BOSTON - As the Bruins head North with a 2-0 series lead over the Toronto Maple Leafs, they could be packing a roster that is as healthy as it has been in months.
During an off-day meeting with the media on Sunday afternoon at Warrior Ice Arena, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said that it's possible both Riley Nash and Tommy Wingels could be well enough to play in Game 3 on Monday night at Air Canada Centre.
Nash, who skated with a select group of players on Sunday, has not played since March 31 against Florida after taking a puck to the side of the head, leaving a gash across his ear that required over 40 stiches to repair.
"Riley Nash is looking good, he'll be a guy that could go into the lineup tomorrow," said Cassidy.
The 28-year-old pivot had been a mainstay in the Bruins' lineup until the injury, helping to solidify Boston's third line, while also filling in admirably for Patrice Bergeron during his absence for a fractured foot.
"He's another guy we put in the lineup that we trust to do the job at both ends of the ice," said Cassidy. "Clearly the Bergeron line is doing a lot of the damage, but all year - we won 50 games because of our support. I'll put Riley in that category, gravitating out of that to be one of our main guys.
"You start playing 16-17 minutes a night…that's what he's gonna bring - a little bit of everything, face-offs, 200-foot game, matchup guy, can kill penalties. He's gone into the power play position when we've had injuries, he's moved up to the top line.
"He can fill in and move up and still produce when a guy like Bergeron was hurt or [David Krejci]."
Video: Cassidy addresses media at Warrior Ice Arena
Should Nash be ready to re-enter the lineup for Game 3, it would also allow for the rest of the forward lines to fall back into place. Nash would likely return to his place between Danton Heinen and David Backes, with Noel Acciari sliding back to his familiar fourth line right wing position.
"When Riley's in there, because he's a right stick, he'll make his left winger better if that guy needs the puck," said Cassidy. "I think that's where the Heinen connection went well and Backes goes to the net, so everything fell into place. Then it allows Noel to go back down to be on that physical fourth line.
"Whether it was him or Wingels that we used, that was a good line for us. It allows the PK to take shape a little better…just sorts everything out for us a little better."
Cassidy, however, could have a difficult decision to make. While Nash is expected to play if healthy, Boston's bench boss could also find a spot for Wingels, who was knocked out of Game 1 after taking a hit from behind from Nazem Kadri. The Leafs forward was suspended for three games. Wingels, meanwhile, did not play in Game 2, but skated on Sunday afternoon and appears to be close to game ready.
"He was skating today, he's very close as well," said Cassidy. "We've just got to decide what our best fit is for the lineup. Let's say they're both healthy - if they're both going in, who comes out? Those are all things internally we discuss.
"I think Riley playing that center ice third slot, if he's healthy, pretty good chance he'll get in there. Been pretty much a constant all year with the injuries. Tommy, we've got to see how it sorts out. He played really well in Game 1, affected the game in a positive way for us, so we'll have to look at that and how it affects our game."
Ultimately, Cassidy said, versatility and dependability will factor into which players suit up for Game 3.
"We try to get the best 12 players in there. Some nights we see things falling into place," said Cassidy. "Just to spitball, Riley coming back - can we expect him to get right back into the level he was at, is that fair? Do we need to have another ceneterman in there to spell him off and have Backs slide in?
"You have all these dominoes. That's where versatile guys like Noel, who can play right and center - Wingels can play all over - that's where it helps."
With the Maple Leafs facing a 2-0 series deficit as they return to home ice, the Bruins expect to face a rambunctious Toronto crowd on Monday night.
"It's gonna be pretty hostile," said Jake DeBrusk. "We understand that. Just playing the games there early in the year, it was pretty crazy. It's gonna be different obviously with the playoffs. They're down two and they're gonna come out really hard. We're gonna need to respond and play our game."
Given that the series is now shifting away from TD Garden, the Bruins know that despite a two-game lead, the best-of-seven set is far from over.
"I think we all know there's a lot of hockey left to be played," said Adam McQuaid. "They're a very strong team at home, too. I think our focus has been game to game and within each game, shift to shift. The same thing everyone's probably saying, but you enjoy a win that night and then you turn the page regardless of what the outcome is."
Video: Players share thoughts on top line's stellar play
Up to the Task
Despite lopsided scores in the first two meetings of the series, the Bruins have had some dips in their defensive play, particularly through the middle stages of each game. Fortunately, they've had Tuukka Rask there to bail them out on several occasions.
Boston's ace netminder has been strong in both games of the series, stopping 56 of 60 shots that have come his way.
"Tuukks has held down the fort for us when we've needed him to," said McQuaid. "He's been the backbone of our team all year and we need that in the playoffs. He's been that for us."
Video: TOR@BOS, Gm2: Rask shuts down Matthews' one-timer