It’s been a rare feat this season, but the Boston Bruins are trending towards a relatively healthy roster heading into the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The team has played only one game all season where they haven’t had a single uninjured player. Despite that, however, the team managed to win 50 games this season (the first team in NHL history to reach that milestone 10 times, three more than the second-best Montreal Canadiens).
Just one day after the Bruins’ regular season ended on a disappointing note, general manager Don Sweeney provided an update on three injured players that should have fans of the team feeling optimistic. As Sweeney mentioned, Rick Nash, Riley Nash and Sean Kuraly are all working and could be ready to go if called upon for Game 1 of the playoffs Thursday against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Recapping the Bruins Most Recent Injuries
Rick Nash, the Bruins second-line since being acquired at the trade deadline from the New York Rangers, has been out of action since being sidelined with a concussion following contact to his head on Mar. 17. He was close to returning for the team’s regular-season finale against the Florida Panthers and should be ready to go for Game 1.
Riley Nash took a slapshot from teammate Torey Krug that caught him in the ear, resulting in upwards of 40 stitches. He skated for the first time Monday following the incident that occurred on Mar. 31. A key part of the Bruins roster, it would be hard to imagine the team not inserting him into the lineup as soon as he’s ready to return.
Kuraly has been out of action since Mar. 27. When he eventually returns to full health, the Bruins will have to make a decision on who plays on their fourth line and who sits. As valuable as Kuraly has been in his rookie season, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the team role with other options for their first postseason contest this year.
Bruins Still Hurting
While all three of these players could find themselves healthy enough to contribute for the Bruins, the team is still down a huge part of their team (both figuratively and literally) following the loss of 6 foot 5, 203-pound defender Brandon Carlo. The 21-year-old sophomore defender suffered a season-ending ankle injury at the end of March and will be out of action until well after the postseason is over.
Carlo may not have had an encouraging second season following his impressive breakout year as a rookie, but his importance to the team was often understated this season. Not only was he a key piece in the team’s top-four all year, but he was also a huge minute-eater. Logging an average 19:14 of ice time per game, including 2:47 of shorthanded time (24th in the league, second on the Bruins), Carlo’s ability to contribute was vastly underappreciated by fans of the team when he was healthy.
The Bruins did prepare for injuries at the trade deadline with the acquisition of Nick Holden from the New York Rangers at this year’s trade deadline, though it doesn’t make the loss any less significant. Still, dwelling on the past won’t do this team any good. For that reason, the club should take the impending return of the three forwards as a win and use that as positive motivation moving forward.
As mentioned, the team hasn’t had much time to celebrate being healthy this season. With a grueling postseason ahead of them, they likely won’t remain fully healthy for long, either. Entering the postseason with so few injuries to their core should be seen as a blessing after the season this team has endured.
Another important note about the potential return of the three forwards is the fact that the Bruins are getting a key piece of three different forward lines back as a result.
Better Lines Make for Better Games
Rather than starting Tommy Wingels or Brian Gionta on the third line, the Bruins will get to re-insert Rick Nash to the second line, Danton Heinen and David Backes to the third line and Wingels and Gionta to the press box as insurance policies. Nash will also help in his return, regardless of whether he’s inserted on the team’s third line (a line he experienced a ton of success in this season) or on the team’s fourth line if Ryan Donato remains on the team’s third line.
Regardless of who plays where for the Bruins, the addition of both Rick and Riley Nash makes the life of head coach Bruce Cassidy much easier moving forward. It’s part of what’s made this Bruins team so hard to play against this season and has the potential to make all the difference in the postseason following a slow and unencouraging end to the regular season.
With the exception of the Winnipeg Jets, you would be hard-pressed to find a better forward group in the NHL than the Boston Bruins. With that type of talent, it would be disappointing for this team to allow their recent sluggish stretch to continue in the playoffs following such a dominant regular season. The Bruins have all the tools and they are finally getting healthy. If they can put it all together, they should be considered legitimate contenders for the Stanley Cup this season.