ST. LOUIS — There was no guarantee that Karson Kuhlman was going to play in the Stanley Cup Final. But he prepared as such.
Since Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, Kuhlman was relegated to a reserve role on Boston’s roster, with the rookie slotting out in favor of David Backes on a top-six line centered by David Krejci.
For as much as the 23-year-old forward thrived during the regular season with Krejci and Jake DeBrusk, the lineup shuffle didn’t come as much of a surprise. A power forward like Backes would likely be able to find his game during the slugfest that is postseason action, while Kuhlman (albeit impressive his rookie debut) was still green — having logged just 11 games up in the NHL ranks during the regular season.
Still, as Boston carved its way through its playoff bracket, and the Krejci line subsequently started to derail, Kuhlman’s didn’t waver off course.
“Just taking it day by day,” Kuhlman said. “I think mentally staying engaged, waking up every morning, thinking I was going to be in, even if I knew I was going to be out. That kind of helped today with my routine.”
On Saturday, Kuhlman’s regular routine was put on his head. After conferring with Bruce Cassidy, he received word that he’d be in the lineup for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final — a rookie thrust into a top-six role with the season hanging in the balance.
For as much as the DeBrusk-Krejci-Backes line had labored through the first five bouts against the Blues, it was quite the gamble for Boston’s bench boss.
The advanced statistics swung in favor of Kuhlman’s addition to the lineup, given the fact that the Bruins held a 117-92 edge in 5v5 shot attempts (55.98 CF%) in the 124:36 of TOI in which Kuhlman was utilized during the regular season.
But still, there was no guarantee that Kuhlman was going to be missing cog at solving what has been a suffocating Blues forecheck, and a 39-day layoff between games had to raise some level of concern going into a do-or-die playoff matchup in enemy territory.
Cassidy didn’t seem to agree with such a sentiment — both before the game, and certainly after what was a 5-1 victory in St. Louis.