The Bruins had just two names on the absentee list for Monday’s practice, but they were pretty important ones.
Neither David Pastrnak nor Tuukka Rask practiced, with coach Bruce Cassidy putting them in the “unfit to participate” category. Cassidy said he expected them on the ice Tuesday and anticipates Rask starting Stanley Cup Playoffs Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes.
With only one day off in between the B’s final round-robin game and the start of the first round, it would not have been surprising if Rask was given the day off from on-ice activity. The same goes for Pastrnak, who played just under 20 minutes on Sunday and has been ramping up to get back up to speed after missing all of Phase 3.
But when players have been given “maintenance” days since the teams arrived in Toronto, Cassidy has said so, so this does bear watching until we see them on the ice.
Still, Cassidy sounded confident that he’ll have his starting goalie for Tuesday night’s Game 1 against the ‘Canes. But he has not decided on whether he’ll use Jaroslav Halak in a game or let Rask run with it.
“We’ll see how it goes,” said Cassidy. “We’re coming into this with those unknowns. How is Tuukka going to recover? We haven’t played a lot of hockey, so does he need more time in between because he (hasn’t) played a lot? He’s starting (Tuesday) and then we’ll go from there. He’s looked sharp I think in the last two games. He’s tracking pucks well. He’s seeing the puck. I thought his puck play was pretty good in terms of helping the breakout at times when we were under duress. It tells me he’s engaged in the game. I like where his game is at right now. (Monday) he was off. I don’t want to speculate, but we plan on using him (Tuesday) and I believe he’ll be ready to go and play well.”
If the Bruins needed their tires pumped at all going into this best-of-seven with Carolina, all they needed is to listen to the Hurricanes on Monday. Coach Rod Brind’Amour was asked what his team had learned from being swept by the B’s last year.
“I would hope we’ve learned a lot. What did we learn last year? We learned that they’re one of the best teams for a reason. There are no weaknesses,” said Brind’Amour. “They’ve proved it again all this year. I think it’s great that we get a chance to play them, technically, in the first round and great at the best right away. There’s no point in waiting for it. What we learned? We learned that’s a great team and, like I said, no weaknesses. We’re going to have to be sharp.”
But there’s no doubt the ‘Canes are feeling pretty good about themselves after sweeping the Rangers in the play-in round.
“We have more depth (than last year),” said center Jordan Staal. “I think we obviously have a run under our belt that guys like (Andrei Svechnikov) and other guys in the room have learned a lot from and will help us playing a team that’s done it before and have consistently been a very good team for a long time and we’re trying to get to that level. It started with last year and we’re a little more confident with ourselves and the team that we can be and what we can do.”
Hamilton ready to rumble?
Dougie Hamilton, who broke his fibula in January, did not play in Carolina’s play-in round but he remains a possibility to play against the B’s.
“I’m hopeful,” said Brind’Amour. “We get through today’s practice and kind of see where he feels. If he says he can go, he’s going to go. The positive sign is he’s practiced with us the last couple of days and he seems to feel better, so I’m hopeful that he’ll be there.”
New look ‘Canes
Two of the three Bruins’ game scheduled against Carolina were canceled because of the pandemic. The B’s won the only contest, played way back on Dec. 3, 2019. But it was tough sledding. The game was scoreless till the final five minutes when goals from Charlie Coyle and David Krejci produced the win.
Since then, the Canes have added some pretty big pieces in defenseman Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen and forward Vincent Trocheck. The Canes are not only a better team than they were when the B’s swept them in the Eastern Conference Final last year, they’re better than when they played last December.
Who’s in net?
Brind’Amour would not say whether Petr Mrazek or James Reimer would get the opening game start.
Who to bet on
Predictions are always silly in hockey, but far more so in pandemic hockey. But we’ll forge ahead. I’ll ignore my raging recency bias and pick the Bruins in seven. They have to be better than what we’ve seen, right?