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Bruce Cassidy sees the positive in Bruins’ third line

Coach will allow the trio to grow

ALLSTON, MA. – JULY 14:  Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy speaks to his team during practice at the Warrior Ice Arena on July 14, 2020 in Allston, Massachusetts.   (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
ALLSTON, MA. – JULY 14: Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy speaks to his team during practice at the Warrior Ice Arena on July 14, 2020 in Allston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

The Bruins’ third line of Nick Ritchie, Charlie Coyle and Anders Bjork had its positive moments in Wednesday’s Game 1 against the Carolina Hurricanes, most notably the Coyle goal that was scored off some greasy front-net work by all three players.

But the line was also on the ice for two goals against after a couple of lost battles from Ritchie and some miscommunication.

Still, with the first win under his belt, coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t sound like he was at all close to breaking up the line — and he’s not a coach who’s afraid to make changes. But he did acknowledge that things could have gone more smoothly for them.

“On the first goal, Ritchie certainly had a chance to kill the play. Charlie Coyle’s caught on defense. I think (Charlie) McAvoy was up. At the end of the day, that’s a D and he helps Ritchie, that play’s dead and it’s a 1-on-5. From there, Anders comes into the pile thinking Ritchie’s going to kill it so he’s on the wrong side of the ice instead of returning through the middle. So just a couple little things. Looked like a harmless play, then the Ritchie battle, the Bjork route and all of a sudden they’re on a line change and they get the puck in the middle of the ice to fresh legs and they make a play. Honestly, it was one breakdown that led to another. If we kill it early, it’s done,” said Cassidy. “The other goal we just got a little bit anxious on the wall to get in the battle with Anders and the puck beat him to the top. If it’s a righty, he’s probably fine, but it’s a lefty, (Hadyn) Fleury, who can drag it into the middle of the ice quicker on his off side. Anders attempted to make the block, but it got through.

“Other than that, they did a lot of things well. They obviously scored a goal for us, had some looks. Anders was all alone in front of the net with a point-blank (chance), a great play by Coyle. They haven’t been together a lot obviously so we’ll allow them time to grow as a line unless (availability) prevents us from doing that. But all in all, I thought they were better than they were bad, they just happened to be victimized for a couple of goals.”

As it turned out, with the surprise scratch of David Pastrnak (unfit to participate), Bjork did have to get bumped up to the top line while Karson Kuhlman took Bjork’s spot on the third line.

Meanwhile, just judging from the ever-reliable social media meter, it seems that Ritchie has become an object of many fans’ ire. Big men losing battles never looks good. But while Cassidy acknowledged that there are things Ritchie can work on, the coach will allow him to get that work in. He also thought his physicality and size did show up at times, which he believes is needed.

“He had some good hits. He hit (Joel) Edmundson hard, shook him up. Both teams in any series are looking for the physical part so that there’s the attrition factor, so time will tell on that,” said Cassidy. “He got to the front of the net a lot. We asked him to do that. Now the way Carolina’s D are active, you’ve got to know, ‘OK, where am I in front? Am I in good position to recover if there’s a turnover or uncertainty on a puck possession so I won’t get beat up ice? Or can I take away the goalie’s eyes and get right on top of the crease?’ Those are some discussions we’ll have with him. He didn’t find a lot of loose pucks for himself, but Charlie Coyle scored a goal, he was part of that sequence. He went to the front of the net with Anders’ chance with Coyle, so he was around there. The physicality part versus Carolina? I think it’s important in any series. They’ve got some big bodies over there. Are you using it to your advantage becomes more of the question for me. We’re willing to keep encouraging him to do that. I think he had four hits and got one pretty good lick in there. It’s his first (playoff) game with us, so we brought him in for a reason and we’ll allow him to grow unless we feel if there’s a better option for us, a quicker option, a guy that has different attributes, then we’ll use him.”

Rask back in net

Cassidy was going right back with Tuukka Rask for Thursday’s Game 2, despite the games being on consecutive days.

“There were three factors. How’s Tuukka feeling coming out of the game? He felt fine. Was there a lot of wear and tear to the point where recovery would require more than 24 hours or three hours? I don’t think so. We were pretty clean in front of him. Not a lot of stretches that were demanding. Still, it was four periods of hockey, so he’s got to be ready on his toes the whole game,” said Cassidy. “Back-to-back decisions have a lot to do with travel, short night’s sleep. We didn’t have any of those factors. He went to the rink and back to the hotel, so there’s obviously no travel and you get a full night’s sleep, so that had a lot to do with it.”

Not so powerful

The B’s vaunted power play is 0-for-13 since the start of the round robin, with an 0-for-4 outing — including a shorthanded goal against — in Game 1. Carolina has an aggressive penalty kill and Cassidy would like to see his team account better for that.

“The way they form that tight diamond in the neutral zone didn’t allow us to gain entry with possession, which is something we try to do as much as any team in this league. It was stubbornness on our part not to get pucks behind them,” said Cassidy. “We have a couple of plays that we talked about before. Unfortunately we didn’t have a chance to practice the timing of some of them. We always run that stretch play against Carolina off the end boards. We’ve had some success against them doing that. We actually scored out there. Sometimes we find that will loosen them up. Didn’t work for us.”

No stopping them

Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said his team wasn’t caught by surprise by the B’s top line’s set play that led to David Pastrnak‘s goal in Game 1. And therein lies the problem for his team.

“Everyone knows they’re coming. That’s the hard part,” said Brind’Amour. “You actually know they’re coming and you still can’t defend it. That’s what happened. We knew exactly what the play was and we knew how to cover it. It’s not blown coverage, it’s just that much (holding his thumb and forefinger an inch apart). That’s all they need. That’s why they’re so elite. There’s a lot of great players in the game, but the chemistry that these guys have, just know where they’re going with the puck before they get it, that’s what the top guys do, and that’s what they are.”

Play it back

Brind’Amour’s assessment of Game 1 after reviewing it: “It was worse watching it back than it did live, so that didn’t sit that well. We weren’t very good and they did exactly what they wanted to do.”

Hamilton’s return

In his first game since breaking his fibula in January, Dougie Hamilton played 26:48 in the double-OT Game 1, finishing with a minus-2 and no shots on net.

“For first game back, I thought he was fine. I thought he was really good actually,” said Brind’Amour. “He’d been out almost (eight) months. It’s not the perfect amount of minutes you’d want a guy to play who hasn’t played forever, but he handled it really well.”

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