The Boston Bruins took a 2-1 series lead against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday with a 3-1 victory at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto.
Here are a few thoughts, observations and takeaways from Saturday’s game.
— There were a variety of changes to the lineup for Game 3, so let’s unpack all those first.
Connor Clifton, Par Lindholm and Jack Studnicka were in, Jeremy Lauzon Nick Ritchie and Karson Kuhlman were out. Studnicka replaced Kuhlman on the third line right wing, while Lindholm centered the fourth line, allowing Sean Kuraly to move up to Ritchie’s spot on the third line left wing.
Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted Friday that the lineup changes he was planning on making were with the intent of injecting some energy into the lineup — and it worked. For a while, the concern with Studnicka was that he might not be equipped for playoff hockey at the moment because he still has filling out to do. While that’s a legitimate concern, that didn’t appear to be an issue Saturday.
It didn’t hurt that Studnicka was skating with Charlie Coyle and Kuraly, two guys who have proven that they know how to drive a line. Studnicka didn’t look lost and even delivered some solid efforts defensively and on the forecheck. Who knows how long he’ll stay in the lineup, especially if David Pastrnak returns soon, but it was a good showing.
— With Pastrnak out, Anders Bjork skated with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on the first line, and it was tough sledding for him in Game 3. He committed three penalties, two slashes and a trip, which likely was the impetus for him getting stapled to the bench and playing a team-low 7:05.
For as good of a skater as Bjork is, and he’s come a long way defensively as well, he just looked overwhelmed playing against Carolina’s top lines. Maybe it was a bad day, or maybe he’s just not ready for that responsibility yet, but it’s probably fair to guess that regardless of Pastrnak’s availability, he won’t be with Bergeron and Marchand on Monday. He might not even be in the lineup.
— With Jake DeBrusk’s play stagnant during the round-robin, Cassidy ended up giving Coyle a look on the top power-play unit.
That idea always has made sense. Not only is Coyle a big body that can get to the net, but he’s arguably the Bruins’ best player with respect to puck possession, and that’s a big plus on the man advantage for obvious reasons.
And on Trevor van Riemsdyk’s double minor late in the first period, Coyle was rewarded for grinding on the power play with a goal just 14 seconds into the second period. He finished with a whopping 5:53 power play ice time.
Even though they started off slow, at this point there’s really no reason to go away from the Coyle-Marchand-Bergeron-David Krejci-Torey Krug first unit. Allow that group to keep getting chances together, and the bet here is that more success will follow.
— Lindholm serves a pretty thankless job. He almost never gets into games unless a center is out or moved to a wing role, and when he does play it’s almost always in a bottom six role.
But did we ever learn (or get reminded) why he’s so important during Game 3.
Since arriving in Toronto, the fourth line had been one of, if not the best of the Bruins’ trios. Disrupting that was a stroll right under the proverbial ladder for Cassidy, but so bad had Ritchie been that the coach really didn’t have much choice. Since Kuraly can play comfortably on the wing, it made sense to move him up to the third line.
And it’s because of Lindholm that Cassidy has that flexibility. By no means do Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner’s play regress when Lindholm is pivoting them, a lesson we’ve learned over the last season.
While Lindholm pretty much serves just one role, it’s one that opens up a variety of others for some guys, and that’s a big asset for a coach.
— If playing a lineup loaded with energy is the name of the game for the Bruins for the rest of the series, it seems we could end up seeing a lot more Clifton.
That’s not to say that Lauzon, or John Moore for that matter, are lethargic players, but the jolt Clifton brings when he’s on the ice is so otherworldly that it’s difficult, if not impossible, for other guys to replicate it.
For as tumultuous as this season has been for Clifton, his performances in the round-robin finale and Saturday are a reminder of why he was so revered by the coaching staff last season and put into big situations as a rookie, an undrafted one, no less.
He’ll still join the rush and effectively serve as an extra winger at times, and he his clear knack for getting under opponents’ skin and throwing his weight has remained, but it does seem like he’s toned down some of the recklessness that has marred his game previously.
Cassidy long has employed the belief that he’ll keep trotting a guy out until he gets outplayed by a scratched teammate. And while we don’t know how Lauzon and Moore look in practice, in game situations Clifton certainly hasn’t looked like a guy that’s going to play himself out of the lineup.