BOSTON — It’s been two weeks to the day since Matt Grzelcyk took a headshot into the glass from Oskar Sundqvist in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, landing him in the concussion protocol.
But judging by pregame line rushes ahead of the decisive Game 7 between the Boston Bruins and St. Louis Blues, it appears Grzelcyk will play, skating on the third pairing alongside John Moore. Connor Clifton will be scratched as a result, which is a wise move in order to keep Moore in the lineup. Grzelcyk was considered a game-time decision as of Wedensday’s morning skate, but Bruins head coach Cassidy seemed to indicate Grzelcyk would play.
As recently as Tuesday’s morning skate, Grzelcyk still was wearing a red no-contact sweater in practice, meaning he wasn’t cleared Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
Getting Grzelcyk back is, in theory, a plus. But there is some risk Cassidy is taking on by playing the 25-year-old.
For one, Grzelcyk hasn’t played in a while so there might be a touch of rust, but it also is fair to wonder if he’ll be at all skittish when retrieving and carrying pucks along the boards. St. Louis is a heavy team and plays a physical game, so there’s no avoiding hits altogether by just trying to out-skate them. Blues head coach Craig Berube indicated he thinks his team will play a bit more freely in Game 7 after feeling some players were more guarded in Game 6, so simple logic points to the Blues throwing weight even more.
Cassidy also is taking a gamble, albeit a minor one, by not dressing a seventh defenseman. When Zdeno Chara played in Game 5, Cassidy added Steven Kampfer to the lineup since they didn’t know what Chara would be able to contribute. Make no mistake, taking a forward out after how well they played in Game 6 is dangerous, however there’s no safeguard if Grzelcyk isn’t himself.
That said, if Grzelcyk has been cleared in the concussion protocol and feels as good as he says he does, then you have to trust that he isn’t just gutting it out, rather he feels good enough to be able to be a full contributor.
Now, of, course, there’s substantial upside in just having Grzelcyk, too. He’s the Bruins’ best blueliner at defensive zone breakouts, and he’s been a tremendous asset on the second power-play unit. His availability will take some pressure off Torey Krug in man advantage situations, which is a major plus.
So while there is some danger in playing Grzelcyk, it’s understandable why that’s the move Cassidy is making.