The injuries to Matt Grzelcyk and Zdeno Chara put the Bruins in a tough spot heading into a pivotal Game 5 Thursday night. Yet, they still find themselves with home ice advantage in the de facto best-of-three scenario.
Chara is all but certain out for Game 5 with a facial injury. Grzelcyk skated with his team on Wednesday for the first time since sustaining a concussion from an Oscar Sundqvist hit a week ago. He’s still in protocol, but Bruce Cassidy wouldn’t rule him out for Thursday night.
Whether it is a returning Grzelcyk or Steven Kampfer on the back end, the Bruins need all hands on deck to control their Cup destiny against a heavy St. Louis Blues squad. And they need that depth to shine in every scenario, be it on special teams or even strength.
The latter was a sore spot for the Black and Gold during the first four games. They’ve created traffic in front of a susceptible Jordan Binningnton at times, but they know they can do more to distract the Blues netminder who’s allowed his fair share of juicy rebounds.
“Getting to the net and getting rebounds,” head coach Bruce Cassidy assessed on what the Bruins need to do 5-on-5. “There will be some rebounds there if we get there and we have traffic.”
Yet, the Bruins have scored in a variety of ways against the Blues. Their special teams play gave them a leg up, especially after their perfect 4-for-4 performance in Game 3. They’ve also scored a pair of empty-net goals in Games 1 and a 3 and a shorthanded goal in Game 4.
The aforementioned scoring output accounts for nine of the team’s 15 goals through the first four games. Not bad by any stretch of the imagination. But their six even-strength goals compared to St. Louis’ 10 5-on-5 tallies — out of their 11 lamplighters this series — puts the Bruins at a bit of a disadvantage heading into Game 5.
Of their six even-strength tallies, the top two lines — featuring Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, and David Backes — accounted for a grand total of zero goals. Neither Krejci nor Backes has notched a single point in the series, while DeBrusk has a pair of power play assists.
Say what you want about the Blues embellishing a few calls in Game 4, but they played their most disciplined game of the series. The power play chances may be few and far between in Game 5 and the Bruins need to find a way to get more 5-on-5 production — outside of the six goals tallied by their third and fourth lines — against a physically skilled Blues bunch.
“You always want to play the game that’s in front of you,” Bergeron said. “Last game was a little more 5-on-5, and we have to find ways to generate more offensively for sure.”
Adding Grzelcyk’s puck-moving skillset would help the Bruins with their transition game. But they won’t know about his availability until Cassidy confirms Grzelcyk’s status on Thursday.
The Bruins found a good physical and composed formula against the Blues in Games 1 and 3. Their power play accounted for five of their 11 goals in the two victories, but they had their legs going in 5-on-5 situations to put themselves in a good spot.
Marchand, Bergeron, and Pastrnak improved in each of the first three rounds as their series progressed with the Maple Leafs, Blue Jackets, and Hurricanes. DeBrusk and Krejci — and to a lesser degree Backes — also provided bright spots in crunch time.
Getting 5-on-5 production is key with or without Chara or Grzelcyk. That won’t be easy going up against a Blues bunch that’s 6-1 in Games 5 through 7 this postseason. But they’ll need that even-strength improvement if they want to snap Boston’s professional championship drought that’s 122 days and counting.