David Backes is a true professional.
It must be agonizing to be left out of the most important game in hockey, a seventh game to determine who has earned the right to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. The battle being waged between his current team and the one he formerly captained only adds to the distress of not being able to have an outcome in tonight’s contest. The veteran has played 70 regular season and 15 playoff contests, yet will be on the ninth floor tonight.
The second line failed to be productive with Backes on the right side. Backes threw 17 hits and was on the receiving end for only six, proving to be one of the few Bruins who could consistently batter the Blues. However, the Bruins were still losing the physical battle, so Bruce Cassidy decided to replace one of his most heavy hitters to try and jump-start a dormant second line. Karson Kuhlman replaced the veteran wrecking ball and scored on a beautiful rip that nicked the left corner of the post and the crossbar, beating Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington blocker side. The second line thrived as they were able to utilize speed and transitions to possess the puck for longer lengths of time.
At this morning’s press conference, Bruce Cassidy confirmed that Matt Grzelcyk, who had been boarded from behind by Oskar Sundqvist and subsequently concussed, has been cleared to play by doctors. Although Cassidy noted that he would be a game-time decision, Cassidy said that Grzelcyk would play on the third-pairing alongside John Moore and that Connor Clifton would be scratched.
Clifton has played beyond anyone’s expectations for him since being called up from Providence. His two-way game has helped curtail opponents defensively and hop into the rush when needed. Unafraid to stick up for teammates, Clifton can crush opponents along the boards despite his unassuming stature.
Clifton’s absence from the deciding game of the series is a testament to the skill of Grzelcyk. Although there is a possibility that Grzelcyk could be rusty, he brings outstanding puck movement to the power play and serves a wizard at breaking out of the zone. His ability to see the ice and find teammates helps to open up the ice and limits the physical nature of the Blues’ gameplay.
With the inclusion of Karson Kuhlman and the possible return of Matt Grzelcyk, the Bruins are willing to lose the physical war of attrition to gain a step in fleet of foot. The Blues’ physical gameplan can wear tears down and help win 50/50 battles, but the Bruins speed can help them gain an advantage in speeding the Blues up and controlling puck possession. The addition of Grzelcyk will add a quarterback on the back end who can find open lanes and create space through his strong skating and passing abilities.