By virtue of their 6-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena, the Boston Bruins have secured second place in the NHL’s Atlantic Division and more importantly, home ice advantage in their opening round playoff series against their division rival, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Bruins were led by winger Jake DeBrusk’s three-point game and Brad Marchand’s two-point night, becoming Boston’s first 100-point player since Joe Thornton in the 2002-03 season. The six-goal outburst was hi-lighted by balanced scoring with goals coming from three of the four lines.
The Bruins victory coupled by Toronto’s 4-1 defeat on home ice to the Carolina Hurricanes wrapped up second place in the Atlantic Division for the Bruins and guarantees they will open at TD Garden against the Leafs when the NHL playoffs begin in just over a week.
It all starts on April 10th.
— NHL (@NHL) April 3, 2019
The significance of clinching home ice with two games to spare should not be overlooked. Coach Bruce Cassidy now has the luxury of resting some of his key players who may be nursing minor injuries that players often deal with having reached game 80 in the regular season schedule. Look for Cassidy to deploy some unfamiliar looking line-ups over the final two regular-season games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay. For a change, this is a luxury situation and not a crisis caused by the injury bug. The question becomes which Bruins are in line for a game off over the last two? Coach Cassidy will attempt to balance health and rest with keeping players playing well and not disturbing chemistry.
Candidates to receive a night off over the final two games include:
Zdeno Chara: The 42-year old Chara will be relied upon heavily against the Maple Leafs in a shutdown role most likely against the Auston Matthews line, as well as on the penalty kill. Having suffered a knee injury in Colorado back in November, Chara has only appeared in 61 games this season, low by his standards, but the opportunity for a night off to refresh and recharge for the playoffs makes perfect sense.
Charlie McAvoy: McAvoy has had a good season and has been especially solid over the last 25 games or so for the Bruins while earning seen key situational ice time including an increased role on the first power play unit while Torey Krug was out of the lineup.
Brandon Carlo: The third-year defenseman has blossomed this season and is having the best campaign of his young career. Carlo has become a key defender and is being deployed in matchup situations as well as on the penalty kill. Bruins fans are all too familiar with the devastating season-ending injuries Carlo has suffered in each of his first two seasons. After compiling relatively injury free seasons, Carlo was lost in the final regular-season game two years ago and missed the entire 6-game playoff series against the Ottawa Senators. Last season, Carlo went down with just over a week remaining in the regular season and missed the entire playoffs yet again. The Bruins would be wise to sit Carlo for the final regular season game and have him wrapped in cotton balls in the press box for good measure!
The remaining key Bruins defenders, namely Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, and Kevan Miller have all recently returned from injury. Provided all are now fully healthy and wouldn’t stand to benefit from a game off, are likely best suited to play the final two games to continue getting back into game fitness heading into the playoffs.
Patrice Bergeron: Bergeron is on the cusp of cracking the 80-point mark for the first time in his illustrious career. Whilst it would be nice to reach that mark, Bergeron being the consummate professional would likely value the opportunity to rest prior to going to battle with their bitter divisional foes next week.
Brad Marchand: Marchand is an interesting option and likely gets a game off as well. It would have been really interesting to see what approach Coach Cassidy and the Bruins might have taken in the final game of the season if Marchand was sitting on 98 or 99 points. Whilst the team certainly comes first it would have been difficult to deny a player the opportunity to achieve such a huge personal milestone, one that has only be seen in black and gold twice in the last 25 years. Needless to day, Marchand reaching the 100-point mark with two games remaining in the regular season makes the decision a much easier one. There is the slim opportunity to reach 40 goals (Marchand would need 4 over the last 2 games) or 100 penalty minutes (Marchand would also require 4 over the last two games), but milestones aside, sitting one of the final two games is a good bet.
David Pastrnak: Having missed 16 games in the second half of the season with a broken thumb, Pastrnak should be relatively refreshed heading into the playoffs. That said, if there are any ill effects of the injury still being felt, the opportunity is there to give Pastrnak a game or two off heading into the weekend.
In four games vs. Toronto this season, David Pastrnak has six goals & three assists, is a +5, and boasts a 27.3% shooting percentage. Leafs might be in trouble in R1. pic.twitter.com/21ypwxznoU
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) April 2, 2019
David Krejci: Krejci is the only Bruin to have played in all 80 games this season and has probably earned the right to make his own call as to whether he sits a game in the final two or not. Krejci has had an outstanding season and is expected to be a key contributor against Toronto in round one. Krejci has an opportunity to establish a career high in points, needing just two in the final two games to match his high of 73 points achieved all the way back in 2008-09.
As for the others, the opportunity is there for Coach Cassidy to sit any players who may be dealing with minor, undisclosed injuries over the final two games of the regular season. The Bruins have gotten the job done, securing home ice advantage, which has proven pivotal against Toronto in their two previous meetings, both decided in Game 7 on TD Garden ice. The rest that may be given out over the final two games has certainly been earned.