The only significant development from Game 82 of the Boston Bruins’ regular season came at the final horn.
Both the Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs trotted out their de facto JV lineups for Friday’s matchup. A handful of notable stars, including Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and John Tavares (to name a few), watched from afar as Toronto earned the three-game season sweep.
Boston’s 5-2 setback at Scotiabank Arena secured a first-round matchup with the Carolina Hurricanes. Here’s what we learned as the Bruins finish their 82-game slate with a 51-26-5 record.
Chris Wagner finally gets another chance with the big club
The Walpole-born forward entered training camp hoping to keep his spot as a bottom-six regular. But salary cap issues and implementing newer faces like Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek for third and fourth line duty prompted GM Don Sweeney to place Wagner on waivers following the preseason.
The Bruins assigned Wagner to Providence after he cleared waivers. Wagner never made a return trip up I-95 even as the Bruins encountered injuries and a COVID-19 outbreak during the 2021-22 campaign.
But maintenance days for most of Boston’s core allowed the Bruins to recall Wagner for Friday’s season finale.
The 29-year-old winger made the most of his first Boston appearance since Game 6 of last year’s second-round matchup with the Islanders, delivering a game-high 11 hits and firing a couple of shots on net in 15:57 of ice time.
“I thought he played very well,” Cassidy said of Wagner. “He played to his strengths. He finished every check, was around the front of the net and he had a few looks around the front of the net.”
Wagner arrived for an audition of sorts against the Leafs. The Bruins won’t have any cap restrictions and could keep Wagner around as an extra if they so choose.
The Bruins liked what they saw out of Marc McLaughlin during his initial stint following a solid four-year career at Boston College. They also have Anton Blidh and Jack Studnicka serving as extras. But Wagner’s postseason experience provides another intriguing option for a potential fill-in if Cassidy and the coaching staff encounter injuries on their fourth line.
“We kept Marc [McLaughlin] around for a while here as a young guy and gave him some looks, and he responded early on. So a little of that was evaluating where he was in his pro career. It’s a big ask to go into the playoffs, but he was here to get experience,” Cassidy said. “Wags has played in those situations before, so we have that in the back of our mind. We’ll make those calls in the next couple of days, but I certainly think he was one of our better players tonight in terms of playing a complete 200-foot game.”
Jake DeBrusk escaped an injury scare
The Bruins wanted to leave Toronto with merely bumps and bruises before beginning their playoff journey in Raleigh. They nearly left the Ontario capital without one of their top-six wingers.
DeBrusk spent a few minutes recovering following a second-period collision with Maple Leafs defenseman Justin Holl before skating back to the bench.
The 2015 first-round selection didn’t miss a shift. He eventually notched his 25th goal of the season on Boston’s lone power-play opportunity of the night to cut Toronto’s lead to 4-2 at 12:49 of the final stanza.
“Jake went down awkwardly,” Cassidy said. “We talked to him and he said he felt fine, so he stayed in the game.”
Barring any setbacks, the Bruins will have everyone accounted for on their trip to Raleigh for Monday’s likely series opener.
“I expect us to be 100 percent healthy on Monday,” Cassidy said.
Some initial thoughts on the Hurricanes
The Bruins and Hurricanes will reconvene for postseason hockey for the third time in four seasons. Unlike the other two matchups, a more seasoned Carolina bunch will likely enter the series as a slight favorite.
Like Toronto, Carolina won all three of its regular-season meetings over Boston. Yet, the two squads evolved since the last matchup on Feb. 10.
The Hurricanes will enter the first round with uncertainty in net after former Leaf Frederik Andersen missed the last six games with a lower-body injury. They added a skilled but inconsistent Max Domi to their forward core at the trade deadline.
Hampus Lindholm’s arrival from Anaheim gave the Bruins a needed boost on the top four of their blue-line. They developed balance defensively and within their top six since the Hurricanes completed their regular-season sweep on Garden ice.
“Obviously they had their way with us this year,” Cassidy said after watching Carolina outscore Boston 17-1 in the three-game series. “Some of that was a while ago, and I think our team is in a much better place than when we played them earlier in the year. So we’re not going to take too much stock into that.”
Even with their trade deadline additions, the Bruins and Hurricanes won’t deviate much from their structure. Both teams possess a healthy mix of skill and physicality across their four lines and three defensive pairings.
Unlike their 2019 Eastern Conference Finals sweep and 2020 first-round triumph in five games, the Bruins know they’ll have their hands full this time around
“We expect Carolina to be a difficult opponent. They press, they’re a great skating team and they check well,” Cassidy added. “We feel we can do the same thing, so it should be a great series.”