With the Maple Leafs’ season on the line after trailing three games to one, Toronto coach Mike Babcock needed to make the necessary adjustments both coaching and personnel wise to extend Toronto’s season. Those changes benefitted the desperate Leafs in Games 5 and 6.
The Leafs enter familiar territory with their season on the line in Game 7 Wednesday night at TD Garden. The Bruins, after failing to close out the series twice, are now in the same situation. And Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has an important lineup decision ahead of him.
Will he play former Harvard standout Ryan Donato? Will Danton Heinen — a minus-1 in five games — return to the lineup after watching the Bruins’ 3-1 loss in Game 6? Or will Cassidy opt to insert one of his other two veterans, Brian Gionta or Tommy Wingels?
“We have a lot of guys that are great players that can slot in at any time, so I’m not thinking too much about it,” Heinen said following Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “We have a chance to win a series here, so [I] just have to focus on trying to help the team win any way I can.”
Early indications suggest Heinen will get the nod for Game 7. The former University of Denver product skated with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on the second line during Tuesday’s on-ice session.
Both Heinen and Donato are better options for top-six minutes. Even with Heinen getting the nod with Krejci and DeBrusk, Cassidy isn’t ready to tip his cap quite yet.
“There is some certain level of trust that you have in the players that have gotten you this far, and Danton Heinen is one of those [players] who has played really well for us [in the regular season],” Cassidy said about Heinen.
“We’ve considered it,” Cassidy added about Donato, who skated with Noel Acciari and David Backes in his lone appearance of the series in Game 2. “[Donato] played a game earlier and he was okay. He wasn’t great, he wasn’t bad, he was somewhere in between. Whatever we decide tomorrow isn’t set in stone today.”
Putting Donato in a do-or-die Game 7 is a risky proposition. He may be a liability defensively, but Donato’s skill set would complement Krejci and DeBrusk on the second line. The Bruins lacked a finish in Games 5 and 6 and Donato’s quick shot and offensive creativity could give Cassidy and company a much-needed boost against Frederik Andersen and a more structured Leafs defense — at least since Game 2.
Heinen, however, is a little more versatile. Donato, while also a viable option at center, hasn’t skated at left wing during his brief time in Boston. Heinen, who saw time on all four lines during the regular season, can play both wings.
“He can play up and down the lineup – he can play with [Sean] Kuraly – and Rick Nash we can move back with Krech [David Krejci] so that’s an easy fix,” Cassidy added. “Danton has played right wing and that’s where, in our estimation, Ryan is strictly a left-winger for the most part. So that’s where the juggling comes in if we’re going to use Ryan.”
One more trait that gives Heinen an advantage over Donato: his ability to bounce-back from a rough stretch. The 21-year-old’s worst stretch of his rookie year was a one assist outing during a nine-game span from Feb. 10-27. His first career healthy scratch followed against the Penguins on March 1.
Heinen still struggled to find the scoresheet following the healthy scratch but remained a solid two-way contributor. He finally broke out of his slump against the Hurricanes on March 11 — tallying his first goal since Feb. 6 – and notched four points in the final five games of the regular season.
“The guys have responded, so if Danton comes in after sitting that game, you’re hoping to get that response, right?” Cassidy said. “That’s the idea for them to at least learn something from being up there, and not take it personally, but take it personally if that makes sense to you. They [say] ‘I got to get back in there and take my spot because there’s some worthy guys here.’ So if he goes back in we’re hoping that’s what happens.”
Between coaching adjustments and an important lineup decision, Cassidy is indeed hoping the Bruins can finally finish off their Original Six rivals in front of 17,565 on Causeway Street.