We think we know who these Bruins are. They have banked 44 wins, 100 points and a Presidents’ Trophy from the regular season. Outside of New England, gambling types will stay away from this club when making Stanley Cup bets. You make your money on long shots.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy, outlining his expectations on the eve of the NHL’s first Post-Pause Playoffs, believes his team’s sure-thing habits of checking and defending have not gone away. He does not know how soon they will cash in offensively, the product of careful decisions with the puck. Immediately, by the end of the round robin, or the middle of the first round?
“Because that’s what happens when you’ve been off for a while,” he said. “You practice a lot. You’re making plays all over the ice. You haven’t had to deal with tight-checking games. You can simulate it in practice, but …”
As the Bruins enter their game with the Flyers (3 p.m. Sunday), the first of their three-game, round robin warm-up, Cassidy has many of the same questions he did before the pause. A new one emerged at Saturday’s practice: is Tuukka Rask healthy?
The starting netminder, who allowed three goals on 20 shots in Thursday’s 4-1 exhibition loss to the Blue Jackets, was deemed unfit to practice on Saturday.
Rask dealt with a broken finger during Phase 3, but “wasn’t feeling well,” Cassidy said, noting Sunday’s afternoon start time left him fewer hours to recover. “I’ll have to talk to Tuukka later, see where he’s at. If not, Jaro [Halak] will be ready to go.”
For Rask, a missed start would break one of the longest goaltender streaks in league history.
Entering Sunday, Rask was eighth on the all-time list of consecutive playoff games started for their team (76). If the Bruins made a long run this postseason, Rask could slide into fourth.
Martin Brodeur (194) and Patrick Roy (133 for Colorado) lead the list. Henrik Lundqvist (128), Pekka Rinne (89), Jonathan Quick (85), Marc-Andre Fleury (79 for Pittsburgh) and Jacques Plante (78 for Montreal) are the only others ahead of Rask.
Good news: No. 1 left winger Brad Marchand, who left the Columbus game with a suspected lower body injury, skated in his usual spot at Saturday’s practice. If he plays Sunday, his load may be lightened, given that the Bruins are a week out from their for-keeps, first-round playoff series against an opponent TBD.
“I would say the reason [Marchand] left the other day won’t preclude him from playing tomorrow. He looked fine,” Cassidy said, again noting the earlier start time as an X-factor. “I’m sure he’ll be ready to go.”
More good news: Though he may not play in the round robin, Ondrej Kase joined his teammates in Toronto. He arrived Saturday and skated with several teammates after the full-team practice. Fellow trade deadline acquisition Nick Ritchie did the same.
“We’ll make a decision on Wednesday as we get closer to that game,” Cassidy said. “See how they do with us [in] Monday and Tuesday practices.”
When asked, Kase declined to say why he was held out of Phase 3 camp in Boston, why he was late to the bubble in Toronto, or how he traveled there.
“I respect your question, but I would prefer to not get into specifics about the whole process,” he said, later responding to a different question by adding, “I can’t say too much about everything.”
When asked about his hockey-related activity over the last month, Kase said he has “skated twice already.” When Kase returns, Cassidy expects his timing will be off — no surprise there — but that the 24-year-old Czech would have his legs firing.
“I think so,” Kase said. “I worked pretty hard before I got here. I think I can be [back] quick.”
Not quicker than his ex-Ducks teammate Ritchie, who believes he could be available to face the Lightning on Wednesday. A healthy Ritchie would leave Cassidy with even more options for Charlie Coyle’s wings on the third line. Sean Kuraly and Anders Bjork have played both sides, and Karson Kuhlman, a right winger, split reps with Kuraly at No. 3 LW on Saturday. Bjork was on the right.
“I’ve got to skate the last couple days and I’m starting to feel good out there,” Ritchie said. “The games are coming and it’s an exciting time.”
When the Bruins beat the Flyers, 2-0, on March 10, Cassidy was trying not only to find the best fit for newcomers Kase and Ritchie, but also who is best-suited to play right wing for David Krejci, and the ideal combination(s) of wingers on his third and fourth lines.
“We’re going to have to learn that quickly and on the fly, so there’ll be some juggling in that regard probably right into the first round of the playoffs, and hopefully beyond,” Cassidy said. “That would be the biggest thing we’re going to have to look at, how to best use our personnel … I think it’s a bit of a continuation of where we were at in March.”
In case you forgot, they were rolling along nicely at that time. Their absence has made the hockey hearts around here grow fonder, and even more hungry to cash in a Cup-winning ticket.