By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins have turned their first-round head-to-head with the Maple Leafs into a best of three series.
And with the series returning to Boston, the Bruins could be ready to welcome their bottom-six motor back to the lineup, with Sean Kuraly listed as a game-time decision for Friday's Game 5 at TD Garden.
“He’s progressing well, will skate [Thursday], and then we’ll see if he gets cleared [Friday] morning," Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, who kept his team off the ice on Thursday, said during his media availability. "If he’s healthy and cleared, he’ll go in.”
Out of action since Mar. 21 when a blocked shot left him with a fracture in his right hand, this series with the Maple Leafs has made it clear that the Black and Gold need Kuraly back in action as soon as possible given their fourth-line struggles.
In 31:04 of five-on-five time this series, the Joakim Nordstrom-Noel Acciari-Chris Wagner trio has been outshot 17-12, outscored 2-0, and possessed (or anything but, actually) the puck to the tune of a 39.7 Corsi-For percentage. They were borderline unplayably bad in Boston's Game 4 survival, as Toronto out-attempted Boston 14-4 with that line on the ice.
It's a massive shift from that line's fortunes when it was Kuraly steering the ship in the regular season, as the Kuraly-Acciari-Wagner line outshot opponents 212-171 and posted a 51.9 Corsi-For percentage in 401:55 of five-on-five play together.
Kuraly would give the Bruins some options as a left-handed faceoff man, too, as the Bruins have been beat up at the dot, with Toronto boasting a 57.0 percent success rate on offensive-zone faceoffs through four games of this series.
In other words, it would likely spell the end of the B's getting buried in their own zone when No. 52 was on the ice.
"Sean’s greatest strength is his ability is to transport the puck out of our zone, close first, and get out,” Cassidy noted.. “He’s strong, a real good skater, so he can get the puck out of our zone. I think that line has done a good job in terms of structurally being in lanes, blocking shots, and being willing to battle. But they miss that element: The guy who can get it and go and separate.
"In the offensive zone, he can be a puck possessor and a one-man cycle, specifically teams that are man-to-man.”
Kuraly set career-highs in goals (eight), assists (13), and points (21) in 71 games for the Bruins this season, and would return to the postseason with four goals and two helpers in 16 career postseason contests.