By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
The NHL didn’t waste any time hammering out the second-round schedule for the Bruins and Lightning.
They also didn’t decide to give either team much rest. Despite being down to the final four in the Eastern Conference and needing to work around just one other series at Scotiabank Arena, the first playoff meeting between the B’s and Bolts will feature a back-to-back for Games 2 and 3, and another back-to-back should this series require seven games. That seven-game war would see the sides play five games in eight days if this thing goes the distance.
Considering the stakes, giving each team less rest than they would have had in the first round when they fighting for ice time with three other series, especially with an early finish from all four first-round series, it’s a little strange.
Even to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy.
“A little surprised it came out that way, we wouldn’t alternate night and play at seven or eight o‘clock,” Cassidy admitted. “I’m not part of that decision making but it sure would be easier for us, I’m sure Tampa would say the same. But, at the end of the day, you play the games where they tell you to play and what time.”
I mean, this really wasn’t that hard. The NHL needed to simply alternate the Bruins-Lightning and Flyers-Islanders. If the Bruins-Lightning started Sunday, then Philly vs. New York would start Monday, then Bruins-Lightning on Tuesday, and so on and so forth. You get it. But the NHL didn’t. In fact, the Bruins-Lightning and Flyers-Islanders will use the arena on the same day on two separate occasions if each series goes even games. It’s, again, a little strange.
It’s also a grueling pace. While the West will deal with one back-to-back, the two series in Toronto will each feature two sets of back-to-backs, including one in a potential Game 7, if they go deep. For the Bruins and Lightning, that’s potentially compromising the hell out of what would be a must-watch. You understand that the NHL wants to get the final two in the East out to Edmonton in a timely manner, but this is a brutal stretch. And it could cause serious problems for the Bruins.
“For us, obviously the biggest challenge is the advantage we lost in March with two healthy goalies. Now, Tuukka [Rask] is not here so do we play [Daniel] Vladar as a backup? Or do we have to ride Halak? And that’s a lot to ask for Jaro,” Cassidy offered.”So that’s going to be a decision we make down the road. That’ll be the biggest challenge.”
Halak, who has won all three starts and posted a .932 save percentage (second-best in the NHL) since taking over for Rask after his Game 2 loss, has not faced a potential grind like this since coming to the B’s in 2018. Vladar, of course, has never appeared in an NHL game of any sort. It’s a potential death sentence for Boston’s Stanley Cup hopes.
It’s enough for Cassidy to have to rely on his depth outside of the crease, which he believes is capable, especially after Cassidy pushed all the right buttons when tweaking his lineup against the Hurricanes.
“We have eight defenseman we feel can play. So, the depth part of it, three in four nights with a back-to-back, we can move different pieces in and we don’t feel that our game drops off significantly or at all when we move pieces around,” said Cassidy. “We have the same luxury up front. But, if a guy gets a nagging injury and we start get those back to backs, he doesn’t have a chance to recover. That can work against any team. Those are the intangibles of it and the unknowns a little bit.
“Our guys will be ready to play and hopefully we don’t run into those scenarios where guys do need extra time to recover.”
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.