Should Bruins play seven defensemen in Game 5? Bruce Cassidy raises possibility


The Boston Bruins have been down to five defensemen because of injuries in two games during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, and the St. Louis Blues won both games.

One of those instances was Monday night's Game 4 in St. Louis, where B's captain Zdeno Chara left in the second period after a puck deflected off a stick and shot up at his face, bloodying his mouth. Chara was able to skate off the ice under his own power and eventually returned to the bench at the beginning of the third period, but he never took another shift. B's coach Bruce Cassidy said after Boston's 4-2 loss that Chara was advised not to return in Game 4 but he wanted to be on the bench to support his teammates.

UPDATE (Tuesday, June 4 at 5:40 p.m. ET): Jeremy Rutherford of The Athletic reported Tuesday that Chara has a broken jaw. No official update has been made by the team as of this writing

--End of Update--

On Tuesday, Cassidy raised the possibility of playing seven defensemen if Chara and Matt Grzelcyk, who's in the concussion protocol, cannot play in Thursday night's Game 5 at TD Garden. Chara's status for Game 5 currently is uncertain.

The obvious question if the Bruins play seven d-men is which forward comes out of the lineup. The bottom-six has played quite well this series, specifically Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson and Sean Kuraly. The top two lines have struggled, particularly the first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. The Bruins' top trio has surprisingly lacked a scoring punch outside of Game 3, when Boston scored four times on the power play.

The two best candidates to remove for an extra defenseman are Noel Acciari and David Backes.

Acciari has played well on the fourth line, but it would be tough to take Kuraly, Coyle, Johansson and Nordstrom out of the lineup when they are better offensive players and their scoring production is helping overcome the top six's struggles.

Backes is the best option to remove, however. He's been held scoreless through four games of the Cup Final, and he's only tallied five shots on net. Backes brings a physical edge to the ice, but the Bruins have plenty of guys capable of doing that. Backes has played just 0:18 of power play ice time per game in the playoffs and hasn't played a second of penalty kill time. Acciari averages 1:53 of penalty kill time, and if Chara is out in Game 5, the Bruins will need as many proven penalty killers as they can find.

This Cup Final has been very physical, and nothing that's happened so far suggests that trend will reverse. The Bruins cannot afford to go down to five defensemen again and be so tired at the end of the game. It happened in Game 2 when Grzelcyk was knocked out of action in the first period. The Bruins ran out of gas late in the third period and the Blues dominated the overtime as a result to even the series. 

Playing with seven defensemen would be a smart strategy for the Bruins if Chara and Grzelcyk are unable to play in Game 5. 

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