Zdeno Chara takes step forward for Bruins

Captain returns to form in Game 3

ALLSTON, MA. – JULY 17:  Zachary Senyshyn #19 of the Boston Bruins talks with Zdeno Chara #33 during practice at the Warrior Ice Arena on July 17, 2020 in Allston, Massachusetts.   (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
ALLSTON, MA. – JULY 17: Zachary Senyshyn #19 of the Boston Bruins talks with Zdeno Chara #33 during practice at the Warrior Ice Arena on July 17, 2020 in Allston, Massachusetts. (Staff Photo By Matt Stone/ MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)

After the Bruins lost Game 2 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday, it was a bit jarring to see on the stat sheet that captain Zdeno Chara had played just 15:51. Only rookie Jeremy Lauzon had played less on the Boston back end.

There were various reasons. The B’s were chasing the score from the 11:30 mark of the third period and, yes, Chara is 43 years old. But he has also been battling the puck more since entering the bubble in Toronto than he had in the way-back-when regular season, during which his role had continued to evolve into that of a defensive specialist.

But in the B’s Game 3 win, Chara showed the first signs that his game was coming around. He played 22:02, second only to Charlie McAvoy among Boston blueliners, and a whopping 6:47 on the penalty kill. The only reason the B’s allowed a power-play goal was due to Jaroslav Halak‘s giveaway.

It was the kind of game in which Chara could shine. The B’s took a lead early in the second period and the series’ first two-goal cushion early in the third.

Coach Bruce Cassidy agreed that it could be the kind of game that could get his captain over the hump to get his game to where it needs to be.

“Z is a player now where he is in his career, he’s most effective when we have a lead, protecting the lead, killing penalties. We had five penalties to kill,” Cassidy said Sunday. “We did have the lead so late in the game you know he becomes a shutdown guy. So yes I think he’s a guy that’s going to look better, he’s going to shine in those types of games. When we’re playing from behind, the defensive-minded guys, the guys that are responsible with pucks, etc, they’re not going to look as good when you’re chasing the game. Good for him. I know he feels better about his game. As I said before, I think the bigger guys are going to need the reps. He started to get more reps and as a result is more comfortable in his game against a fast opponent that forechecks, tries to play behind him a lot, they chip pucks behind, that’s where he and Charlie (McAvoy) have to be good on the retrievals and communicating. I thought (Game 3) was a good step forward in that regard and again with the lead, he excels, his game excels, and it definitely was the case (Saturday).”

Rask return ‘remote’

Though he left the bubble to be home with his family, Tuukka Rask is technically eligible to return if he so desired, as would any player who opted out of the playoffs. But protocols and timelines associated with a possible return would make the possibility of Rask’s return “remote,” said GM Don Sweeney via text. Quarantine timelines are dependent on means of travel, testing and preventative measures. All cases are subject to review by the NHL medical director.

Cassidy, who had not spoken to Rask by the time of his postgame press conference on Saturday, said he touched base with Rask.

“We exchanged texts (Sunday), left him a message, so he’s doing well, his family is doing well, so that’s very encouraging for everyone in the Bruins organization,” said Cassidy. “As we said before, we support Tuukka, we wish him well, we want nothing but the best for him and his family. Should circumstances change there where he feels he can come back to the club, then I think we’ll cross that bridge when we come and see what it involves.”

But the longer Rask is off his skates, of course, the further he gets from being in playoff form.

Before the series started, Cassidy had said he was looking at the back-to-back situation scheduled for Games 5 and 6 as a possible opportunity to substitute Halak for Rask. Now, with Daniel Vladar seemingly the next in line (he served as Halak’s backup on Saturday), it seems like that thinking could be altered. Vladar has no NHL experience.

“Well, (Halak) is our guy, he’s proven that right now, the other guys have not,” said Cassidy, including Maxime Lagace in the mix. “I’m not saying they couldn’t handle it and we may have to look at the Game 5 and 6 back-to-back, but I don’t want to get that far ahead. Let’s get through (Monday) night’s game and let’s see where Jaro is at. He has played back-to-back for us, you know a couple of years ago we needed him to do that (when Rask had been injured and also when he had taken a short leave of absence), so he’s a guy that we’ve seen do it and have success. Will we go that route? Let’s see where we’re at, let’s see where his physical well-being is as well. He hasn’t played a lot of hockey so is he going to be suited for that type of action, is it a heavy game or a busy game the game preceding the second part of the back-to-back, are we comfortable with the other goaltenders? You know there’s a little bit of that that goes into it. Without seeing them, having seen them, that’s a tough question to answer to be honest with you. We’re going to have to sort of wing it if we go that way because they haven’t played in this return to play and they’ve only seen practice shots. So all that has to be considered and then ultimately probably will come down to Jaro’s call, can he handle it if that’s the route we need to go.”

Pasta on the ice

David Pastrnak, who missed Games 2 and 3 with an undisclosed injury, took part in the B’s optional skate, but Cassidy was not ready to say that he was a go for Monday’s Game 4.

“Not sure yet, probably a little premature. Let’s see how he does in the morning, so I put him at I’d say 50/50 I guess, at best right now. Of course, that could change over 24 hours,” said Cassidy.

If Pastrnak can play, the guess here is that Anders Bjork, who took three penalties including a bad offensive zone tripping infraction in the third period, comes out and Jack Studnicka stays in at third line right wing. Studnicka hit the net four times in Game 3 and drew strong reviews from linemate Sean Kuraly.

“I thought it went really well. Jack’s obviously a highly skilled player who can really skate,” said Kuraly. “I think he found himself in some good spots. One thing I thought about was that, young players don’t talk as much, but I found him really communicating. For someone like me who’s in the corners, a little communication can sometimes help. I think a couple of those pucks that he got in good spots was because of him communicating. He’s just a smart hockey player.”

MRI for Svechnikov

Hurricane coach Rod Brind’Amour did not have a definitive update on Andrei Svechnikov, who was undergoing an MRI after suffering a gruesome-looking leg injury late in the third period in Game 3. But asked if the young star had a chance to return in the series or the playoffs, Brind’Amour said, “I would highly doubt it.”….

The Bruins signed Northeastern and Malden Catholic product Matt Filipe to a two-year entry level contract. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound forward had 31-44-75 totals in 136 collegiate games with the Huskies. The Lynnfield native was originally drafted in the third round (67th overall) by the Hurricanes in the 2016 draft.