Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk skated in a red noncontact jersey during Wednesday morning’s practice at TD Garden, rejoining the team for the first time since going down with a head injury in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final last week.
“I’m feeling good,” Grzelcyk said. “It was obviously nice to be back with the team and get out there and take some reps on the ice.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy said Grzelcyk remains in concussion protocol but will be able to play once he is cleared. According to the NHL, the decision will be made by the team physician.
“When he gets cleared, he’ll be ready to go,” Cassidy said. “Whether that’s by tomorrow or not, I couldn’t tell you.”
Grzelcyk did not travel to St. Louis for Games 3 and 4. His availability for Thursday’s Game 5 has become an even more urgent issue after captain Zdeno Chara left the ice with a facial injury in Game 4.
Cassidy said having Grzelcyk back on the ice gives the group “a little bit more confidence” that his return is near. Grzelcyk, too, is hopeful.
“The toughest thing is just not being out there with the team,” Grzelcyk said. “Having to sit and watch is obviously tough when you get to this stage. I’m just happy to be back around the guys. I’m feeling a lot more like myself and hopefully I get cleared to play.”
If Grzelcyk is unable to play, the Bruins will likely turn to veteran Steven Kampfer as their sixth defenseman. The pairings at practice were Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo, John Moore-Charlie McAvoy, Kampfer-Connor Clifton.
Twenty-year-old Urho Vaakanainen was also considered a possibility, but Cassidy called that option “a long shot.” One of the Black Aces, Vaakanainen has occasionally practiced with the Bruins during their playoff run. He made his NHL debut in October and suffered a concussion in his next game before spending the remainder of the season in Providence.
“It’s just the stage we’re in now,” Cassidy said. “We’re in Game 5 of this type of series. If we were [earlier] in the playoffs, maybe it’d be a little different for a guy to get acclimated. But we’re so far along now, it’d be difficult.”
Staying the course
Cassidy did not have an update on Chara, who was not at practice Wednesday. The coach expects to have a prognosis Thursday.
Does the uncertainty surrounding Grzelcyk and Chara create any sort of advantage for the Bruins? Cassidy was skeptical.
“I don’t think so,” he said. “I think they’re going to play their game. They’ve been true to themselves. They want to establish their forecheck, O-zone puck possession, territory. I don’t think that’s changed. I don’t think it will change.”
St. Louis coach Craig Berube said his team will prepare as if Chara is able to play. Their game plan stays the same regardless of Chara’s status, he added.
“We just have to be ready to go, whether he’s in or out,” Berube said. “That team over there is very good. They’re going to be hungry, they’re going to be desperate. We got to come with that desperation and that hunger too and not worry about whether Chara is playing or not.”
“He’s their leader,” added forward Vladimir Tarasenko. “But we try to focus on us more. Whether he plays or not, we have a game plan we need to follow.”
For every goal scored by the Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final, Beantown Blankets — a Massachusetts-based organization started by Babson grad Maxwell Perry — is donating 100 blankets to the New England Center and Home for Veterans. Through four games, 1,500 blankets have been donated.