fb-pixel Skip to main content
Kevin Paul Dupont | On hockey

Matt Grzelcyk will be missed on the Bruins blue line

Matt Grzelcyk (center) is helped off after being steamrolled in Game 2.stan grossfeld/globe staff/Globe Staff

The Bruins on Wednesday night lost one of their little defensemen, Matt Grzelcyk, and you’d be correct to believe that’s a big deal.

Grzelcyk, all 5 feet 9 inches and 175 pounds of him, may be only a third-pairing defenseman, but he packs a 55-gallon drum of value into his usual 14-17 minutes of ice time a night.

Most important of all, facing a St. Louis game plan engineered on pressure, particularly on the forecheck, the quick-and-agile Grzelcyk was able to turn his back to the heat, fetch pucks, then deal to his defensive partner or make the quick distribution to his center or wing. That first good clean pass is one of his top assets.


All of that went away in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final when Grzelcyk was sent skittering nearly all the way to Sullivan Square in his hometown Charlestown on a hit by a hard-charging Oskar Sundqvist.

The Blues forward was handed a one-game suspension Thursday, and will have to sit out Game 3 Saturday in St. Louis, while Grizz sits at home with shades pulled and TV volume down low, waiting for the symptoms of his Sundqvist-concussion hangover to abate.

The Blues will take that swap, gladly. A fourth-line forward for a versatile third-pairing defenseman with puck-moving mojo? Every. Day. Of. The. Week. And twice on any day in the Final, which now stands tied at one win apiece.

Meanwhile, the Bruins are left to plan for life without Grizz, how to patchwork around the loss of his work at even strength (9:54 in Game 1), on the penalty kill (1:53 G1), and the power play (2:25 G1).

Again, he’s not just your average short guy, filling minutes on the No. 3 D pairing. Also, his loss is only accentuated in that the Bruins have gone all playoffs long without the services of his partner, the broad-shouldered, heavy-hitting Kevan Miller, who remains sidelined by a knee injury.


One-third of Boston’s best defensive six-pack is now considered a scratch for the Final duration, which underscores the playoff truism: When battling for the Cup, there is no such thing as having too many defensemen.

“Losing 16 minutes of Grizz’s time, a good puck mover, a guy who can break down the other team’s forecheck when he’s on the ice, that’s where we miss him the most,” said coach Bruce Cassidy. “Getting back on pucks. He’s pretty good at a quick escape move, a good clean pass, hit forwards going through the neutral zone.

“That’s a strength of our game. We lost some of that element.”

It certainly showed in Game 2, once Grzelcyk exited for the night with 2:03 remaining in the first period. The Bruins had seven shots and were in a 2-2 tie as he made his way up the street to Massachusetts General Hospital for testing. When the night ended, the Bruins had collected only 16 more shots. They also didn’t score again. They were challenged even to land a good scoring chance. They also lost the game.

Not all of that can be attributed to losing Grzelcyk, but with him out of the rotation, the Bruins were in survival mode on the back line, coping with only a five-man D unit and a Blues game plan easier to implement with the Bruins having to improvise.


Now what? Cassidy likely will call on John Moore, one of the club’s free agent pickups last July, to work the No. 3 pairing with rookie Connor Clifton. If not Moore, then it will be journeyman Steve Kampfer (acquired in the Adam McQuaid swap in September).

Moore is a lefthanded stick, like Grzelcyk, and therefore would plug in easily on the left side. Kampfer is a righty, which likely would mean flipping Clifton over to the left side, his off-lane.

None of this is ideal, because none of those guys, Clifton included, can bring the overall game the Bruins had in the Grzelcyk-Miller tandem. They were one of the game’s best added-value tandems in the league’s 31 sets of No. 3 D pairings.

But to borrow an old NBA phrase from the land of Causeway parquet, those guys aren’t walking down the tunnel any time soon.

Moore is a fluid, fast skater, and therefore likely gets the nod. The Bruins will want to do everything they can to negate the Blues’ forecheck pressure. Faster is better from a Bruins perspective. The issue will be whether Moore can retrieve pucks cleanly, gain possession while under pressure, then put his wheels to good use with a pass to Clifton or headman the puck to one of his forwards.

“I’m not worried about them coming in,” said Cassidy. “They’ve played in the playoffs. Next man up, we’ve done that a lot this year.”

True. They just haven’t done it when they are in a 200-foot bar fight with the Blues, who, like the Bruins, stand but three W’s from a championship.


Attrition is upon the Bruins now, and the Blues are well aware that another casualty in Boston’s back end — they’ll be looking at you, Torey Krug — could set them up perfectly for their first Cup in franchise history.

Suddenly, the loss of Matt Grzelcyk means more than anyone imagined even one week ago.

Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at kevin.dupont@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeKPD.