It’s a little tougher for a centerman to be chasing it all over the ice, but as a winger it will play to his strengths.”
Kevan Miller showed some uncharacteristic offensive flourish when he broke over the blue line and snapped home a wrister for Boston’s 3-1 lead midway through the second. It was his third goal of the season.
“He was just showing off,” kidded Cassidy. “Hey, you need some of those goals. They got one from [Jordan] Tootoo (only 45 seconds after Miller’s goal) and he doesn’t normally get them. So good teams need them from all sources.
“Good composure by [Miller] to have the presence of mind to pick his way through [the defense] and make a good shot across the body. I think he surprised their goalie.”
“I kind of looked to my right and saw an opening,” said Miller, “and just made a play.”