By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
After a pair of post-quarantine practices, Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask is good to go and begin his 2020 postseason run as Boston’s starter with Wednesday’s round-robin head-to-head with the Lightning.
Stopping 17-of-20 shots in a half-game exhibition outing against the Blue Jackets last week, the 33-year-old Rask’s jump back into the B’s crease comes with the Bruins needing a victory to keep their hopes of capturing the No. 1 seed alive.
And against a Lightning club that took three of four meetings against the Bruins in 2019-20, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy is hoping a battle between the Atlantic’s top two teams will be exactly what the Bruins need to snap out of it after two flat efforts.
“I hope it does,” Cassidy remarked when asked if this rival game will bring the best out of the sluggish-looking Bruins. “Certainly, I saw the game [Monday]. It went very physical, very spirited with Washington. They’re developing a rivalry, obviously with us and Tampa. I expect a lot of the same [Wednesday]. It’ll be physical, competitive. And again, we’re trying to build our game and get better every time out. We’re going to need to beat Tampa. Looking forward to it, I think the guys are too.
“It’s a tough mental part right now. You don’t know who your opponent’s going to be next week. You still want to pick up wins. But you’re trying to balance that urgency with preparing for your first playoff opponent. So, tomorrow should be a great test for us, bring out the best in us and again we’ll see, but that’s what I expect.”
Rask will not be the only addition to the Boston lineup, though, as Nick Ritchie will slide into the mix as David Krejci’s left wing.
Acquired from the Ducks at the deadline, the big-bodied Ritchie scored a goal and an assist, and totaled 23 hits, over his seven-game post-deadline run with the Black and Gold. The Bruins will also move Karson Kuhlman up to that second line with Ritchie and Krejci.
And without a second-line vacancy, Jake DeBrusk will move to his off-wing with Anders Bjork and Charlie Coyle on line three.
“[Coyle] plays a little bit of a different style, he’s a little bit more of a straight-line player in a sense,” DeBrusk said of his move to the third line. “Him and Bjorkie have been playing pretty well. Excited to join that. Right now, I think it’s just a matter of trying to find chemistry anyway possible. Playing the right side, wherever I can help the team is where I’ll go.”
This all adds up to a healthy scratch for Bruins prospect Jack Studnicka.
Finishing Sunday’s loss with three shots on goal in 11:36 of time on ice (third-lowest among all Bruins), Studnicka’s scratch comes with the Bruins trying to fit their deadline pieces in before things get real.
“He’s out of the lineup tonight because Ritchie and [Ondrej] Kase were brought in to help us win in the playoffs,” said Cassidy.
Now, many will be quick to note that Kase is not in this game, and it’s Kuhlman who is skating with Ritchie and Krejci. That’s totally correct, but Kuhlman is more Kase than Studnicka in the sense that he’s more a right-shot shooting threat and a natural winger, whereas Studnicka is a pass-first center playing the wing. This is just as much about complexion as it is personnel.
(Also: It was easy to see Studnicka’s scratch coming when he was taken out of the third-period rotation for a stretch on Sunday, and was back with the second group for a full-squad practice earlier this week.)
The Lightning, meanwhile, will enter this game without captain Steven Stamkos.
Here’s the complete lineup for the Bruins…
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Nick Ritchie – David Krejci – Karson Kuhlman
Anders Bjork – Charlie Coyle – Jake DeBrusk
Joakim Nordstrom – Sean Kuraly – Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.