3 burning questions for the Bruins following their bye week

Tuukka Rask's health is the biggest short-term question mark

Bruce Cassidy Don Sweeney Bruins NHL
Bruins GM Don Sweeney talks with coach Bruce Cassidy in a hallway after a press conference at TD Garden on May 16, 2018. Sweeney and Cassidy have just under a month to optimize Boston's roster before the NHL trade deadline. Photo by (John Tlumacki/Globe Staff) –John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

COMMENTARY

The Boston Bruins limped into their bye week having lost four of their last six games. But the break comes at a pretty good time as the injury-plagued Bruins heal from their ailments.

Head coach Bruce Cassidy has done an admirable job guiding the team through injuries and inconsistent scoring outside of Boston’s potent top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and first-time all-star David Pastrnak. But the fourth-year bench boss may have to dig deep again with Tuukka Rask in concussion protocol.

Rask’s status is one of a few burning questions facing the Bruins when they return to the ice Tuesday night against the high-octane Winnipeg Jets. We’ll look into that and a couple of other question marks with the Black and Gold following their bye week.

Will Rask miss any time?

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The biggest short-term question comes between the pipes after Rask’s exit last Saturday night. The nine-day layoff gives the Finn plenty of time to heal, but will he be healthy enough to return?

The Bruins haven’t announced any further details aside from their revelation of Rask’s concussion against the Rangers. Zane McIntyre would likely get called up from Providence if Rask isn’t healthy enough to return following his second concussion in as many seasons. Jaroslav Halak, who has struggled since his red-hot start to his Boston tenure, would take over the starting role in Rask’s absence.

Rask (14-8-3, 2.43 goals-against average, .919 save percentage) is unquestionably playing his best hockey of the season. The Finn is 10-4-3 since coming back from his personal absence in mid-November and has taken his spot back as the team’s primary netminder.

The 2014 Vezina winner seems to be in good spirits and, more importantly, feeling better after Pastrnak revealed that the two were texting each other during the week off. But can Rask sustain his hot play when he returns? And will Halak bounce back to give Cassidy that steady 1-2 goaltending tandem? The Bruins need both goaltenders to play well in the home stretch in hopes of grabbing that all-important second seed — and home-ice advantage for the first round — in the Atlantic Division.

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(Update: The Bruins announced Monday that Rask has been placed on injured reserve retroactive to Jan. 19. Zane McIntyre was recalled from the Providence Bruins on an emergency basis.)

What will the middle of the lineup look like?

The revolving door of second line wingers is the primary concern as the Bruins enter their final 33 games. But they’ve at least shut down that second line discussion in the short term with Peter Cehlarik finding chemistry with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk in his first three games since being called up from Providence. More importantly, Cehlarik’s production — two points and an assist — puck pursuit, and two-way play are all a welcome sign for the middle of the lineup.

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Yet the Bruins are still hoping to get Ryan Donato, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Danton Heinen going. The young trio has shown sparks at times but are all struggling with consistency. One of the former college hockey stars could be sent down to Providence soon as Joakim Nordstrom is closer to returning from a non-displaced fibula fracture that he sustained during the Winter Classic.

(Update: The Bruins announced Monday that Donato and Forsbacka-Karlsson have been assigned to Providence. Forwards Peter Cehlarik and Trent Frederic have been recalled from Providence.)

David Backes hasn’t provided a spark on second or third line duty, but keeping a $6 million contract in the press box isn’t ideal. Yet, the growing chemistry between fourth liners Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly — aka the ‘WAK line’ — might make Backes a tenant in the press box.

The Bruins have a dire need for a second or third line upgrade. Which brings us to our final question…

What will Don Sweeney do between now and the trade deadline?

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Boston’s GM may have a little buyer’s remorse after giving up his first-round selection to the Rangers in the Rick Nash trade at last year’s trade deadline. But the Bruins need more secondary scoring and Sweeney shouldn’t be shy in pulling the trigger on an upgrade albeit at the right price.

Some of the rumored names, like Artemi Panarin, Wayne Simmonds, Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, would require a bigger price tag. Others, like Jakob Silvferberg, Michal Ferland, Charlie Coyle and Brayden Schenn, shouldn’t come at an expensive price.

All of the aforementioned players would give the Bruins an upgrade in the middle of the lineup. But only two have more than one year left on their contracts — Coyle and Schenn. The rest are bound to hit the unrestricted free agent market on July 1. Given last year’s trade with Nash, Sweeney will likely have some hesitation going for proverbial rentals like Panarin, Simmonds, Silvferberg or any other player on the last year of their contracts.

The Bruins currently sit in the top wild card spot. They’re two points behind the Canadiens — currently sitting third in the Atlantic — and three points behind the second place Maple Leafs. No question the B’s will have a dog fight on their hands for playoff positioning upon returning from the All Star break.