Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy may be facing the toughest decision of his three-year stint at Boston’s helm.
David Backes is a sentimental focal point in this Stanley Cup Final because he played 10 seasons for St. Louis and was the Blues’ captain for five seasons. A great story, however, has turned sour as the Blues have targeted Backes for physical punishment every time he’s been on the ice, and the 35-year-old has taken a beating and only minimally dished out any pain to his former team.
Backes has played 11 straight games since being scratched for five, but he hasn’t registered a point since he scored the fifth goal in a 6-2 rout of Carolina in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final. He’s holding back his linemates David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk like an anchor.
It’s time for Backes to sit for Game 5 of this 2-2 best-of-7 series Thursday and let rookie Karson Kuhlman bring his speed and fresh legs into the Bruins lineup before it’s too late.
“We haven’t discussed sentiment or taking Backs out. That line needs to get going, it’s a line of three players,” Cassidy said at Hanscom Field on Tuesday. “We’ve had good secondary scoring, balanced scoring the whole playoffs. So far this series they haven’t got on the board, but hopefully their game gets going and can help us there.”
Krejci, of course, wouldn’t throw Backes under the bus Tuesday, but the center was critical of the line as a whole after its performance in Boston’s 4-2 loss in Game 4.
“I don't think we worked as a unit together. I wasn't really happy about the way we played last game,” Krejci said. “We need to talk about it, keep talking about it. Talk is cheap at this time of the year, so …
“We just got to look at ourselves in the mirrors and do the things that we talk about doing.
With the status of injured defensemen Zdeno Chara and Matt Grzelcyk up in the air for Game 5 on, Cassidy is considering going with seven defensemen and 11 forwards, figuring that the Bruins would at least have strength in numbers while trying to make up for the absence of 2/3 of the left side of their defense corps.
The easy thing to do is to just add veteran right-shot defenseman Steven Kampfer into the mix and let Connor Clifton move over to the left side, leaving the Bruins with 12 forwards. If Cassidy decides he needs an extra defenseman, he can turn to a rookie left-shot defenseman from among the group of Urho Vaakanainen, Jakub Zboril and Jermey Lauzon.
Regardless of who’s on defense, they’re going to need more support from their forwards, and that means guys that can skate, that means Kuhlman. With Backes out, Kuhlman can go on the second line, or he can go on the third line with Danton Heinen moving to the first and bumping David Pastrnak to the second. Cassidy could mix and match how he sees fit.
This space has always been respectful and appreciative of what Backes brings to the Bruins. When Boston was missing his presence in the Toronto and Columbus series, we called for his re-insertion in the lineup and he contributed. But he was never meant to be in the lineup this long, especially against such a difficult opponent. The 10 days off the Bruins had before the Final clearly didn’t help Backes recharge.
The Bruins could eventually need Backes again in Game 6 or Game 7 (although they closed out the Maple Leafs without him in the last two games).
Right now it’s in the Bruins’ best interest to make a change at forward and swap out Backes for Kuhlman.
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