While the Bruins’ top-liners have been the show-stealers through the early stages of the Stanley Cup playoff matchup with the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston’s overall depth has allowed it to put together dominant wins in the series’ first two games.
The possible return of third-line center Riley Nash could add to that in Game 3 on Monday.
Out since March 31 after being struck in the ear by a stray slapshot, Nash began skating in practice this week and could be cleared to make his postseason debut in Toronto.
“Riley Nash is looking good,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “So he will be a guy that could go into the lineup [Monday].”
Nash required more than 40 stitches after a snapshot by teammate Torey Krug struck him in the side of the head. The Bruins were cautious with his recovery as he was still dealing with lingering concussion-like symptoms.
The 28-year-old center had a career year with 15 goals and 26 assists.
The versatility he brings across multiple units is invaluable, Cassidy said.
“It’s just another guy you put in the lineup that we trust to do the job at both ends of the ice,” Cassidy said.
“Clearly the [Patrice] Bergeron line is doing a lot of the damage, but all year we won 50 games because of our support people and I put Riley in that category. He’s gravitating out of that to one of your main guys when you start playing 16-17 minutes a night, but that’s what he’s going to bring.
“A little bit of everything — faceoffs, 200-foot game, matchup guy, kill penalties. He’s gone into the power-play position when we’ve had injuries. He’s moved up to the top line. He can fill in and move up and still produce when a guy like Bergeron was hurt or [David] Krejci. So that’s what he brings.”
The possibility of Nash returning would immediately snap other pieces of the Bruins’ lineup back in place. Noel Acciari could slide to the physical fourth line. Nash could work the penalty kill again with Tim Schaller.
“It just sort of sorts everything out for us a little better,” Cassidy said.
Tommy Wingels could also be back on the ice after taking a ferocious hit along the side boards from Toronto’s Nazem Kadri in Game 1 and sitting out Game 2.
“I think he’ll be very close as well,” Cassidy said. “We’ve just got to decide what our best fit is for the lineup. Let’s say they’re both healthy, if they both go in, who goes out?”
After being kicked out of the faceoff too many times for his liking, all Bergeron wanted was an explanation. He asked Cassidy to talk to the supervisor of officials to find out what was going on.
The problem? The answer could change from one official to another.
“I could discuss it, the next night another linesman’s comes in and he’s got an area that he scrutinizes more than the next guy,” Cassidy said.
Despite their dominance of the Maple Leafs in the first two games of this series, faceoffs have been complicated propositions for the Bruins. Toronto has won 55.5 percent of the faceoffs and the Bruins have had to play musical chairs more than a few times because someone was moved off the red dot.
“It’s been a strength of ours all year,” Cassidy said. “I guess it’s concerning a little that our guys are getting tossed a lot. As much as they may or may not give us an explanation, I would hope that they give guys like Krejci and Bergy that’ve been in this league a long time some sort of level of, ‘Here, this is what we expect.’
“Having said that, if it happens, we’ve got to work on correcting it and the next guy in has to be mindful of, ‘Hey, we need to win faceoffs with help.’ If our center’s constantly getting thrown out, then the other four guys have to be on their toes. And that’s it. I don’t know what else you can do from there.”
Bergeron averaged 21.4 faceoffs per game during the regular season. He’s down to just 19.5 over the first two games of the series.
As a result, Brad Marchand’s faceoff duties have ticked up from 1.9 a game in the regular season to 5.5 so far in the playoffs.
The changes to the NHL’s faceoff rules drew heavy criticism at the start of the season. Now, Krejci said, it feels like adjusting all over again.
“When you were going into the regular season with those new rules, you kind of had to figure it out,” Krejci said. “Once you did it was fine. But it kind of seems like we’re reverting back to the beginning again. Just kind of trying to figure it out. But at the same time, you just kind of have to do what you do and hope the refs don’t throw you out. It happened way too many times. Not just me, but Bergy, too. So just got to figure it out and that’s all it is.”
Breaking the ice
It didn’t take long for rookie winger Jake DeBrusk to settle into the postseason. The 21-year-old punched in his first career goal on a power play midway through the first period Saturday night. He now has a goal and an assist in the series. But the goal helped take the edge off. “It was a really good feeling to see that go in. It was something that you always dream of as a kid,” DeBrusk said. “It was pretty special. You want to get your first one as fast as possible, especially in the Stanley Cup playoffs where the stakes are so high.” . . . The Bruins are 24-7 in seven-game series when they’ve taken a 2-0 lead. The Maple Leafs are 4-16 when they’ve fallen into an 0-2 hole.