Johansson skates with Bruins on eve of Tampa test
BRANDON, Fla. — Marcus Johansson was all smiles. He was happy to be there, happy to skate with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk again, even happy to battle hungry-dog rookie Karson Kuhlman in end-of-practice contact drills.
“Just fun to be out there with the guys,” he said after a Sunday workout at the Tampa Ice Sports Forum.
Of course it was. Johansson, who has watched more games as a Bruin (nine) than he has played (four), rejoined his teammates for the first time since a battering-ram hit by Carolina’s Micheal Ferland on March 5 sent him to Massachusetts General Hospital for an overnight stay with a lung contusion.
The Swedish winger, a trade deadline acquisition from New Jersey for a second- and a fourth-round pick, could return Monday night against the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Lightning. Coach Bruce Cassidy, always cautiously optimistic with such matters, said he considers Johansson a “game-time decision.”
The newcomer, yet to score in his No. 90 Bruins sweater (12-15—27 in 48 games with New Jersey), produced an assist on a pretty passing play in his Feb. 26 debut against the Sharks. The line showed instant, and intriguing, chemistry, playmakers Krejci and Johansson meshing with the hard-driving, fleet-footed DeBrusk.
Johansson’s return to that line would bump Kuhlman, who practiced Sunday on the right side of Danton Heinen and Charlie Coyle, down a line — or out of the group entirely.
Chris Wagner, riding with Heinen-Coyle of late, took Sunday off to address a minor, undisclosed matter. He could be back in Monday’s lineup.
“He’ll be fine,” Cassidy said, catching himself before writing in Walpole Wags. “It was a cautionary thing with him. He should be ready to go.”
Tuukka Rask will start in net for Boston, which has outscored three opponents (the Islanders, plus the non-playoff Devils and Panthers), 17-4, on this road trip.
The Bruins, trying to solidify their first-round, home-ice edge against the Leafs, are getting a somewhat-rested Lightning. Tampa was gassed when it lost, 4-1, in Boston on Feb. 28, its third game in four nights. The Bolts broke their seven-game winning streak Saturday on the road against a desperate St. Louis, going down, 3-0, in a 75-second span in the first period before losing, 4-3. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy surrendered four goals on 26 shots.
“Last time I thought we played them very well, so I’m sure they’ll have that in the back of their mind,” Cassidy said. “They’ve also clinched the top spot, so they may have other things that they’re worrying about. I can only worry about us. We want to keep playing well. I’m sure our guys will be excited to play, because it’s Tampa, and we’ve developed a nice rivalry with them.”
The playoffs begin April 10, two weeks from Wednesday. By then, the Bruins expect to have back two of their best defensive defensemen (Kevan Miller and Matt Grzelcyk) and their best puck-mover (Torey Krug).
While Grzelcyk (right arm) and Miller (upper body) skated with skills coach Kim Brandvold after practice, Krug (concussion) returned to practice and participated in everything but contact drills. He got stick taps from his teammates when he took to the ice. The Bruins plan to practice Tuesday, a day before hosting the Rangers at TD Garden. If Krug keeps progressing, logic dictates he could return Wednesday.
For the replacements, time is getting short.
Steven Kampfer, Connor Clifton, and John Moore are angling to be “next man up” come postseason. Each is versatile enough to play either side. Each needs to improve in certain areas to be worthy of regular status. Cassidy had post-practice talks with each on Sunday.
Kampfer, in the lineup the last six games after three months of healthy-scratch inactivity, scored a power play goal in Saturday’s 7-3 win over the Panthers, his former club. He starts and joins the rush effectively, but Cassidy wants the 30-year-old to defend better with his feet: Closing off plays with his skating, and keeping a tighter gap between himself and onrushing forwards.
After his first recall of nine games beginning Nov. 16, 23-year-old rookie Clifton reined in his wild-horse game. Since returning, the right-shot has not only made a transition to the left side, but has been confident, competitive and steady — so much so that his Sunday chat was brief.
“Kind of left him alone,” Cassidy said. “When guys are going well, you kind of give them a pat on the back, and not get in their way.”
Cassidy asked Moore, who was on the ice for all three Florida goals on Saturday, to park that night and move on. The 28-year-old, the third-most experienced defenseman on the roster, owns a high-level set of wheels but remains shy of his ceiling in Boston.
“It would be about making the right play consistently,” Cassidy said, noting that Zdeno Chara, Krug and Grzelcyk are ahead of Moore as lefties in the lineup. “Having a little better stick defensively. I think he can kill more plays. He’s got the foot speed and the willingness, it’s just the on-time stick. Some guys naturally have it. Some guys have to work at it.”