The Boston Bruins are locked into a playoff spot, but intrigue remains.
With Tuesday’s overtime loss behind them, the B’s now have four games left on their regular-season schedule. They play two straight against the New York Rangers on Thursday and Saturday, then finish the slate with a Monday-Tuesday back-to-back against the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, respectively.
Here are five things to watch for over the next week.
Who will be the backup goalie going into the playoffs?
Bruce Cassidy has admitted that he doesn’t know the answer for sure, but it was trending towards being Jeremy Swayman.
Jaroslav Halak recently battled COVID-19, which kept him out most of April. In that time, Swayman developed into a reliable netminder for the Bruins, effectively pushing Halak out of the backup job. In his first start in over a month, Halak was a little leaky Tuesday.
Tuukka Rask is penciled in for two of the final four regular-season games. It might be a competition to the end for Halak and Swayman, but seeing one more than the other in the two available contests could be telling.
How will the pieces in the bottom six fit together?
Lately, the Nick Ritchie-Sean Kuraly-Charlie Coyle third line has been working out well, with Curtis Lazar centering the fourth line while Jake DeBrusk, Trent Frederic, Chris Wagner and Karson Kuhlman jockey for the two winger spots.
That third line has been effective enough to where it might be an “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it” situation for the foreseeable future. But do the Bruins want to give DeBrusk another shot on that third line? Also, what’s the situation with Wagner’s health, and is he guaranteed a playoff roster spot?
Expect some tinkering up front, particularly with the fourth line.
Mike Reilly is the wild card in all of this, as it’s a matter of determining if he should go with Brandon Carlo or Kevan Miller. Reilly’s first opportunity to play with Carlo would’ve been Tuesday, but Cassidy elected to put Reilly with Connor Clifton instead, pairing Carlo and Matt Grzelcyk.
Miller not playing in both games of back-to-backs could make the pairings in the games against the Rangers a tell of who goes with who come playoff time.
Will the Bruins rest anybody?
The door has been left open by Cassidy, and that might be of particular importance against the Capitals if Tom Wilson is going to be running around.
It basically will be a matter of who wants reps, and thus the idea of resting might not be appealing to some players if the Bruins are going to have a lengthy layoff between the end of the regular season and the start of playoffs.
Among the candidates to sit out would be Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, with Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy among the possibilities, as well.
Can the Bruins leapfrog anyone in the standings?
It’s not impossible for the Bruins to climb to first place in the division.
As of Wednesday morning, the Bruins own third place, trailing the Caps by two points and the Pittsburgh Penguins by four (with two games in hand).
You have to play your way out of the division in the postseason anyway, so the seeding ultimately is inconsequential. However, the Bruins are within reach of the metaphorical feather in the cap of winning the division.