The Boston Bruins’ march to the Stanley Cup got off to an inauspicious start Thursday night and not just because of how their exhibition game against the Columbus Blue Jackets played out.

The Bruins looked like the far rustier team, especially early in their 4-1 loss to Columbus. A flat effort in a meaningless game can easily be dismissed, but the troubling development was an apparent injury to star first-line winger Brad Marchand late in the game.

Marchand appeared to suffer some sort of lower-body injury in the third period and didn’t step back on the ice for the final 11 minutes and 40 seconds. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Marchand appeared to avoid any sort of serious injury, and it didn’t sound like the forward would miss a huge chunk of time.

Cassidy also indicated Marchand would be reevaluated Friday morning, and B’s president Cam Neely said Friday the team still was waiting to learn more.

Obviously, the Bruins can ill afford an injury to one of their best players. A year ago, David Pastrnak clearly wasn’t right for the entirety of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and it was revealed after the fact that Patrice Bergeron played through a groin injury in the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins’ best chance of winning the Cup depends on having that first line — arguably the best in hockey — healthy and producing at its highest possible level.

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That’s why, if Marchand’s injury is even lingering in the slightest when the round-robin games begin Sunday, the Bruins should take a very cautious approach with him. The Bruins play three round-robin games for seeding between Sunday and Aug. 9. The first round presumably begins a couple of days later. Basically, if needed, the Bruins could go about two weeks without Marchand playing and not jeopardize their season at all.

The Bruins also have the depth and a strong contingent of reserves with them in Toronto. It appears Jack Studnicka has the second-line right wing spot locked up to begin the round-robin games, which leaves Anders Bjork and Karson Kuhlman battling for a third-line winger spot. Both flashed at times Thursday versus Columbus, and it’s not unrealistic to think they both could draw into the lineup should Marchand need some time off. In fact, Bjork showed some chemistry with Pastrnak that led to a scoring chance Thursday night.

If Marchand was held out for the rest of the game simply as a precautionary measure, that makes sense, too. And if he’s only a little dinged up, Cassidy and the Bruins will have to balance attempts to keep Marchand (and others) healthy while also staying sharp before the first round.

“Obviously, health is very important to the club, and I think we have enough bodies here, but we want to have the lineup that we feel is gonna give us the best chance to win,” Neely said Friday morning on a Zoom call with reporters. “We want to try to practice with that lineup, obviously, and we want to make sure we’re continuing to improve every day.

“It will be a delicate balance for Butch and his staff to figure out do some guys need a little bit more time maybe to rest and recover based on the fact this is getting ramped up pretty quick. The guys want to play. They’ve been off a long time.”

Be that as it may, if Marchand is dealing with a soft-tissue injury — especially one like a groin which could be reaggravated easily — it’s probably in their best interest to bring him along slowly.

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