BOSTON — Setting the fourth line doesn’t seem like the type of decision Bruce Cassidy should lose any sleep over, but his personnel is making that easier in theory than practice.
The likes of David Backes, Karson Kuhlman, Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom all saw time as healthy scratches during the Bruins’ Stanley Cup Playoffs first-round win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, which was capped off with a 5-1 Game 7 win at TD Garden on Tuesday.
With the Bruins now headed to the second round to face the Columbus Blue Jackets, Cassidy is going to have to think about how he might change things up. In Games 6 and 7, Cassidy had Kuhlman and Nordstrom on the third and fourth lines, respectively, sitting Backes and Wagner.
That very well could change by the time the puck drops for B’s-Jackets Game 1 on Thursday, but one thing is for sure: Nordstrom has earned his spot in the lineup.
The bottom-six winger was a healthy scratch in the Bruins’ Game 5 loss to the Leafs, but came back in a big way for Boston’s final two games. He helped provide a jolt to the lineup and remained arguably the team’s best penalty killer (as had been the case much of the season). He even went outside his job description a bit in Game 7, scoring the game’s first goal. At times the bottom six looked lifeless in the series against the Leafs, but even at its low points Nordstrom was outplaying linemates Wagner and Noel Acciari, hunting pucks well while being strong on the forecheck.
“Terrific,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said Tuesday night of the bottom six’s play. “That’s why they’re in the lineup. I think we’ve got a lot of good choices. Very difficult to tell a couple of the guys who didn’t play they weren’t going to. They played a part of the series. We talked about it at the start of the series that we felt we needed a certain type of lineup to beat Toronto, and we finally found it late in the series. I thought Game 6 and 7 we skated well. A guy like Nordstrom is a good part of that, Kuhlman, (Sean) Kuraly obviously.”
Both Nordstrom and Kuraly had a goal and assist in Game 7, while Acciari added a helper of his own. In Nordstrom’s estimation, it was their best game of the series.
“I think everyone throughout the lineup stepped up and had a really good game, I thought we played our best game of the series tonight,” Nordstrom said. “We try to (provide energy) every night, I think tonight we had a couple fortunate bounces, overall I thought we played really well as a line.”
Wagner was an important part of the Bruins’ lineup throughout the season, and it’s hard to seem him being scratched a bunch going forward. And despite Backes’ struggles throughout the season, he’s a veteran presence the Bruins can look toward.
But in the end, Cassidy isn’t coaching a peewee team where everyone has to play, he’s coaching a squad that has a legitimate shot of reaching, and winning, the Stanley Cup Finals. Nordstrom hasn’t done anything to play himself out of the lineup — quite the contrary, in fact. He’s cemented himself as an indispensable part of the bottom six and special teams, and in doing so has given his coach zero reason to consider healthy scratching him the rest of the way.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images