ST. LOUIS – Going into the Stanley Cup final, the St. Louis Blues were seen by many as having a slight edge over the Boston Bruins on the blueline. Facing the prospect of having a 6-foot-9, 250-pound hole in their lineup, the Bruins could be looking at a chasm between the two teams in that department that might be too difficult to overcome.
The long and the short of it is that there’s a real chance that Zdeno Chara could be done for the series and Matt Grzelcyk, who is a full foot shorter than Chara, could remain out with a probable concussion. With human pincushion Kevan Miller already out of the lineup, that’s basically half the Bruins' top-six that might be unavailable for the rest of the Stanley Cup final.
“This matchup is not good with ‘Z’ out, let’s face it,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “(The Blues) are a big, heavy team, so we lose that element. But someone else is going to have to step up and I think we can do it as a group.”
Cassidy did not have an update on Chara, who took a Brayden Schenn shot to the mouth in the second period of Game 4 and spent the rest of the game watching from the bench wearing a full visor. But if it is indeed a broken jaw, well, that’s not great. Blues defenseman Vince Dunn had his jaw broken by a Brenden Dillon shot in Game 3 of the Western Conference final May 15 and wasn’t able to return to the St. Louis lineup until Game 4, a span of 19 days.
Much of this will become clearer prior to puck drop Thursday night, but at the moment, the Bruins have to prepare for the possibility they won’t have either Chara or Grzelcyk back. If that’s the case, Steven Kampfer is the next man up, but Cassidy acknowledged that the Bruins might go with seven defensemen for Game 5. And that might make sense. Both the games in the series they’ve lost, they’ve had to play with only five defensemen for more than half the game. If Cassidy goes that route, the most likely candidate to come out would be veteran David Backes. The seventh defenseman would likely be one of 22-year-old Jeremy Lauzon, who played 16 games for the Bruins when injuries hit earlier in the season, or 20-year-old Urho Vaakanainen.
“We’d be putting guys in there who haven’t played a ton, so maybe we’ve got to look at, ‘OK, how does this best work out for us using guys situationally?’ ” Cassidy said. “We would be reaching into an area where a young kid hasn’t played in the playoffs at all for us, so we’ve got to be careful there. Eleven forwards, I think we can manage. Different guys have double shifted throughout the year, so that part doesn’t worry me as much.”
A couple of things are pretty clear. If the Bruins blueline corps is missing those key parts, players such as Charlie McAvoy and Connor Clifton are going to have to be much better than they were in Game 4. And it will be incumbent on the Bruins' forwards to provide better back-pressure to assist their defensemen in defending and getting the puck out of their end. But the positive for the Bruins in this is that they are a veteran team that has gone through injury troubles in the past and persevered.
“At this time of year, there are no excuses,” said Bruins winger Brad Marchand. “You can’t look at that and say, ‘You can write that off because we’re missing a player or two.’ You have to come together, you have to do whatever you can to make it work and they’re not going to stop trying, they’re going to continue to push, and we have to do the same.”
And in the usual jousting that comes at this time of the year when it comes to officiating, Cassidy was asked what he thought of the refereeing in Game 4, in light of counterpart Craig Berube’s comments prior to the game about his usually-disciplined team being whistled for so many penalties. “You’ve got the best refs and they go through the process,” Cassidy said. “I would expect they wouldn’t get baited into somebody’s comments. They should be better than that if they did. I certainly didn’t expect them to. They should have a degree of professionalism. Call the calls they see. I think (Berube’s comment) was a bit of a ruse.”
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