By: Cameron McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter: @CSthinks
It doesn’t take a brilliant hockey mind to understand that the Bruins stole Game 4 from Toronto thanks to some big games from big names.
Only Bruins with positive possession numbers: Bergeron, Marchand, Heinen, Chara, McAvoy
— DJ Bean (ORIGINAL TWEETER) (@DJ_Bean) April 18, 2019
The Bruins, despite twice going up by two or more goals in the game, never seemed to have complete control, and their feeble attempt at staving off a Toronto comeback effort demonstrated how unstable their leads can be. Tuukka Rask allowed a bad goal, but he also played an outstanding hockey game. Game 4 was probably the strongest offensive effort the Leafs put together, pouring in four goals and matching their series high. Yet even as they were charging late having stolen every ounce of momentum, Rask was equal to the task (I hate that I just used that line), slamming the door on both the Leafs and Game 4.
The Bruins got solid games from their top defensive pairing and Brandon Carlo on the back end, with their top line and Charlie Coyle playing well up front. Outside of this group (and Rask) the Bruins played a “meh” hockey game. Maybe even “meh-minus.”
For the third time in four games, Toronto played a better hockey game than the Bruins. If not for the grace of Boston’s top dogs, the Bruins would be coming back to Boston down 3-1 with their backs secured firmly against the wall.
What’s encouraging about this scenario for Boston, is that they’ve essentially played four games (winning two of them), with just three lines. Butch Cassidy’s fourth forward unit of Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari, and Chris Wagner has been, to put it nicely, disappointing. While Nordstrom was able to score an empty netter with the game already decided last night, and even drew a critical penalty in the opening minutes of the game (which lead to a Charlie McAvoy BINGO), the unit as a whole put together another underwhelming game.
Bruce Cassidy on a B’s fourth line that struggled tonight and really needs Sean Kuraly back ASAP: “They need more O-zone time or they’re in trouble”
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) April 18, 2019
The string of playoff performances that this fourth line has compiled sheds a lot of light on just how valuable Sean Kuraly is to not just the fourth unit, but also the team as a whole. Sean Kuraly is the straw that stirs the fourth line drink. With Kuraly in the lineup, his speed makes the entire fourth unit faster and opens up the ice North/South. His ability to carry the puck with speed through the neutral zone drives offensive zone possession for Boston, something that is invaluable, especially coming from a fourth unit. Kuraly’s speed also allows him to be first on a lot of pucks that are dumped behind defensemen. While certainly this bodes well for Boston’s offense and scoring chances, it also (and almost more importantly) creates tougher minutes for Toronto’s defensemen. Forcing Toronto to play in their own end limits their energy and ability to bypass the Bruins’ forecheck with smooth and simple breakouts. Without Kuraly, the Black and Gold forecheck has been noticeably weaker (aside from Game 2). When examining the forechecking efforts of the fourth line specifically, they seem to lack the necessary speed to apply pressure in certain spots (Wagner, Acciari), and lack the necessary physicality to disrupt possession in others (Nordstrom). Kuraly will bring both physicality and speed to Toronto’s front door, and Game 2 showed just how important that is for the Bruins to succeed. To paraphrase the great Destiny’s Child, I don’t think they’re ready for this jelly.
Sounding like Sean Kuraly could be back in the lineup for Boston on Friday at TD Garden. Would certainly add some speed and depth to the bottom 6 for the Bruins. #StanleyCupPlayoffs
— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) April 18, 2019
Kuraly’s role might be as significant to this team’s success as any fourth liner that I can remember. His presence on the fourth line makes the entire lineup deeper, and it opens up chances for other lines because it forces opponents to play tougher minutes. Toronto has shown that it is incapable of playing 60 solid minutes when presented with physicality and aggressiveness.
Having #52 rejoin will not only signal Kuraly’s return to the lineup, but it also signals the return of the fourth line to the Bruin’s rotation. Having Kuraly back means that Bruce Cassidy will have another line he can trust to put on the ice regularly, which will save the legs of the Bruins top scorers and open up the game for them to play as they are capable of. We got a glimpse of how good they can be in the playoffs on Wednesday night in Game 4. Imagine how good they will be when Kuraly’s line eats up some of their tougher minutes.
Put your Kuraly caps on! (I’ll see myself out.)
As far as what the fourth line will look like upon Kuraly’s return, I think it’s anyone’s guess. While the Wagner-Acciari-Kuraly line had a lot of success during the year, it will be interesting to see if Cassidy doesn’t leave Nordstrom in for either Acciari or Wagner. While Nordstrom did outplay both of them, Acciari and Wagner’s chemistry with Kuraly might prove to be too significant to ignore.
If it were up to me, the fourth unit would feature Kuraly-Acciari-Kuhlman. Admittedly, while part of me thought that a “KKA” (pronounced “Ca-Caw”) line would have a cool nickname and be fun for Cassidy to shout when their time had come to grace the ice, I also think that this grouping brings the best balance of speed, skill, and physicality to the fourth line. And that’s a combination that the Bruins have been in dire need of for more than a week now.
In all likelihood, we will probably see either the WAK line or Nordstrom with Kuraly and Acciari. Either way, there’s no scenario in which Sean Kuraly returns and the Bruins’ fourth unit isn’t immediately miles ahead of where it was just days before.
The Bruins just got their swagger back. And are back on Garden ice. Uh-oh.