Chris Wagner was a full participant in Tuesday’s Boston Bruins practice, but will that give head coach Bruce Cassidy pause about using the same lines in Game 7 as he did Game 6?
The Bruins are set to play the finale of the Stanley Cup Final against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday at TD Garden, and at first, the expectation was the Bruins would use the same lineup as Game 6.
In the 5-1 Game 6 victory, Cassidy made the bold decision to put Karson Kuhlman in as the second-line right wing over David Backes, and it proved to be the right move. Cassidy went as far as to say that Kuhlman “probably” will remain in the lineup for Game 7, but maybe Wagner being available will change some of that thinking.
Wagner, of course, has been out since a bold, potentially-game-saving shot block at the end of Game 3 in the conference final.
So would Cassidy actually entertain using Wagner after nearly a month off? It’s hard to say, especially since Cassidy isn’t afraid to get a little crazy with the lineup.
There seems to only be two options for scratches if Wagner plays: Kuhlman and Noel Acciari.
The biggest problem with scratching Kuhlman for Wagner is that Kuhlman is a better fit on the second line than Wagner would be. It seems like a longshot that Cassidy would put Wagner on the second line, so that means he’d have to do even more shuffling to get an appropriate right wing for Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci. Given the fact that the second line has at times this season been its best with Kuhlman on it, scratching him for Wagner doesn’t make a ton of sense.
Acciari is interesting, and a bit more of a realistic option. Cassidy liked how the Joakim Nordstrom-Sean Kuraly-Wagner line was operating while Acciari was injured earlier this postseason, and there’s a chance they would have stuck together longer had Wagner not gotten hurt. But during this round, which has featured some heavy, physical play, Cassidy has leaned on the current Nordstrom-Kuraly-Acciari fourth line quite a bit. At this point, we know that it’s working, so shaking that up without being forced to doesn’t make a whole lot of sense — especially when you don’t know what you’re going to get out of Wagner.
It’s also worth mentioning that some on the interwebs have clamored for Danton Heinen to get scratched due to his limited point production. Removing Heinen is a ludicrous idea, as he’s arguably Boston’s best defensive forward after Nordstrom and Patrice Bergeron. Plus the third line has been great this series. Taking him out for Wagner would be abject foolishness.
With a winner-take-all game on deck, Cassidy should be dressing 18 skaters that he knows he actually will use, not taking risks on guys that might end up getting benched for prolonged periods of time. For that reason alone, dressing Wagner isn’t the wisest move.
Make no mistake, Wagner was great during the regular season, but lest we forget he hasn’t always been particularly strong these playoffs, at times getting healthy scratched for stretches. It seems reasonable to assume the Bruins probably are trying to replicate parts of their Game 6 performance, and sticking with the same forwards allows them to do that.
Ultimately, the reality is that while Wagner getting back in would be a nice story, he’s not enough of an impact player to justify disrupting what worked just a few days earlier. That should keep both Backes and Wagner out of the Game 7 lineup.
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