BOSTON - As the end of the regular season fast approaches, the Bruins continue to charge towards full health. They'll add another regular back into the lineup for Saturday's matinee against Florida, with Jake DeBrusk expected to return after missing eight games with an upper-body injury.
"He's gonna go play with [David Krejci] on the left wing," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "We'll see how he is. He's looked good the last few days, his legs. Sometimes a little breather at this time of the year is not the end of the world. It's been a long year. He'll have to get his timing back, but his legs sure looked good."
With DeBrusk sliding back into his normal spot alongside Krejci, Ryan Donato will move to the right wing. Donato has five points (three goals, two assists) in six games since arriving from Harvard earlier this month.
"We'll move Ryan to the right wing on that line if we want to keep Krech and Donato together," said Cassidy. "We've done that with other players to varying degrees of success. But I find the skill guys can usually play their off wing, take pucks off the wall. Sometimes they like to be on their forehand anyway coming back with the puck. I find the neutral zone is where you have challenges, receiving on your backhand, but we'll see.
"Danton [Heinen's] played over there, so if we have to go that route, Ryan can drop down with [Riley] Nash and [David Backes]. But that would be sort of the easiest thing to keep the chemistry going."
In other injury news, Zdeno Chara (upper-body) and Charlie McAvoy (sprained MCL) participated fully in Friday's practice, but will not play against the Panthers. The B's top defense pairing will travel on the road trip, however, and could return on Sunday in Philadelphia.
"They're gonna travel, they're that close," said Cassidy. "Again, I don't know if they'll play Sunday, but they'll have today's skate, see how they feel [Saturday], they'll skate in the morning before the game. They're progressing and I would anticipate we'll see them here in the next little bit."
Sean Kuraly, who missed his first game of the season on Thursday night, will sit out his second straight contest on Saturday with an upper-body injury. With Kuraly out, Noel Acciari shifted to center in the B's win over Tampa Bay and did not look out of place, winning five of eight faceoffs, while delivering a team-high six hits in 17:32 of ice time.
"I've always liked Noel as a center over the years," said Cassidy. "But him moving to the wing as opposed to Kuraly [at the start of the year] I thought was an easier move. I think Sean's more comfortable in the middle. I liked [Noel] in the middle. With [Tommy] Wingels it's a nice fit, they read off each other."
Video: Cassidy provides injury updates
Back-es At It
David Backes was back in the lineup against Tampa after missing five games with a right leg laceration. The winger landed three shots on goal and four hits in 15:18 of ice time. His big body and physicality were welcomed additions in a game with playoff-like intensity.
"These types of games matter, because I think they were trying to establish a certain level of physicality with still playing within the framework of their game," said Cassidy. "They're a high-caliber, skilled team. They score a lot of goals. We're aware of that. They get to the net; they compete hard.
"But to have a guy like Backes in there is going to help us just like bigger bodies, Zee and Charlie, when they come in against those types of teams and make it hard to get to the net. I thought he did his part, what he does best."
The Bruins will welcome the Florida Panthers to TD Garden on Saturday afternoon for the first of three meetings over the final week of the regular season. The Panthers, who took the season's first matchup with a 3-0 win on March 15, are 3 points behind New Jersey for the East's second wild card spot and will, no doubt, bring with them plenty of desperation.
"They were better than us early on in that [first] game," said Cassidy. "I would expect a very spirited game out of them. They've had one of the best records over the last six weeks or so for a reason. They're clicking and feeling good about their game. They're also behind Jersey, so they don't have a lot of room for error.
"Those are dangerous teams. For us, it's a good challenge."
The Bruins' power play has been surging of late, clicking at 35.2% this month, the second-highest success rate in the NHL. Boston potted three power-play goals in its shootout loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday and needed just five seconds to score on their second man advantage against the Lightning.
"I don't think you can just take [Patrice Bergeron] away at the bumper or [David Pastrnak] on the elbow now," Cassidy said of his top unit. "[Ryan] Donato is doing a good job at the top of the crease finding pucks, keeping pucks alive. [Brad Marchand] and [Torey] Krug do a real good job interchanging…they've just found their chemistry. And when they move they're dangerous. When they get static that's a problem…the top group has got good flow, when they move it quick, they're as tough a group to kill as anybody in the league. They can all snap the puck at any time and they can all make a play. "
Video: Bergeron speaks about gearing up for playoffs
Friday's Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Ryan Donato
Danton Heinen - Riley Nash - David Backes
Tim Schaller - Noel Acciari - Tommy Wingels/Brian Gionta
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Kevan Miller
Nick Holden - Adam McQuaid
Video: Carlo speaks to Bruins reporter, Eric Russo