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Grzelcyk Returns to Practice in Non-Contact Jersey

Blue liner's Game 5 status remains in question - as does Chara's

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - One week after taking a violent hit to the head in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk joined his teammates for practice on Wednesday afternoon at TD Garden.

The 25-year-old blue liner has been in protocol since the smack from St. Louis forward Oskar Sundqvist - who was suspended one game for the hit - causing him to miss both games in St. Louis.

Grzelcyk, donning a maroon non-contact jersey, did not participate in every drill, but appeared to be in good spirits as he smiled and joked with his teammates. When the Charlestown native did join in, he seemed to be moving without hesitation and also took his familiar place on Boston's second power play unit towards the end of practice.

Nevertheless, Grzelcyk's status for Thursday's Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final remains in question.

"He's still in protocol," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "When he gets cleared he'll be ready to go. Whether that's by [Thursday] or not, I couldn't tell you."

Following the skate, Grzelcyk said that he is hopeful to be back as the Bruins look to take a 3-2 series lead over the St. Louis Blues.

"I'm feeling good," he said. "It was obviously nice to kind of join back with the team and get out there and take some reps on the ice… I think the toughest thing is not being out there with the team. Having to sit and watch is obviously tough when you get to this stage.

"I'm just happy to be back around the guys and I feel a lot more like myself. Hopefully I can play. If I get called, I'll be ready."

Video: Grzelcyk, Rask and Bergeron talk after practice

Like Grzelcyk, captain Zdeno Chara's status for Game 5 is also unknown. The 42-year-old left Game 4 early in the second period after taking a deflected puck to the right side of his face and did not return to play. Chara was not at TD Garden on Thursday.

"Facial injury. No update on him," said Cassidy. "Will give you a prognosis on him [on Thursday]…he wants to play and if he was given the green light, no matter what the severity was, he'd be out there. We know that about Zee."

But, should they be without their leader - and Grzelcyk, for that matter - the Bruins will certainly need more from everybody throughout the lineup if they want to regain the series lead over the Blues.

"I think they know that more is required," said Cassidy. "Not a lot, but I think if everybody does a little bit more, not one particular player - that's what we're trying to avoid, not one guy going in and saying, 'I've got to be a hero.' I think it falls on the whole team."

Given that the Bruins have already played without Chara once this postseason (Game 4 in Carolina), as well as Charlie McAvoy (Game 1 against the 'Canes), Cassidy is confident in his team's ability to adapt.

"Our mentality will be fine in terms of being able to win without certain players because we've been there," said Cassidy. "We've done it - not in the finals of the Stanley Cup, but we did it in Carolina, the clinching game…we did it without McAvoy, Game 1 against Carolina. And we've done it without [Patrice Bergeron] this year, different guys.

"I think our guys are good that way, knowing that the team will pull together. It's just tough when you lose [Chara]. It is your captain; he plays some valuable minutes. In this particular series, you miss the actual [assets] he brings to the table. I think this team will be OK."

Video: Cassidy gives updates on Grzelcyk, Chara

If both Chara and Grzelcyk are sidelined for Game 5, the Bruins are likely to turn to Steven Kampfer, who has not played since Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, during which he scored the opening goal. The 30-year-old has played two games this postseason (also Game 3 against Toronto).

"We'll come to the rink ready to go [on Thursday]," said Kampfer, who skated alongside Connor Clifton during Wednesday's practice. "Be supportive of your teammates, make sure that you're ready for when the opportunity comes and then go out there and do your job. That's kind of the mentality everyone's had in this locker room. I think that's been our motto all year - next man up and go in and do the job."

One player who is unlikely to make his way into the lineup is rookie defenseman Urho Vaakanainen. The 20-year-old practiced with the group on Wednesday, but Cassidy indicated that he's hesitant to throw the 2017 first-round pick into the Stanley Cup Final fire.

"He's on the outside," said Cassidy. "That was an option. If both guys are out, we kind of went through them all…that would be a big ask, a real big ask. But if that's the way we've got to go, then that's the ask we're gonna make.

"Right now, that's a long shot, especially seeing Grizz out there today. That gives us all a little bit of confidence that he's closer. It's always a step in the protocol to get out on the ice.

"If it was earlier in the playoffs maybe it would be a little different. But we're so far along now…it would be difficult."

Video: Vaakanainen skates with full team on Wednesday

Wednesday's Practice Lineup

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - David Backes
Marcus Johansson - Charlie Coyle - Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom - Sean Kuraly - Noel Acciari
Karson Kuhlman

John Moore - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Steven Kampfer - Connor Clifton
Matt Grzelcyk - Urho Vaakanainen

Tuukka Rask
Jaroslav Halak

Video: Kampfer discusses potential to play in Game 5

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