For the first time in over five months, the Boston Bruins will take the ice for game action. They’ll “visit” the Columbus Blue Jackets in the lone exhibition for both clubs prior to the 2020 Stanley Cup Qualification Round. The Blue Jackets will battle the Toronto Maple Leafs in a best-of-five series starting Sunday. The Bruins will play for seeding in the round-robin, starting Sunday against the Philadelphia Flyers.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 pm on NESN, NHL Network, Sportsnet 1, and 98.5 The Sports Hub.
CASSIDY EXPECTS “PRETTY FULL” LINEUP
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has not had the luxury of a full lineup for most of the ‘Return to Play’ camp. That changes tonight. The coach is confident that he’ll have close to a full group in the team’s lone dress rehearsal in the Toronto bubble.
“I think we’re gonna play a pretty fully lineup, I expect Columbus will [too],” Cassidy said recently. “What I’ve seen from the [other exhibition] games is the pace is very, very high. Guys have their legs, they’re flying around. Execution’s a little bit off, managing the puck is always a challenge your first few games to get back to playing safer hockey when there’s no play to be made, as opposed to open-ice shinny type stuff.”
After skating in practice for the last three days, the team’s leading scorer, David Pastrnak, has the green light to play on the top line tonight and hopefully regain that magic that made him, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
“The line looked good again,” Cassidy said on Wednesday. “We had some work portions of practice, you could see some of the grindings, some of the battling, the 5-on-5, D-zone, forecheck, puck recovery stuff. I’ll have a discussion with him tonight at dinner. I think he wants to play, he’s ready to play. I just want to make sure we’re not rushing him. At the end of the day, I would suspect he’ll play. I’ll make the final decision in the morning and see him at the rink to double-check. That’s the way we’re leaning.”
The Bruins are also eager to see how rookie forward Jack Studnicka performs in game action on a line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
“Right now we’re taking a look at Jack on right wing…we’ve moved Bjork around on the right side,” Cassidy said. “We’ll see how Jack does with Krejci and DeBrusk, so far he’s looked good there.”
Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase will not play today. Kase is still in Boston but should join the group “in short order”, according to GM Don Sweeney. Ritchie has missed the last six practices.
BUSY B’S WEDNESDAY
The Bruins were busy on Wednesday, handling some contract business. The club signed winger Anders Bjork to a three-year contract extension. The deal carries an annual average value of $1,600,000.
“We’ve had discussions with our RFA’s, and at times they start to track in a direction that you think you’ve got a landing spot and other ones they don’t. There’s never any timeline,” Sweeney told BHN’s Jimmy Murphy regarding the timeline of getting Bjork signed.
“Other than the obvious of when the season starts or a player has arbitration, some of those touchpoints that do present deadlines,” Sweeney continued. “In this case, we had a couple of conversations with Anders and his representatives and found timing and such that he would like to get it done earlier than later and we were fine with that.”
That wasn’t the only news on Wednesday. Forward Charlie Coyle won NESN’s 7th Player Award, as voted on by the fans. NESN’s 7th Player Award is an annual award presented to the Bruin who “exceeded the expectations of Bruins fans during the season”.
Rask And Halak To Split 50/50
Cassidy confirmed that goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaro Halak will split 50/50 tonight with Rask playing the first half of the game and Halak the second. As I wrote earlier today, don’t be surprised if Cassidy begins a rotation in the round-robin and it carries into the Stanley Cup playoffs!
BLUE JACKETS READY TO SURPRISE
The Blue Jackets enter the Qualifying Round as the ninth seed and will play the Maple Leafs in a best-of-five for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s been quite a ride for Jack Adams finalist John Tortorella and his team.
The Blue Jackets lost stars Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel in free agency last summer. They still iced a competitive team in 2019-20.
Pierre-Luc Dubois was a big reason why. The hulking forward led the club with 49 points (18 g, 31 a) in 70 games. Oliver Bjorkstrand, meanwhile, led the team with 21 goals.
Even without all the star power, the Blue Jackets were a problem for the Bruins in 2019-20. The Bruins went 0-1-1 in two meetings against the team they eliminated in the second round of last year’s playoffs.
BOSTON BRUINS LINES
A little twist tonight. Teams will dress 20 skaters instead of the normal 18. That means Bruce Cassidy will get 13 forwards and seven defensemen this evening. Kase (unfit to play) and Ritchie (unfit to play) are confirmed to be out for tonight’s game.
Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk – David Krejci – Jack Studnicka
Sean Kuraly – Charlie Coyle – Anders Bjork
Joakim Nordstrom – Par Lindholm – Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Jeremy Lauzon