By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins' latest practice lines hinted at a notable absence for Game 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. And head coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed those suspicions during his latest interview with Toucher & Rich: David Backes is likely the odd man out for Thursday's series opener.
That doesn't mean Backes won't play at all in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But Cassidy made it clear that the B's want to be all about speed to begin the series against the Leafs. As hinted by center Auston Matthews' comment that Toronto wants to "send a message early", the Bruins want to be ready for that when the puck drops in Game 1.
Cassidy expects a speed showcase. And that's why you're not likely to see Backes.
"I will tell you this, I do expect the first game to be the fastest game of the series," Cassidy said. "I think Toronto understands how they have to play to beat us, and I think we can certainly keep up the pace. I think we’re a more physical team once it gets going. Last year we kind of dragged them into that game. I think it worked in our favor. I don’t know if they’ll bite on that again this year, so I think the first game we’re looking at probably dressing our fastest lineup. We have a couple more days to decide and sort through it, but that’s kind of the direction we’re going.
"That might keep Backs out of Game 1, but his role changed in the second half of the year. He became a much more physical player, back to his roots so to speak. He’d had some injuries and I think it took him a while to grab onto that. He played very well for us. He’s going to be a key part for us at some point."
Cassidy expounded upon the likely decision to sit Backes, explaining that he's too similar to forwards Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner for the Bruins to play all of them at the same time. He also expects those forwards, in addition to Joakim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly if he returns, to play a big defensive role in slowing down guys like Matthews and John Tavares.
"I think if we can be even in that matchup we’ll have the edge elsewhere," Cassidy said.
Backes' likely absence from Game 1 does speak to the Bruins' bottom-six forward depth. Cassidy will be able to shape the lineup as he sees fit. And if the Bruins get past Toronto and run into a team with more size, or if they've lured the Leafs into a more physical game, then it's possible Backes gets back on the ice sooner rather than later.
Listen to Toucher & Rich's full interview with Bruce Cassidy below:
Matt Dolloff 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 Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].