By: Jack Gotsell | Follow me on Twitter @jackgotsell
As the Bruins look ahead to what I can only imagine will be a battle against Tampa Bay, we need to look for that old, gritty black and gold muscle. This series will be much more physical than the Carolina series. Tampa Bay has a lot of big physical bodies such as Patrick Maroon and Barclay Goodrow. This means Nick Ritchie will most likely get back into the lineup.
Is this the right call? Some may say no, but my answer is yes. Although I have loved what I have seen so far from young Jack Studnicka, I think this series is too physical for him at this stage in his career. When the Bruins traded for Ritchie, they were looking to acquire a physical presence on the ice for matchups just like this one.
In the Carolina series, it made sense to go with more speed like Anders Bjork and Studnicka based on how much Carolina’s defense liked to jump into the play. This series, Coach Bruce Cassidy is going to look for big bodies to match Tampa Bay’s more physical style of play. So, it’s likely that Ritchie comes into the lineup, Par Lindholm is scratched, and either Studnicka or Bjork play right wing alongside Ritchie and Charlie Coyle. Sean Kuraly would likely slot back into his role on the 4th line as a center where he has looked most comfortable.
Connor Clifton is not huge by any standard, but he can certainly play big for a smaller guy, by throwing his body all over the ice. If Clifton doesn’t play physically from the start, Cassidy will not hesitate to put Jeremy Lauzon back into the lineup. It’s not just the big bodies of Maroon and Goodrow that the Bruins will have to worry about. On defense, Tampa’s Victor Hedman, Zach Bogosian, Erik Cernak, and Mikhail Sergachev’s physicality will have to be dealt with. Ritchie’s size and tenacity will undoubtedly help the Bruins get a much-needed body in front of the net.
However, if Ritchie continues to play as he did against Carolina, he will find himself out of the lineup as quickly as he’s come into it. In the Carolina series, he had no shots on goal, and no hits that stuck out to a degree in which anyone would say his physical presence made a significant impact on the Bruins’ success. But Ritchie is 6’2”, 234 lbs, and has gone at it with the likes of Maroon and Goodrow since putting on a Bruins sweater. If the Bruins hope to establish a much-needed physical presence, we are going to need a lot of that in this upcoming series.
After getting booted last year in the first round by Columbus, the Lightning decided to get bigger and, in doing so, sacrificed a little speed. The Bruins counter to that was the addition of Ritchie, who like Maroon and Goodrow lacks elite speed but, when playing their game, can get those speedy players off their game. These big guys and their physical style may be the catalyst for momentum swings throughout the series.
Following the Carolina series Cam Neely described that the matches were “maybe not necessarily as physical,” Neely went on to say that he “think[s] we’ll see Nick down the road, for sure.” There is no doubt that, as Neely recognized, Carolina was not a physical series for the Bruins; so the size and strength of Richie was subbed out for faster, quicker skaters. But now it’s time for Ritchie to show us the muscle that Boston is known for. To make the Danton Heinen trade worth it, I want to see that blood-boiling intensity of past enforcers like Milan Lucic and Shawn Thornton. This is why we acquired Ritchie. If not now, then when?