Here we are again: a true “must-win” game.
The Bruins’ track record in games like this hasn’t been great in the past few years, and their effort on Wednesday night did little to inspire confidence in a big comeback.
The main issue last night was that the Bruins didn’t generate a ton in terms of quality scoring opportunities, as lines one through four struggled to get real high-quality looks.
They had maybe four or five good chances; the two Brad Marchand breakaways come to mind, as does the bouncing loose puck in the final minute.
The other huge issue is that they continue to have a black hole of a third line. It’s hampered the Bruins all season long, and may play a large role in their demise, whenever it comes.
I’m not even sure what you do with it at this point. Ryan Spooner’s play this season has left plenty to be desired, and I’m not convinced he returns at season’s end.
To me, Frank Vatrano has grown increasingly frustrating to watch. It’s probably confirmation bias on my part, but he seems to shoot when he should pass and pass when he should shoot.
Toss in the fact that he left the Garden in a walking boot, per Ty Anderson, and he may not even be available on Friday.
Tim Schaller really hasn’t recaptured the form that saw him become a bit of a cult hero earlier this year. David Krejci also needs a better caliber of winger than Schaller, who isn’t bad but is better suited for a bottom-6 role.
Drew Stafford has disappeared for long stretches, and for some reason continues to be put on his off-wing on occasion by Bruce Cassidy.
(This piece isn’t meant to harp on these role players, as they’re certainly not the only problem. Marchand whiffing on two breakaways, for example, is a much larger issue.)
So...what do you do heading into Game 5? Trot the same players and lines out there and hope for the best?
My suggestion, sure to be an unpopular one, is to insert the July 1, 2015 Brothers back in the lineup.
That’s right: Jimmy Hayes and Matt Beleskey. THE BIG GUNS.
Yes, it is 4/20. No, I am not high.
Assuming Vatrano is out, they’re going to need at least one new face. Vatrano had been spending time at right wing, making the right-shot Hayes a more logical choice.
However, it’s also worth considering swapping Beleskey for Schaller, regardless of whether or not Vatrano plays.
Beleskey last appeared in Game 2, where he took a stupid penalty and was subsequently banished from the lineup after Noel Acciari’s return.
He actually wasn’t bad in that game, finishing over 60% in 5v5 possession. He’s got more of the fabled Jam™ to his game than Schaller, and might fare well in a balls-to-the-wall elimination game. Or he could take a dumb penalty. Either way.
Then we get to Large Jim. Hayes hasn’t appeared in a game since getting drilled with a Colin Miller shot in the second-last game of the season. He hasn’t be mentioned in any of the practice lines, but is healthy enough to play.
He’s had a bad season. He’d tell you he’s had a bad season. Things just have not gone right.
However, his overall game improved later in the season, some time after he was a healthy scratch for a long stretch. Throw him in the mix. Let’s get nuts.
Part of this is desperation, part is trying something new and part is the law of averages: both of these guys have had seasons so bad that they HAVE to rebound at some point.
Plus, every playoff series has that random hero who appears out of nowhere and plays a huge role.
What could be more random than an “under ten goals with $6+ million in cap money” duo striking gold?
Am I a mad genius, an unabashed Dorchester homer or just dumb? YOU DECIDE.
Whatever Bruce Cassidy decides to do, however, isn’t likely to save the Bruins long-term.
With an excellent first line, an OK second line and a good fourth line, the third is the one the Bruins need to address this offseason.
And they will, be it through a pennies-on-the-dollar trade, an expansion draft exposure or a buy-out.
Before that day comes, why not roll the dice? Maybe it’ll help push that offseason day a little further away.