After struggling to return from a concussion sustained in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk was cleared to play in Wednesday night’s Game 7.
Speaking to reporters before 11 a.m. Wednesday, some nine hours before puck drop, coach Bruce Cassidy said he would likely drop the fleet-footed blue liner from Charlestown into his lineup for the biggest game of the season.
“He’ll be a game-time decision, but it looks like he’ll go in,” Cassidy said, adding that rookie Connor Clifton probably would come out of the lineup.
Grzelcyk did play in Game 7 and Clifton sat out the 4-1 loss. Grzelcyk scored the lone Bruins’ goal.
Grzelcyk skated the morning of Game 7 — “just to make sure,” Cassidy said — and was on the left side of a third pair with John Moore.
“Really excited to get back in there, hopefully,” said Grzelcyk, who was hurt when boarded by Oskar Sundqvist in Game 2 (the Blues’ fourth-line forward drew a one-game suspension for the hit). “It’s been tough watching.”
Cassidy believed Grzelcyk would be OK, even though he hasn’t taken contact in practices this week.
“It’s not like he just jumped on the ice yesterday,” Cassidy said. “At this time of the year, you’re not into a lot of contact in practice anyway.
“He’s been there. He’s been watching. He knows he’s got to get back in a hurry, make good decisions with it, take a hit to make a play if that’s what is required, which it usually is against this team.
“That’s the challenge in front of him. We’ve had discussions with him about it and he’ll be ready for it.”
Charlie McAvoy was happy to see his Boston University buddy on the way back.
“He’s an incredible puck mover,” McAvoy said. “He’s just kind of had that fire in his eye for the playoffs. He’s been playing awesome for us, and we’ve missed him terribly since he’s been out. He just gives us that extra jolt when it comes to breaking out.”
Grzelcyk shared fond memories of the previous Game 7 of the Cup Final, when the Bruins beat the Canucks. That day, June 15, 2011, was his last day playing for the Under-17 club of the US National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich. He celebrated there, then returned home for the parade in Boston.
“Just to be there and see it live, first-hand, was an experience I’ll never forget,” he said.
What was he expecting from the TD Garden crowd, witnessing its first championship Game 7 in any sport since the 1984 NBA Finals?
“Madness, really,” he said. “We’re expecting them to give us quite a lot of energy.”
No thinking ahead
Cassidy was asked before the game about his legacy, which has taken a 180-degree turn from his days as an overwhelmed NHL newbie in Washington from 2002-04.
“It was a long time ago,” he said. “I think those [questions] have been asked and answered. People grow as people. I’m not different.”
Like any coach, he was more focused on his players. He has spoken to several of them, including Torey Krug and Brad Marchand, about how they’ve been labeled. Krug, pegged as an offense-only defenseman, has proven himself a complete player this postseason (and a Conn Smythe candidate). Marchand has become a star after coming in “as a bit of a kind of pest,” Cassidy said, making air quotes with his fingers.
“So I haven’t thought about mine personally,” Cassidy said. “I just want my name on the damn Cup. That’s what I want. And then we can talk about it however you want.”
McAvoy wasn’t thinking about his legacy, either.
“I think that if you think about that, it could be toxic,” he said. “I mean, you’ve got to live in the moment. I guess dreaming is fine. It’s all good. But it’s fiction until it’s reality.
“I just want to live in the moment. Go have my lunch. Enjoy that. Take a nap. Enjoy that. Then just go step by step throughout my day, and just be there. Be in the moment. Then get here tonight, and play.”
On good terms now
Before puck drop, Krug reflected on his relationship with Cassidy, who, like Krug, came up as an offensive defenseman and power-play master. Cassidy coached Krug in Providence for the 2012-13 lockout season.
“We didn’t really see eye to eye,” Krug said. “I don’t know how that relationship got off on the wrong foot. I felt he was out to get me. Maybe I was just an entitled brat on the AHL level who thought he could play in the NHL.”
But their relationship “took off,” Krug said, once the lockout ended, because he realized they were on the same side after all.
Krug was recalled for the Bruins’ second-round series against the Rangers that season, and scored four goals in his first five games. He was there for the tough ending in Game 6 of the Cup Final against the Blackhawks.
“Early on, he was just so hard on young guys,” Krug said. “And he still is. But he’s hard on the whole team. He holds us to an excellent standard.”
Stripes don’t change
The officiating has come under fire this postseason, but there was some consistency at the tail end of the Cup Final.
The same officials who worked Game 6 — referees Gord Dwyer and Chris Rooney, linesmen Scott Cherrey and Derek Arnell — were on duty for Game 7. Each team had four power plays in Boston’s 5-1 win in Game 6 Sunday in St. Louis.
Like Blues coach Craig Berube, Cassidy has been a vocal critic of the men in stripes, but said before puck drop he had no reason to be concerned.
“I think the officials are here for a reason, they’re judged to be the best,” he said. “So I expect they’ll be good. They’ll call what they see tonight. Hopefully it’s a good clean game from them. Hopefully it’s a good game from both teams.”
Through six games, the Bruins’ power play was clicking at 30.4 percent vs. St. Louis (7 for 23), and was at 32.9 percent (24 for 73) overall in the postseason. Since the NHL began tracking special teams data in 1977, the only team to finish above 30 percent for a postseason was the 1981 Islanders. The Bruins would have to go 0 for 8 in Game 7 to fall under 30 percent. They also were 17 for 18 on the penalty kill in this series entering Wednesday.