By: Yanni Latzanakis | Follow Me On Twitter: @yanlatz
As the Bruins and Blues prepare for a pivotal game five in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Boston Bruins could be without their captain. In game four at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis, Zdeno Chara took a puck to the face in the second period that prevented him from returning to the game. Now, Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins might have to adjust to missing their leader for a big game of a tied Stanley Cup Final series.
Just three minutes into the second period of game four, the Bruins lost their captain after Brayden Schenn rifled a shot that ramped off of Chara’s defending stick and into his mouth area. Chara would leave for the second period, and the Bruins were again down to five defensemen much like game two in which they lost in overtime. At the start of the third period, Chara was on the Bruins bench with a full shield on, leading many to believe that the monster defenseman would play. However, he did not touch the ice besides in between TV timeouts to rally up his troops. It was later revealed by Cassidy that Chara was advised not to play as he was “very uncomfortable” but wanted to sit on the bench to be there for his teammates.
🎥 Bruce Cassidy on Zdeno Chara’s status: “Very uncomfortable, was advised not to return to play. Had some stitches, probably some dental work in the near future. He wanted to come out on the bench and be with his teammates…I don’t know his status for Game 5.” pic.twitter.com/ToRAYWABOg
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 4, 2019
After Ryan O’Reilly buried a late third-period game-winning goal that would ultimately tie the Stanley Cup Finals series at two games apiece, worry crept into Bruins fans’ minds about the status of the Bruins captain. On Tuesday, it was reported that Zdeno Chara broke his jaw as a result and he ultimately missed practice on Wednesday at TD Garden. At the conclusion of Bruins practice, Cassidy spoke about Chara’s facial injury and that it was not a good sign that Zee was not on the ice on Wednesday.
— Mark Allred (@BlackAndGold277) June 4, 2019
So, all signs are pointing to Big Zee potentially being out for at least game five in this series. That leaves Bruce Cassidy with some very tough decisions heading into arguably the biggest game of the series and the season for both the Bruins and the Blues. With Grzelcyk going down after a hard hit from Oskar Sundqvist in game two, John Moore was called on to step in and replace Grzelcyk on the blue line. The next man up that we have seen step up in these playoffs would be Steven Kampfer. However, Cassidy has second-guessed the insertion of Kampfer because he is a right-handed shot and would throw off the right-left balance between Kampfer and Connor Clifton – a balance that is consistent with the rest of the defense.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 5, 2019
Another option would be for Cassidy to insert Bruins rookie standout Urho Vaakanainen into the lineup. Urho would solve the right-left shot balance as he is a left-handed shooting defenseman. However, this could be a risky move as Vaakanainen has only played two regular season games in the NHL.
The third option for Bruce Cassidy and his coaching staff is to roll eleven forwards and seven defensemen. This, of course, would mean that a forward would be scratched in order to make room for the seventh defenseman which would likely be David Backes as he was often the odd forward out in the earlier rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs when Karson Kuhlman was with Krejci and DeBrusk on the second line. The Blues have beaten the Bruins twice this series, and both times the Bruins have lost defenseman for a big chunk of the game when they lost Grzelcyk in the first period of game two and Chara at the beginning of the second period of game four.
On Wednesday, the practice lines looked like this:
Marchand – Bergeron – Pastrnak
DeBrusk – Krejci – Backes
Johansson – Coyle – Heinen
Nordstrom – Kuraly – Acciari
Moore – McAvoy
Krug – Carlo
Kampfer – Clifton
Grzelcyk – Vaakanainen
As of Wednesday, Cassidy stated that Grzelcyk still needs to be cleared which he is possible to get cleared tomorrow. It appears that Kampfer would play with Clifton in game five, but that will ultimately depend on if Cassidy wants to remove a forward and go with the seven defensemen, if Grzelcyk is cleared, or if Vaakanainen gets the call over Kampfer. Good news is that Grzelcyk looked well on the ice and that he skated with the second powerplay unit indicating that he is close but still needs to be cleared.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 5, 2019
All in all, Cassidy is in for a series of crucial tough decisions for the all-important game five at TD Garden on Thursday night. If Chara is unable to go for game five, the Bruins will undoubtedly miss his leadership on and off the ice.