BOSTON - After missing the last 16 games with rib and shoulder injuries, Patrice Bergeron could return to the lineup on Saturday afternoon against the Nashville Predators at TD Garden.
Bergeron practiced for the third straight day on Friday and coach Bruce Cassidy termed him as a game-time decision for the tilt with the Preds.
"Obviously he'll wake up in the morning and if he feels good from today's practice then he's in," said Cassidy.
During Friday's session at Warrior Ice Arena, Bergeron centered Brad Marchand and Danton Heinen, who was promoted from the third line, while David Krejci and David Pastrnak were on a line with Joakim Nordstrom. Cassidy expects that's how his top two trios will look on Saturday.
"We looked at it today," said Cassidy. "If [Bergeron's] in, then that's the direction we're gonna go because [Jake] DeBrusk will not go in…with Heinen, it's more about it's an opportunity for someone to get going offensively, whoever we put up there if it's not David Pastrnak.
"I think that [first] line is defensive - just putting Bergy on any line makes it a very good defensive line. Heinen played up with Marchy last year at times, played in Marchy's spot with Bergy when Marchy was suspended. He did OK there.
"Hopefully it translates for him. I think they make everybody better, so that's the hope."
Video: Cassidy after Friday's practice at WIA
Cassidy was not yet ready to reveal which player would be scratched.
"We're still mulling over because it obviously breaks up [Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson] and [Ryan] Donato if Heinen moves up. Where does JFK best fit? We thought with a left stick that likes to shoot.
"There's a domino effect with Heinen going up…we kind of threw some things together today. That will be a decision we'll talk about a little bit more."
Chris Wagner took Heinen's place alongside Donato and Forsbacka Karlsson. Sean Kuraly, Colby Cave, and David Backes also formed a line.
"Wags will be buzzing," said Donato. "He'll be playing hard. You know he's gonna play an honest game, he's reliable. I played with him a little bit in the summer during summer hockey. I think we have some good chemistry actually, so it should be fun."
Cassidy did confirm that Bergeron would be the only injured player returning to the lineup on Saturday. Zdeno Chara, Jake DeBrusk, and Kevan Miller will likely remain out until after the Christmas break.
"Zee will definitely not play this weekend, so let's rule that out," said Cassidy. "I think he's six weeks [out from the injury] - he got hurt in Colorado on Wednesday, so maybe we'll have a better idea then. But, no, I can't say for sure whether he'll be in next [Thursday] or not. But we're ruling him out for this weekend."
Video: Donato addresses media after Friday's Practice at WIA
Make It Three
Cassidy said that Jaroslav Halak will make his third consecutive start on Saturday. The netminder is coming off two straight victories against Montreal and Anaheim, during which he allowed just one goal on 47 shots.
Halak is now 11-5-2 this season and is tied with Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy for the league lead in save percentage (.930). His 2.20 goals against average ranks third.
Tuukka Rask will play the second end of the back to back on Sunday in Carolina.
On the World Stage
Team Finland announced on Friday that Bruins defenseman Urho Vaakanainen will join the country's camp ahead of the upcoming IIHF World Junior Championship. The 19-year-old has represented Finland at the last two World Juniors.
Vaakanainen has not played a game since Oct. 23 in Ottawa - just his second NHL contest - when he suffered a concussion after taking an elbow to the head from Senators defenseman Mark Borowiecki.
The former first-round pick has resumed practice with Boston and was cleared for contact on Friday.
The Predators (22-12-2, 46 points) come into the matchup with the league's fifth-most points, but have dropped the first three games of their four-game road trip and are just 8-7-3 away from Bridgestone Arena this season.
Nevertheless, Nashville presents a steep challenge. The Preds lead the league in goals against (2.47 per game), just ahead of the Bruins, who rank second at 2.54.
Cassidy said Boston's biggest test will be defending the Predators back end. The likes of Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis boast a serious offensive threat - as does P.K. Subban, who has not played since Nov. 13 due to injury, but skated during the Preds' optional practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday
"It's incumbent on our forwards not to get beat up the ice and take bad angles," said Cassidy. "You'll see Ellis, Subban - I don't know if he's playing, doesn't appear that way - Ekholm, they get up. Matt Irwin gets up. They all do.
"It's part of how they play and attack as a group of five. That's the biggest challenge I think is containing those guys, getting in shooting lanes. They're good at getting their shots through.
"I'm not disrespecting their forward group, but I think that's what drives their offense a lot is their D being involved."
Nashville is led up front by Ryan Johansen (30 points) and Filip Forsberg (14 goals).
Friday's Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom - David Krejci - David Pastrnak
Sean Kuraly - Colby Cave - David Backes
Ryan Donato - Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson - Chris Wagner
Jake DeBrusk (maroon) - Noel Acciari - Lee Stempniak
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Charlie McAvoy
John Moore - Steven Kampfer
Zdeno Chara - Kevan Miller