Things don’t look great for the Boston Bruins heading into Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Tuukka Rask’s importance to the Bruins can never be questioned again after seeing what the alternative is, although I’m sure some in Boston will still find a way to do so. Rask is one of the best goaltenders in the league, no doubt. Halak is a good backup, but his glove hand has been a major problem. If the Bruins were going to win this series, they were going to need their goaltender to play at a top-notch level. So far, Halak hasn’t been able to do that. His defense hasn’t helped much either.
At least there are some expected line changes that I believe will give the Bruins a better chance to find the scoring depth they so desperately need. The Bruins’ line combinations thus far have been questionable. It may be too little too late, but the Bruins will have a chance to take game 5 if they roll out their improved line combinations mentioned in coach Cassidy’s morning press conference:
Nick Ritchie and Sean Kuraly are both game-time decisions. Chris Wagner was also ruled out of tonight’s game. It doesn’t sound like Cassidy was too optimistic about either’s chances of playing. Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka would slide into the third line wing positions next to Charlie Coyle. Karson Khulman and Par Lindholm will play with Joakim Norstrom on the fourth line. The defensive pairings will remain the same as in Game 4.
Ritchie needs to sit tonight if the Bruins want to find bottom-six scoring. Ritchie’s antics have hindered the Bruins’ chances of beating an extremely deep Lightning team. His two costly penalties in Game 4 were both uncalled for, especially his hit on Yanni Gourde. The five-minute major resulted in a powerplay goal, effectively ending their comeback attempt. Ritchie is slow, undisciplined, lazy at times, and provides no scoring ability. The Ritchie trade will go down as one of Don Sweeney’s worst moves in his tenure with the Bruins. Maybe the only reason Cassidy continues to play Ritchie is to appease his general manager. Ritchie’s absence would help the Bruins in game 5.
Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka both haven’t proven they can score on an even semi-consistent basis. Bjork’s game can be frustrating because his ceiling is high, but his floor is also very low. Of course, you can’t blame Studnicka for that because he’s just breaking into the league. Despite their deficiencies, both Bjork and Studnicka should have been in the lineup much earlier in this series.
Kuraly’s absence is never good for the Bruins. He brings the ability to score from the fourth line and is a great penalty killer. Hopefully, he’ll be able to dress tonight, but it doesn’t sound likely.
Playing Bjork and Studnicka is the right move even if Ritchie is healthy. With that being said, I’m still not confident in the ability of the third line to produce tonight. Bjork and Studnicka have the potential, but their floors are still low at this point in their respective careers. Let’s hope they can produce because the Bruins desperately need it.