BOSTON - The Bruins appear to be getting a bit healthier as the stretch run approaches.
In addition to adding three new bodies at the trade deadline in Taylor Hall, Curtis Lazar, and Mike Reilly, Boston got Charlie McAvoy back from an upper-body injury on Tuesday night. And they could have Tuukka Rask back in the lineup on Thursday night against the New York Islanders at TD Garden.
Rask, who has played just one period since March 7 due to an upper-body injury, is likely to get the start between the pipes after making it through Wednesday's practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
"Should be [ready], assuming there's no setbacks from today, which I have heard there is none, so he should be ready to go, yes," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy.
Boston's ace netminder has missed 17 of the club's last 18 games and for the season has suited up just 15 times with an 8-4-0 record. Given his lack of reps, Cassidy expects Rask to make up for lost ground over the final month of the season despite the heavy schedule facing the Bruins.
"That's a later decision," said Cassidy. "Obviously with only so many games left - Tuukka's been out a while now - it's not a switch. I don't care what position you play, you need reps. Very few guys can just jump back in there after missing time. I think Tuukka's going to need his share.
"As far as the rest part, obviously that depends on his play, how does he feel? Where is he at physically? But how is his timing most importantly? Those are some things we'll have to look at as we go along, so it's hard for me to answer now."
Ultimately, Cassidy explained, his goaltending decisions will be based on merit and which backstop gives the team the best chance to succeed as they look to secure a playoff spot. The return of Jaroslav Halak, who has been on the COVID protocol list for nearly two weeks, will soon provide Boston's bench boss plenty of reliable options in goal with the emergence of young netminders Jeremy Swayman and Daniel Vladar in recent weeks.
"Obviously, knowing that Swayman and Vladdy have been good for us, given us a chance to win," said Cassidy. "And then there's Jaro. He's been off for a while now, too, so where is his timing going to be? So, it's going to be tough to get them all their reps and starts with how many games we have left. And then it's a matter of, we're still in a playoff fight here, so we have to play the guy that gives us the best chance to win.
"But the most important one for us right now is what's in front of us and that's Tuukka's next start which looks like it's going to be [on Thursday night], and hopefully play well in front of him and he gets back in a rhythm."
Cassidy did acknowledge that Swayman could see some starts down the stretch given how well he has played over his first four appearances. The 22-year-old is 3-1-0 with a .926 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average.
"Yeah…he certainly looks composed, has been composed," said Cassidy. "I don't have a crystal ball either. I don't know what's going to happen in three weeks. I don't know how Jaro is going to recover once he's off the COVID list. How's Tuukka's time off going to treat him? Is it going to treat him well, where the time has done him good, and he finds his game quickly, or is it going to take a while?
"There's a lot of questions that go into it, but we haven't ruled him out being a guy that could see some extra starts that we didn't anticipate. That's just performance related."
Video: Cassidy Addresses Media After Practice
A Friendly Face
Reilly, acquired from the Ottawa Senators on Sunday night, said during his introductory media availability that Charlie Coyle was one of the best people he has played with during his career and that he was looking forward to reuniting with the Bruins center.
On Wednesday, Coyle had similar praised for Reilly, whom he played with from 2015-18 while with the Minnesota Wild.
"Mikey's a pretty good buddy of mine, we got pretty close when we were in Minnesota," said Coyle. "I love playing with him. I've watched him since he was in college. He's always been a great player, skilled, great skater, see the ice well, great passer, can get his shot through, someone who can run the power play.
"In Minnesota, his first couple of years in the league and trying to find his game a little bit, I think he was kind of in and out of the lineup, trying to find his game. I think he's grown a lot from that. I think that's helped him to get through this today. I know in Ottawa he was playing a lot more…he's putting up a decent amount of points. I think his confidence has grown, his game has grown.
"He's going to be a big help for us. It's awesome to have a guy like that back in the locker room, someone who I'm close with. I'm happy about that and I know he's happy coming to this situation, this team. He's heard a lot about it, and I know he's really happy to be part of this."
The Bruins other deadline addition of Taylor Hall has given Coyle a different look on his wings with Nick Ritchie and Jake DeBrusk now flanking him. The trio played well together on Tuesday night, and while they didn't cash in on any of their chances in regulation - Coyle and DeBrusk scored in the shootout - Coyle believes there is plenty there to build on.
"We all know what each brings," said Coyle. "We should be able to hang on to pucks down low and not force anything and kind of make them work to take the puck off us - or try at least. I think we're going to wear teams down that way. But that's going to be huge for especially our line to bring that. That's huge for a team to have coming from the third line.
"I think we could be a big help that way…I'm really looking forward to playing with those two a little more if that's what it's going to be. But we could really be a big help."
Video: Coyle Talks After Wednesday's Practice in Boston.
Coming Full Circle
Jake DeBrusk is 24 years old. Hall is only five years older.
But as a teenager growing up in Edmonton, DeBrusk was a huge fan of Hall, who was selected by the Oilers as the first overall pick in 2010. Some 11 years later, DeBrusk is now getting the chance to play with him.
"He was electric, especially when he first came in," said DeBrusk, who was just 13 when Hall was drafted. "Growing up in Edmonton, it's kind of special that he's here now. It's one of those things where he was definitely one of my favorite players growing up. Obviously, elite speed and elite skill.
"I remember when the Oilers even drafted him. My buddies from back home gave me a couple text messages wanting to know what he's like as a guy and stuff. It's kind of funny, but it's one of those things that the hockey world kind of comes full circle sometimes."
With Hall's arrival, DeBrusk is moving back to his off side to play right wing, a spot he has become somewhat accustomed to this season.
"I've played right side here over my four-year career a good amount. Haven't really stuck with anyone for a solid stretch of games, so I'll look at in the sense that I'm still with [Coyle]," said DeBrusk, who had been Coyle's left winger in recent games. "Try to build some chemistry. Getting Taylor, that effects different things. But I'm more so excited to have him on our team as everyone else is. Same with [Curtis Lazar] and [Mike Reilly] as well.
"It's one of those things you have to adjust to. It always feels a little bit interesting the first couple of shifts on the right side, but it doesn't really matter where I play. I just have to worry about what I'm doing on the ice."
Video: Taylor Hall Goes 1-on-1 With Eric Russo
The Bruins' defense corps has struggled mightily at times to get shots through from the point. While it has been a bit better of late, the coaching staff - skating and skills instructor Kim Brandvold, in particular - got creative in finding ways for the B's defensemen to be more mobile at the blue line. At the end of Wednesday's practice, the Bruins used life-sized dummies to simulate the opposing team's shot blocking attempts.
The dummies were on ropes allowing the coaches to get them in motion.
"We're trying to simulate some pressure at the point for the D, bodies in the upper shooting lanes and trying to work around and see through them and shoot through them, if necessary, with still getting your shots to the net," Cassidy explained. "So short of using live people that obviously risk injury - you don't want to do that to a player…we decided to try to use them as the best way to replicate a player."