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by: Ty Anderson on Sun, 04/16/2017 - 3:41pm
If the Bruins are even remotely healthy, I don’t even think this first round series with the Senators is all that close. I know that sounds a little hyperbolic, but with the exception of two bad periods, the Bruins have controlled the pace of play and solved the riddle of Ottawa’s neutral zone trap.
But those health woes have sent this series back to Boston tied 1-1.
And at this rate of Bruins dropping like flies you can’t help but feel that this series is going to get worse before it gets better.
Up front, the Bruins are still without Noel Acciari and David Krejci. Both are absent with upper-body injuries, but the Bruins do expect to get Acciari back for Game 3 while there’s been ‘no change’ in Krejci’s status. On their backend, the Bruins have run out of beds for their injured. Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug were injured in the final week of the regular season and have missed both of the club’s playoff games to date. They didn’t even travel to Ottawa with the club, actually. The Bruins then lost Colin Miller in Game 1 and Adam McQuaid was knocked out of Game 2 on Saturday.
In a span of nine days, the Bruins lost their second-best center, four defenders and may be down to their organization’s 10th defensemen (meaning they’ll have to call yet another body up from Providence) if one of those four players are not fit to return to for Monday’s Game 3 in Boston.
And if an overtime loss in Game 2 taught you anything, it’s that this is simply unsustainable.
Down to five defensemen when McQuaid left, Game 2 finished with massive ice-time across the board for the B’s (still standing) defense corps. Joe Morrow, in his first game since Jan. 22, logged a season-high 19:59 of time on ice. Kevan Miller skated in 27:29, also a season-high, and Charlie McAvoy logged a heavy 27:49 in just the second game of his NHL career.
“It’s a challenge, but it’s playoff hockey,” Miller said of the challenges that come with playing down a defender. “The energy may be a little bit low, but I think it’s more between the ears than anything. It’s playoff hockey and everybody’s excited to play, whether it’s five or six or four D.”
Oh, and then there’s the 40-year-old Chara, who finished the night with 30:09 in the loss. That insane stretch of ice-time, which included Chara playing well over three minutes of the final five minutes of action, ended with Chara committing a fatigue-driven puck over the glass penalty with 12 seconds left in the third period. The Sens did not score on that power play (which was a bit of a shock given what Chara and McQuaid have meant to the Boston penalty kill this season, I'd admit), but they did score almost immediately after the penalty expired and Chara rejoined the club, and with Chara playing the role of forward for an otherwise gassed-beyond-belief group.
Listen, if Chara is going to play half an hour of hockey, you want to see that in round four, not one. That’s because you don’t get there if he’s doing it in the former, too. And everybody knows it.
“I don’t think it’s ideal,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted when asked about playing Chara, who has played over 5,000 minutes since the start of the 2014-15 season (and that’s without playoff minutes, of course) that much. “I don’t know if anybody plays that anymore. Z would argue that he loves being out there, but I just think there’s a better target number.”
But deploying Chara with the frequency they have for Games 1 and 2 is not by design, but rather necessity given where the rest of the B’s defense has been at for much of this series.
“Through the course of the year, when we were winning games, you have all six available to you, so that’s part of it. It’s kind of unfair to say when you lose a guy in the first period, or the second period, somebody’s gotta get those minutes,” Cassidy said. “And when you have a lead like the other night, I can see why -- [Chara]’s a good protector, so he’s going to play even more.
“It’s high, but it is what it is some nights.”
At some point though, the Bruins are going to need to find a way to get him a breather or find a way for the rest of the B’s defense to step up with similar efforts in a pinch. Tuukka Rask did his job for a battered Bruins defense in Game 1, but it’s just not reasonable to expect him to stand on his head for a full 60 and an overtime with the Bruins down four regulars in Game 2, especially when the Sens were granted the easy access that came in the later part of that game as the B’s defense wore down.
“It’s always about the next guy,” Patrice Bergeron said of the injuries and the mindset it creates for the rest of the group. “There’s new opportunities for younger players and they’re grabbing them. And it’s good to see. It’s more worrying about what we can control, which is each and every game, and adversity that sometimes makes you stronger, so hopefully that’s what it does for us.”
And Ottawa’s goals in their comeback were a case of just how badly they need one of those younger players or somebody else to provide a key block or defensive stop, too, as the Sens ran over the Bruins in the attacking zone on the Derick Brassard goal (a huge product of Erik Karlsson turning the B’s forwards like parking cones in a drill). And the B’s were incapable of clearing out the screens from in front of Rask on the Chris Wideman goal and Dion Phaneuf’s overtime winner.
Hell, even Chara is going to make those kind of mistakes with the taxing minutes on his frame.
“I don’t imagine [Chara’s minutes] will be there every night if we stay healthy,” said Cassidy.
But right now that’s a big if.