The Boston Bruins aren’t quite sure what their lineup will look like Thursday night when they battle the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final. Captain Zdeno Chara is dealing with a broken jaw, but according to The Athletic’s Joe McDonald, he might be in the lineup against all odds. Reports also have Matt Grzelcyk, who has missed the last two games, back in the lineup tonight. WEEI’s Christian Fauria had that report yesterday afternoon.
Neither of these developments have been confirmed, however, and until both players are active, the Bruins cannot be sure about their availability. If both miss tonight’s tilt, veteran journeyman Steven Kampfer will draw into the lineup as Boston’s sixth defender. There is also the possibility that Boston will dress seven defenders, going with just eleven forwards as they try to add depth on the backend.
If that happens, Boston would be on the ninth defender on their depth chart. That player? 2017 first-round pick Urho Vaakanainen. Vaakanainen has played in only two NHL games, both coming earlier this year, and hasn’t played in a game in over 40 days. In fact, the last time Vaakanainen played a game was in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs for the AHL’s Providence Bruins.
When asked about the possibility of Vaakanainen as the seventh defender in Game 5, Cassidy was quite frank. “That would be a big ask. A real big ask” confessed the Boston coach. Urho Vaakanainen, 20, has never played in a situation as pressure-filled as the Stanley Cup Final.
Yes, Vaakanainen has played at the World Juniors and in the Calder Cup Playoffs, but the Stanley Cup Final is a different beast. Against a St. Louis team that plays a heavy game with an intense forecheck, Vaakanainen could be overwhelmed.
Cassidy acknowledged that while it would be a tough ask, the Bruins might not have a choice. “If that’s the way we got to go, that’s the ask we’re going to make. But right now that’s a long shot that we’d go that way.”
Cassidy’s comments make the seven D formation sound like a long-shot in Game 5. That could mean a few things. Either Grzelcyk is ready to return, or Boston will stick with the traditional 12-forward and 6-defender formation.
Health is key at this time of year. The Bruins are stretched about as thin as they can be, and are close to a position where they have to ask far too much of a player in his rookie professional season in North America. Luckily for Boston, it doesn’t sound like Cassidy plans on that avenue, and that veteran reinforcements are on the way.