By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The Bruins regained control of the series against the Hurricanes by infusing speed and skill into the lineup. Plus youth and upside, with the return of Jack Studnicka. The former second-round pick showed enough in his Game 3 cameo that he should be here to stay.
If David Pastrnak still can’t go in Game 4 on Monday, Studnicka makes sense to try in his spot.
Studnicka’s skill stands out. Especially in a series like this against a fast, aggressive team like Carolina, Studnicka looks like he belongs. He is impressive with the puck on his stick, creating space and dashing away from danger. And he fired away, too. Studnicka led the team with eight shot attempts at 5-on-5 (via Natural Stat Trick).
The team made things happen with Studnicka on the ice. They out-shot Carolina 8-4, out-attempted them 18-8. Expected goals (xGF) is a fairly arbitrary stat, but if you’re into that sort of thing, Studnicka had a team-high 1.02. Basically, if he keeps playing like that, the law of averages will start finding the puck in the back of the net.
Studnicka’s next step is to convert his skill and possession game and nerd numbers into bright red lamps. He certainly benefitted from playing next to a dominant Charlie Coyle on Saturday. But he also looked like a real NHL scoring threat all on his own.
“Even going in, just talking to him early on, you can tell he’s got a quiet confidence in him for a young guy,” said Coyle. “And that’s huge, stepping into a playoff game as a guy of his nature. That says a lot, and he works. And that’s what we need from guys who are stepping in, filling certain roles. And he did that tonight. He was battling. The puck was on his stick a lot of times in the offensive zone, making things happen. That’s what we need from him. He’s got a lot of energy and he has those young legs and he was a big factor for us tonight. So, hats off to him for sure.”
Studnicka looks good with Coyle. But his best opportunity, and arguably his best fit in the lineup, is to try him on Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron’s right side.
There’s certainly no better way to give Studnicka space than to force the ‘Canes to devote resources to 63 and 37. Studnicka’s ability to use his feet and body control to maintain puck possession reminds you of Marchand sometimes. Bergeron and Marchand’s playmaking, and the attention they draw, could give Studnicka his best opportunities yet to finish.
This could be moot if Pastrnak is back for Game 4. But even when that happens, Studnicka has already shown enough to prove he can hang in the top-6 against an opponent like the Hurricanes. Anders Bjork has made enough mistakes in the last two games that he may be better off moving back to Coyle’s wing. Those two worked well together. It’s time to see if Studnicka would work with his superstar teammates.
“That’s a good word, ‘proud’
Bruce Cassidy’s insertion of Studnicka into the lineup was one of several that suddenly made the Bruins much better-equipped to keep up with the Hurricanes’ speed. Connor Clifton swapped in for Jeremy Lauzon, who should almost certainly return if and when the Bruins move on to bigger, heavier opponents. Ditto Nick Ritchie, who ceded his roster spot to Par Lindholm, a better fit for what the Bruins need in the bottom-six in this matchup.
The truth is, the Bruins didn’t get Ritchie for a team like Carolina. They got him for heavier lineups that the Bruins would get in a rematch with any of their three round robin opponents, the Lightning, Capitals, and Flyers. Same goes for the New York Islanders, who are up 2-0 on Washington in their series. Pretty much any team but Carolina presents a more favorable matchup for Ritchie.
And, for that matter, Lauzon. His size and reach is superior to Clifton’s, but the latter can match Lauzon’s physicality while bringing more speed to the back end. It can’t be easy for Clifton to go in and out of the lineup like he has since the Bruins entered the bubble, but against Carolina he may be here to say.
Considering the circumstances, Cassidy agreed enthusiastically that he’s proud of the effort amid heavy lineup shuffling and Tuukka Rask’s sudden decision to opt out.
“Yeah that’s a good word, ‘proud,’ because that’s the first word I used after the game that you know proud of Jaro for answering the call on short notice, proud of the young guys that are playing, some of the like [Par] Lindholm and not that he’s young, but it’s you know first real [action],” said Cassidy. “Jack Studnicka, [Connor] Clifton comes into the lineup, proud of the way they responded and proud of the way the whole team played.”
It took two games and about a period, but the Bruins may have finally found a lineup that works in this particular matchup. And if it falters, Cassidy clearly isn’t afraid to keep shaking things up. But it’s quite promising to see the Bruins – especially the young ones – to show so much resilience in such a unique situation.
Ty Anderson and I discussed this very topic, among many others related to the Bruins and the NHL, in the latest Sports Hub Sidelines podcast. Have a listen 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@example.com.