Karson Kuhlman rewarded Bruce Cassidy’s faith Sunday night by scoring a huge goal in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, and the Boston Bruins coach indicated Monday he’ll likely stick with the 23-year-old winger Wednesday night in Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden.
It’s been quite a whirlwind for Kuhlman, who hadn’t dressed for the Bruins since Game 3 of their second-round playoff series against the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 30, but it sounds like he has the perfect mindset with a historic winner-take-all showdown looming.
“I think the emotions are gonna happen — nervous, stress and all that — but after you get that first shift under your belt, then it’s just settling in and getting back to playing hockey,” Kuhlman told reporters Monday upon returning to Boston on the heels of the Bruins’ 5-1 win Sunday at Enterprise Center.
Kuhlman’s inclusion in the Bruins’ Game 6 lineup didn’t come out of nowhere. The young forward has been a valuable contributor at points this season. Cassidy turned to him Wednesday with Boston’s second line — anchored by David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk — struggling for much of the team’s playoff run, and the decision paid off in the second period when Kuhlman ripped a wrist shot over Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington’s shoulder to give Boston a 3-0 lead.
“I think just staying mentally engaged on the bench, whether it’s between periods or in between shifts, especially if you’re not in there as constantly as you have been in the past,” Kuhlman said of the obvious energy boost he provided. “But I think just staying mentally engaged and knowing that you’re gonna get your opportunity and taking advantage of it when it comes.”
David Backes sat for a second straight game with Kuhlman joining the lineup. The Bruins also went back to dressing 12 forwards and six defensemen, meaning Steven Kampfer didn’t dress for Game 6 after playing in Game 5.
The Bruins’ Game 7 lineup isn’t etched in stone, as Cassidy said Monday defenseman Matt Grzelcyk, who’s been in the NHL’s concussion protocol since Game 2, remains a “wild card” for the decisive contest. But it’s hard to imagine Kuhlman not playing after the impact he made in his first career Stanley Cup Final game, and that’s impressive given how long it had been since he was involved in game action.
“Just took it day by day, really. Just stayed physically and mentally ready,” Kuhlman said of the lengthy layoff. “I was kind of preparing like I was playing the game even if I wasn’t gonna be in, and that made the routine (Wednesday) pretty easy.”
Kuhlman’s performance might not dictate whether the Bruins hoist Lord Stanley, but another solid effort certainly will put Boston in a much better position to succeed Wednesday night as emotions run high at the Garden.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images