Boston’s Zdeno Chara lays on the ice after being hit in the face with a puck in game four in St. Louis. (Jeff Roberson/AP photo)
Boston’s Depth Being Tested
Much was made of the depth of the Boston Bruins heading into the post-season, and rightfully so. We wrote about it in our Stanley Cup Finals preview. In game four, Brandon Carlo became the 20th player to score a goal for the B’s in the playoffs this season. Therefore, their depth was never a question, until now. What could the Boston defense look like without Chara?
The physicality of the Stanley Cup Finals and a lousy break in game four are taking their toll on this team, most notably on the blue line.
Coming into the playoffs, the Bruins were already without the services of veteran defenseman Kevan Miller. Miller suffered a lower-body injury on April 5th and encountered a setback in his rehab. He will not be available for the Cup Finals.
In game two they lost Matt Grzelcyk when he suffered a concussion from the hit leveled on him by the Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist received a 2-minute penalty for boarding on the play and was later suspended for game three by the league. Grzelcyk remains in the concussion protocol, and it is unclear if he will be able to return for games five and beyond.
The lousy break referenced above came in game four. Just three minutes into the second period, Bruins captain and team leader, Zdeno Chara deflected a Brayden Schenn shot. The puck climbed up Chara’s stick and hit him squarely in the face. He left the game for the remainder of the period. Some of his blood remained on the ice.
When Chara returned at the start of the third period, he was wearing the protection of a full face shield. He didn’t play at all for the remainder of the game.
According to Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic, sources confirmed that Chara has a broken jaw. Boston isn’t saying yet whether he will be able to play in game five or not. Vince Dunn missed six games with a similar situation this postseason. It would be shocking if Chara were on the ice Thursday night in Boston.
The other uncertainty is Grzelcyk. Coach Bruce Cassidy indicated that his return for game five was a possibility.
A Glimpse of What They are Facing
But, if both of them are unavailable for the next game, Boston’s depth is going to be tested by the forechecking, grinding, puck-possessing style of play that the Blues showed in game four.
For at least three minutes, the Blues had constant possession of the puck in the Boston end, and the Bruins couldn’t find relief. With the long distance to the bench, the Bruins couldn’t get their defensemen off the ice. Charlie Coyle and Carlo’s shifts during that sequence were each over three minutes long.
The only defenseman remaining on the Bruins roster with any experience is Steven Kampfer, yet he has limited experience. Kampfer played in 35 games during the regular season and only two games this postseason. If he is the choice for Cassidy, and the two injured players can’t go, that puts four right-shot players in the lineup and only two lefties, another possible problem for Boston.
Remaining Healthy Defensemen
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Cassidy mentioned the possibility of dressing seven defensemen, which may mean using one of the ‘black aces’ on his squad. If that’s the case, he will be asking someone to play in a Stanley Cup Final who has no playoff experience at all and minimal NHL experience. The three players he has to choose from would be Jeremy Lauzon (16 career NHL games), Urho Vaakanainen (2 gms), or Jakub Zboril (2 gms).
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At this writing, there is still no news about whether Chara or Grzelcyk will be available for game five. Without them, the Bruins defense will face yet another test of their ability to deliver on their “next man up” mentality. They have proven all season that they can do that.
Is this another hill the Bruins can conquer? Can they overcome these potential losses of critical components to their team? We will find out when the puck drops for game five Thursday night in Boston.