By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Update: Ryan Donato will play in Game 4, according to Bruce Cassidy.
Remember that scene in ‘Jurassic World’ where the Indominus Rex is just ruining everything?
Not to spoil anything as I spoil everything — you’ve had three years, man, that’s my window before it’s completely fair game — but its pure destruction of everything eventually hits the point where Bryce Dallas Howard’s character makes the high-risk, high-reward call to bring out the only thing she thinks can counter it: the Tyrannosaurus rex. While the scene does an incredible job of making B.D.H’s ability to full-on sprint in those shoes seem less believable than a movie based on dinosaurs being brought back to life and eating tourists on an island featuring a Jimmy Buffett restaurant, getting ‘Rexy’ involved in the fight allows the heroes to at the very least buy themselves some more time in their attempt to escape the island in one piece.
And if we’re bringing this back to hockey, which I guess we probably should before I happily turn this into a 2,000-word thinkpiece on the Jurassic Park series, in this scenario, you can and shoulder consider Cassidy the flare-wielding Howard and 45-day NHLer Ryan Donato to be the T. Rex needed to help save the Bruins before it’s too late.
A healthy scratch in all but one of Boston’s 10 playoff games — and with three shots on goal in just 9:24 of his lone appearance, a 7-3 Game 2 victory over the Maple Leafs in round one — to expect Donato to be the lone savior of the Black and Gold’s postseason hopes seems unfair. (And if you watched ‘Jurassic World,’ you know it’s not just the T. Rex that saves the day!)
But at this point, it’s obvious that the players that Cassidy is currently relying on to keep you afloat have disappointed him in back-to-back nights, and that going back to this group without a single change would be a colossal mistake.
Through three games of their second-round series with the Lightning, the Bruins have been thoroughly outplayed by the Bolts in almost every facet of the game. It’s become especially bad in the last six periods of play, too, with the Lightning’s relentless forechecking game melting the Bruins into a puddle and their big-bodied defense refusing to give the Bruins’ top talents even an inch of breathing room in their often brief and untriumhpant offensive-zone entries.
No line has struggled more in this area of the rink than the third line with Danton Heinen and David Backes on Riley Nash’s wings. In almost 18 minutes together this series, the Boston third line has been outshot 16-to-4, out-chanced 9-to-3, and outscored 1-0. There’s being the weak link and then there’s what these guys have been for Cassidy’s squad.
And with Cassidy, the writing is typically on the wall.
Not only did Cassidy flat out say that the Bruins have productive players currently sitting as healthy scratches — and I can’t imagine that he was talking Brian “I Had One Assist In My Final 15 Games of the Regular Season” Gionta — when addressing the struggles of Boston’s once-strong third line, but he gave Heinen just 8:55 of time on ice in Game 3. The last time Heinen’s ice-time was that low (he skated just 9:29 in Boston’s Game 5 against the Maple Leafs last round), he sat as a healthy scratch the next time around. This is not designed to pick on Heinen, either, because you could honestly make the case for scratching anybody on that third line. Be it Heinen, Riley Nash or Backes (even with his intangibles). Combine the trio’s overall production in the postseason (five points) and it’s what Donato did in his final eight games of the regular season.
This is where you try something new, and if we’re being honest, it’s hard to find a better available option than Donato.
From the moment he signed with the Bruins to the end of the regular season, Donato was among the most productive Boston skaters. His five goals in 12 games were the second-most among all Bruins, trailing David Pastrnak by just two tallies. And his nine points were tied with Patrice Bergeron for the third-most on the team over that span. Only Pastrnak and Brad Marchand had more. Donato did this while bouncing line to line, playing all three forward positions… and balancing classes at Harvard.
Game 4 being in Boston, where the Bruins have the benefit of last change, also makes TD Garden the perfect setting for the Black and Gold to properly shelter Donato into the optimal matchups and offensive-zone opportunities to rediscover that late-season punch that wowed even his own teammates. Oh, and if you look at the few chances that the Bruins have been able to generate against the Bolts’ Andrei Vasilevskiy — and factor in Vasilevskiy’s overall and extremely noticeable shakiness in this series when under pressure — there’s no doubt that this is a series where Donato could make a legitimate impact.
But most of all, we’ve hit the point where it’s now-or-never in regards to a 2018 impact from the Scituate, Mass. native.
The Bruins bailed themselves out of putting Donato in the pressure spots of a Game 6 or Game 7 against the Leafs, citing a desire to ‘go with the guys that got them here,’ which was respectable and paid off by Game 7’s end. They also used Donato’s lack of availability on the right side as their out for dressing the 22-year-old, saying that they view him as a left-or-bust option.
But if the Bruins go ahead and skate in Friday’s Game 4 with Donato watching from the press box yet again, it would become obvious that he’s not getting in any postseason action this spring. I mean, it’s not as if a 3-1 series deficit would come with less pressure for the 22-year-old, or that the play of the Bruins’ left-side talents would have gotten any worse. (It’s hard to imagine that becoming the case, honestly.) Especially as every game becomes packed with even pressure moments the deeper you go.
It’s now, with the Bruins still very much in this series but in undeniable need of a spark, that they need No. 17.
Light that flare and open that gate: It’s Donato Time.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Follow him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.