Bruins

Bruce Cassidy explains his lineup decisions ahead of must-win Game 6

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy watches from the bench in the second period of Game 4. AP Photo/Steven Senne

During Wednesday’s off-day, Bruce Cassidy hinted at a significant change on the Boston back-end with Hampus Lindholm set to return in a must-win Game 6 against the Carolina Hurricanes.

On Thursday, the Bruins’ bench boss opted to sit a struggling and battered Matt Grzelcyk in favor of an inconsistent Mike Reilly.

“Gryz [Grzelcyk] is playing through a little bit of stuff,” Cassidy said to reporters following Thursday’s morning skate in Brighton. “We’ve known that throughout the year. We’ve given him certain nights to sort of recover. We feel now is one of those times that we’re going to do that again.”

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That wasn’t the only notable change.

Aside from scratching Grzelcyk and tabbing Jeremy Swayman for his fourth straight start, the Bruins will essentially return to their Game 1 lineup to start Game 6.

Jake DeBrusk returns to a first-line role on his off-wing with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. David Pastrnak, who reunited with Bergeron and Marchand beginning with Cassidy’s in-game adjustment during Game 2 in Raleigh, will slot back with Taylor Hall and Erik Haula on the second line.

Trent Frederic, who sat in Cassidy’s dog house after committing an ill-timed interference infraction in Game 2, will return to third-line duty with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith. A struggling Tomas Nosek, who hasn’t notched a goal since Jan. 2 in Detroit, will center Curtis Lazar and Nick Foligno on the fourth line.

Chris Wagner, who filled in for Frederic in Games 3, 4, and 5, will sit.

Cassidy isn’t holding out reshuffling his lines again if things go awry with Boston’s season on the line. The Bruins once again encountered issues with secondary scoring and 5v5 offensive production during their three games in Carolina. Even in their two wins at TD Garden, the Bruins relied mainly on the power play and a timely shorthanded goal from Coyle in Game 3, notching only three of their nine goals at even-strength.

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The Bruins developed some success with these four forward lines during the regular season. They hope a reunion of sorts will do the trick. Otherwise, Cassidy may have to go with a top-heavy look of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak, again.

“It’s going back to what we were successful for, for the second half of the year. It’s how we started the series essentially,” Cassidy noted of his line change sup front. “We made an adjustment in Game 3, but we always felt like we wanted to get back to when we were playing our best hockey.”

The third defensive pairing of Connor Clifton and Derek Forbort are the only holdovers from the first five games. Lindholm and the recently returning Charlie McAvoy (COVID protocol) and Reilly and Brandon Carlo make up Boston’s top two defensive duos.

The Bruins returned to the drawing board with their lineup. They’ll need to play their best hockey of the season in front of their rabid fanbase at TD Garden. Otherwise, they’ll be making early tee-time reservations.

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