BostonBruins.com - After nearly five months, the Bruins are preparing to play a hockey game on Thursday night. It won't count for anything in the record books, but the Black & Gold's exhibition contest against the Columbus Blue Jackets will certainly carry plenty of meaning as the B's finally return to the ice for their first game action since March 10 in Philadelphia.
"I think we're gonna play a pretty fully lineup, I expect Columbus will [too]," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "What I've seen from the [other exhibition] games is the pace is very, very high. Guys have their legs, they're flying around. Execution's a little bit off, managing the puck is always a challenge your first few games to get back to playing safer hockey when there's no play to be made, as opposed to open-ice shinny type stuff.
"I think everyone's ramping up for the play-ins or the round robins…I think you'll really see the physicality start to ramp up after the [exhibitions]."
David Pastrnak practiced for the third straight day on Wednesday and is likely to find himself in the lineup against the Blue Jackets, riding alongside Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand in his familiar right-wing spot. Despite missing all of training camp as he served out quarantine requirements, the league's leading goal scorer has looked strong and in shape over his first few practices.
"The line looked good again," said Cassidy. "We had some work portions of practice, you could see some of the grinding, some of the battling, the 5-on-5, D-zone, forecheck, puck recovery stuff. I'll have a discussion with him tonight at dinner. I think he wants to play, he's ready to play. I just want to make sure we're not rushing him.
"At the end of the day, I would suspect he'll play. I'll make the final decision in the morning and see him at the rink to double check. That's the way we're leaning."
Bergeron and Marchand admitted that they have actually been a bit taken aback by how well Pastrnak has performed since his return.
"He's looking good," said Bergeron. "We have some catching up to do to catch up to him. He's looking great, looking like Pasta out there, like he didn't miss a beat."
"It was a little frustrating watching him come back and realizing just how far behind him we are," added Marchand. "It's been a lot of fun having him back. Just the energy that he brings to the table every day, it's been a lot of fun."
In other lineup news, Nick Ritchie missed his sixth consecutive practice on Wednesday. Fellow winger Ondrej Kase remains away from the team but is expected to join the team "in short order," according to Bruins general manager Don Sweeney.
Standing for Unity
Bergeron and Bruins captain Zdeno Chara took a stand against racism and inequality in the wake of George Floyd's murder earlier this year, as they both stepped up with significant statements and contributions in support of the Black community. Bergeron penned a heartfelt message that included $25,000 donations to the Boston Chapter of the NAACP and Centre Multiethnique de Quebec. Chara delivered a strong statement of his own after marching in a Black Lives Matter demonstration in Boston.
And on Thursday night, they will be leading the charge once again as the Bruins lock arms during the United States and Canadian National Anthems. The B's players said in a statement on Tuesday that they are doing so as "a sign of solidarity with the Black Community…and as a way to use our platform to help end racism."
"We have the platform and we want to use it the right way," said Chara. "After some thoughtful conversations and meetings we had as a group, we decided we wanted to do something to support the Black community. This is the platform during the playoffs we have coming up that we want to express our support.
"We understand there is still work to be done and we are obviously still listening and learning. Everybody has to make that approach in the right way to make the proper change."
"We want to continue the conversation and ultimately, we are against any form of racism, whether it's in hockey or in life," said Bergeron. "We're trying to listen, we're trying to educate ourselves…this is another way for us. We've had some great conversations over the last few days. We can continue that and hopefully encourage other people to do the same thing."
Marchand noted that the discussions the team has had in recent days have helped to raise some added awareness and education to an extremely important issue.
"We all believe in that, we're all on the same page. We don't stand for racism, we are against it," said Marchand. "Just like Bergy said, we want to continue to further the conversation and we have had a ton. We do have so much to learn, and I think this has really opened our eyes that we need to be part of the solution and that's what we want to do."
The Blue Jackets are entering the NHL's Return to play as the No. 9 seed in the Eastern Conference and will take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers. Despite losing high-profile free agents Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, and Matt Duchene last summer, Columbus finished the regular season 33-23-15 under the direction of Jack Adams Finalist John Tortorella.
Columbus is paced offensively by forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, who led the Blue Jackets with 49 points in 70 games and Oliver Bjorkstrand, who led the team with 21 goals. Blue liners Zach Weresnki and Seth Jones form one of the finest defense duos in the NHL.
Goalie Elvis Merzlikins burst onto the scene midway through the season, posting five shutouts, a 2.35 goals against average, and a .923 save percentage.
The Bruins were 0-1-1 against Columbus in 2019-20, with the third and final matchup cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Boston eliminated the Blue Jackets in six games during the second round of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
"I think it is good for us to force us to accept what's there," Cassidy said of the Blue Jackets' tight defensive style of play. "We haven't seen, other than some scrimmages against each other, anybody else in a long time…our focus will be on ourselves, let's get our game together."
Wednesday's Practice Lineup
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - David Krejci - Jack Studnicka
Sean Kuraly - Charlie Coyle - Anders Bjork/Karson Kuhlman
Joakim Nordstrom - Par Lindholm - Chris Wagner
Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk - Jeremy Lauzon
John Moore - Connor Clifton
UNFIT TO PARTICIPATE
Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie.