By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins are going for some extra jam to their lineup for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
For Bruce Cassidy’s squad, that means forward Chris Wagner will draw back in for Karson Kuhlman, while Connor Clifton will skate in Johnny Moore’s place, for tonight’s second-round premiere at TD Garden.
“We want to balance physicality versus foot speed, and as the series goes on, we’ll see who best fits,” Cassidy said of adding Wagner back into the mix after sitting the Walpole, Mass. native in Game 6 and 7 against Toronto. “We have some guys we know we can move in and out of the lineup. Every forward played in the last series, and that could very well happen again.”
In five games in round one, Wagner noticeably struggled, with zero points, a minus-2 rating, and just five shots on goal. He actually finished the first round as the only forward not to be on the ice for a five-on-five goal scored by the B’s, too. Given his struggles in the postseason compared to what felt like a breakout year on Boston’s fourth line, it was easy to point to the lower-body injury that shelved Wagner for the final two games of the regular season as the reason for his struggles.
But Cassidy put that theory to bed on Thursday.
“He’s not letting on if it did,” Cassidy said when asked if Wagner’s late-season lower-body ailment limited him in round one. “We just made a decision to be – I just thought Kuhlman was bringing a faster game and that was the reason behind him going in. We kept [Joakim Nordstrom] in. I just thought if we pressured Toronto’s D, we talked about, is it physicality, is it foot speed? Hopefully both. We went with that lineup, got us a nice win in six, stuck with it in seven, now we’re resetting.”
For Clifton, though, his returns comes as a result of Moore suffering an upper-body injury in Boston’s Game 7 win.
“Spoke too soon after the game, obviously,” Cassidy, who described his team as healthy following Game 7, admitted. “Johnny had a little bit of an upper-body issue that he’s day-to-day. I don’t think it will be long, so Clifton’s going in there.”
The 23-year-old Clifton appeared in the first two games of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Bruins took the season series with the Blue Jackets two games to one, and outscored Columbus 12-10 over that stretch, but are not sleeping on a team that knocked out the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning in four games in round one.
“I thought they were good hockey games,” Cassidy said of their head-to-heads. “At the end of the day, I don’t know how much value you put in on them late in the year. They just won four in a row against the league’s top team. We just won our series, so I think I’ve paid as much attention of what they did against Tampa as I did what they did against us.”
“I do think, which is very important for us right now, that we can’t look back,” Columbus head coach John Tortorella told reporters this morning. “We have to be looking this way at our next round, I think we’re facing a different situation with this team versus the Tampa team, I’m not going to expound upon that. We have to have a more readiness as far as getting to another level when we play against the Bruins versus Tampa. Those are some of the things we’ve already touched upon, a little bit of a tape-work, we’ll try to hammer home that message tonight as we get ready to play Game 1.”
Tuukka Rask gets the start in net for the Bruins after a first-round showing that saw him post a .928 save percentage, while Columbus counters with Sergei Bobrovsky along with his perfect 4-0 record and impressive .932 save percentage.
This is the first time these teams have met in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Here are the complete lines and pairings for the Bruins…
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Danton Heinen
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – David Pastrnak
Marcus Johansson – Charlie Coyle – Chris Wagner
Joakim Nordstrom – Sean Kuraly – Noel Acciari
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Connor Clifton