ST. LOUIS — He kept his responses curt, but the sight of Zdeno Chara even managing to speak was a welcome sight Saturday afternoon at Enterprise Center.
Less than five days after taking a puck to the mouth and reportedly fracturing his jaw during Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, Chara wasn’t ready to entertain any limitations that he might be saddled with — as much as his fishbowl helmet and muffled voice might say otherwise.
“I think there is no limitations,” Chara said. “I’m still able to play. … “I feel fine playing. Obviously, it was a quick turnaround after last game here, but I felt fine.”
Even if his minutes were down (16:42 TOI), Chara still managed to hold his own in Game 5 despite playing with a major injury, with the 42-year-old veteran still limiting the Blues to just one high-danger scoring chance over 14:49 of 5v5 TOI.
Chara didn’t seem to be any worse for wear on Saturday, as he was once again a regular participant in practice while skating with Charlie McAvoy on Boston’s top D pairing.
As expected, the Bruins captain was mum on the severity of his injury, declining to confirm if he’s dealing with a broken jaw while not delving too deep into his ability to eat food — a concern given the amount of energy spent over the course of a game.
Regardless of how much pain he’s dealing with, Cassidy expects Chara to be cleared once again for game action in Game 6, noting that the club will be relying heavily on its veteran core not only to produce results, but keep the team steady with its season hanging in the balance.
“I think it’s the off day, yesterday, today, regroup and I think that’s where your veteran guys really help you get settled, relaxed, breathe, sort of stay in the moment,” Cassidy said. “And tomorrow, obviously, they’ll help in the morning. But once the puck drops, players play. I know it’s a bigger stage, but I think they’re able to block things out. That’s why we get this far, a lot of guys, even the young ones can block it out, just play. Hopefully, that’ll be the case tomorrow.
Cassidy added: "I don’t think we run from (pressure). We were up against it against Toronto, we played very well, Game 7, elimination game at home, I thought we played well, too. We’ll be ready to play. We just have to execute better in St. Louis, for one — start with that. Team defense has been good for us all year, we have to get back to our identity, make sure we’re not giving up easy chances. I think the game will take care of itself from there.”
Grzelcyk still stuck in protocol, Wagner returns
The news wasn’t exactly good Saturday afternoon when it comes to Matt Grzelcyk, who took part in practice but donned a red, non-contact sweater once again. He wore a regular practice sweater ahead of Thursday’s Game 5, but was eventually not cleared from the concussion protocol in time for game action.
“He’s not, hasn’t been medically cleared,” Cassidy said of Grzelcyk’s status.
While Grzelcyk has hit a bit of a roadblock when it comes to his return to the lineup, the Bruins did get some semblance of good news once the main practice wrapped up at Enterprise Center — as Chris Wagner took to the ice and didn’t appear to have many limitations after suffering a hand/wrist injury during Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Final.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) June 8, 2019
It certainly didn’t look good for Wagner during that matchup against the Hurricanes, as he was spotted in a cast postgame and needed to head back to Boston the following day for additional tests.
While the Walpole native likely won’t be in the lineup for Sunday’s bout, Cassidy didn’t exactly rule him out for a potential Game 7 showdown Wednesday night at TD Garden. The case could be made that the Bruins wouldn’t want to tinker with a fourth line of Joakim Nordstrom, Noel Acciari and Sean Kuraly, but Wagner’s willingness to throw his weight around and fight inside during O-zone possessions has been missed.
“Tomorrow? Doubtful. I’ll put it there,” Cassidy said of Wagner’s status. “I guess he could wake up and they could tell me he has a chance, but I have not got that news yet. So I doubt he’d play. Game 7, potentially, with three extra days, could be a possibility. But I doubt he’d play tomorrow.”
Here’s how the lineup panned out during Saturday’s practice. Of note - both David Backes and Karson Kuhlman split reps on the second line.
"We’re here to win,” Backes said. “If my part's grabbing the pom-poms again, I'll shake those things 'til all the frills fall out of them."
Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak
DeBrusk - Krejci - Backes/Kuhlman
Johansson - Coyle - Heinen
Nordstrom - Kuraly - Acciari
Chara - McAvoy
Krug - Carlo
Moore - Clifton
Grzelcyk - Kampfer
Tweaking the power play
While Grzelcyk’s status has precluded Cassidy from giving any indication of if the Bruins will go with a 12F-6D / 11F-7D lineup for Game 6, one tweak that appears to be set in stone for Sunday night involves Boston’s top power-play unit, which is stuck in a 0-5 slump during the B’s two-game losing skid.
The usual suspects were all present: Patrice Bergeron, Torey Krug, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. But Marcus Johansson earned a bump up to the top unit, replacing Jake DeBrusk as the designated net-front option on the five-man group.
While Johansson’s passing ability should give the group a bit of a new look, especially on low-to-high sequences, his proficiency in generating clean entries could go a long way in getting the gears turning on Boston’s man advantage in the O-zone.
“He’s a little more of a distributor than Jake,” Cassidy said of Johansson. “Jake’s more of a net-front presence, they both recover pucks well. Marcus is good on entries, he’s used to having it through the neutral zone. We had a few issues there the other day, so hopefully he gives us another option. We’ve used Marshy and Pasta, they’re usually the ones carrying it a lot. Krug sometimes. But this will give us a different look.”
B's sign top QMJHL prospect Asselin
The Bruins already boast an intriguing prospect pipeline with players like Urho Vaakanainen and Jack Studnicka, who very well could be contending for roster spots up with the NHL club come September.
But the B’s are reportedly not done when it comes to adding an impactful prospect to their ranks, as the Bruins signed 20-year-old forward Samuel Asselin to an entry-level contract. The L'Assomption, Quebec native also received interest from the Canadiens before inking a contract with the Providence Bruins, with the skater confirming his contract on Twitter Saturday afternoon.
[caption id="attachment_512157" align="alignnone" width="1600"] REGINA, SK - MAY 19: Samuel Asselin #28 of Acadie-Bathurst Titan high fives the bench and celebrates a goal against the Swift Current Broncos at the Brandt Centre on May 19, 2018 in Regina, Canada. (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)[/caption]
While he was not drafted, the shifty center made quite the impact in his final season in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL), leading the entire league with 48 goals over 69 regular-season games with the Halifax Mooseheads and the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
While he might be a bit undersized at 5-foot-10, Asselin is a dynamic prospect that will look to take the big step from junior hockey to the pro ranks this winter. While his scoring totals are impressive, they can always be a bit misleading in the Q, where Asselin was playing against competition ranging from 16-20 years old.
Still, a nice pick-up for the Bruins, and a potential can’t-miss addition to the club’s development camp later this month.