For the third straight game, Boston Bruins right wing David Pastrnak is out of the lineup for Game 4 of their Eastern Conference first-round series against the Carolina Hurricanes. Losing the Rocket Richard co-winner who scored 48 goals during the regular season is not something that can be replaced.
In Games 2 and 3, Boston Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy moved Anders Bjork up from the third line to go next to Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. In a 3-1 Bruins win in Game 3, Bjork found himself in the dog house after being called for three minor penalties. Despite being whistled for the penalties, Bjork will remain on the top line to begin Game 4.
With the Pastrnak’s availability uncertain on a game-by-game basis with what looked like an upper-body injury suffered in double overtime of Game 1, here are two choices that Cassidy has that could fit in on the top line if Bjork continues to struggle.
It might be time to give the 2017 second-round pick a crack on the top line. It can’t hurt. Making his first appearance in the series in Game 3, Studnicka found himself on the ice twice during the Bruins five power-play opportunities. He failed to register a shot on net during the man advantage, but he made his presence felt with his physical play in the corners and supplying screens in front of the net.
The 21-year old Studnicka logged 9:18 of ice-time against the Hurricanes Saturday and was credited with four shots on net, tying Torey Krug for fourth on the team. Marchand led the Bruins with six shots on net and Bergeron had five. Studnicka did play in the Bruins first Round Robin game on Aug. 2 against the Philadelphia Flyers and had three shots on net in just under 12 minutes of ice time. The youngster is certainly not afraid to put the puck on the net.
Seven shots on net in two games by Studnicka is much more than what Nick Ritchie has accomplished in four games in Toronto for the Bruins. Ritchie had just one shot on net on 70 shifts. Acquired at the trade deadline from the Anaheim Ducks, Ritchie found himself scratched in Games 3 and 4. Studnicka will start Game 4 on the third line with Charlie Coyle and Sean Kuraly.
The first player acquired by Bruins general manager Don Sweeney at the trade deadline with the Ducks, Kase has not had the beginning to his Boston career that he had hoped. In six regular-season games prior to the league pause on March 12, he had just one assist. In the first three games against the Hurricanes, he has one assist in Game 1, but as each game has gone along, his play has got better and better.
When Sweeney traded for Kase, it was with the hope he could fill the right-wing scoring void that the Bruins were missing on their second line with David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk. All season long Cassidy was mixing and matching the right-wing on the line and was unable to find the right fit. With Kase’s play get better with each game, there is nothing to lose in giving him a chance with Marchand and Bergeron.
In three games against Carolina in the series, Kase has 11 shots on net. He scored a career-high 20 goals in the 2017-18 season before injuries limited him to 85 games the last three years. He has the ability to put the puck in the net when healthy. With his play getting better with each shift, he deserves a shot on the top line and who knows, the Bruins might find lightning in a bottle.
Trying Different Combinations Can’t Hurt
In an ideal scenario, getting Pastrnak back with Marchand and Bergeron would be the way the Bruins would like to go. In the Return to Play, teams don’t have to disclose why a player is deemed “unfit to play’’. When Pastrnak returns is anyone’s guess, but without him, Cassidy and the Bruins need to find a consistent right-wing for Marchand and Bergeron.
Studnicka has a ton of upside and has proven in his two appearances in Toronto that he’s capable of making the jump to an everyday NHL player. Kase was brought in to add scoring to the Bruins top-six forwards and he has impressed in this series. Without Pastrnak for Game 4, both players are worth giving a shot with Marchand and Bergeron to see if they can fill the void of one of the NHL’s gifted goal scorers.