Phil Stacey

On Hockey

Practice at Warrior Arena today. Practice there one last time tomorrow. Then it’s off to the bubble in Toronto for what they hope will be a two-plus month stay in the 416.

There are still plenty of question marks surrounding the Boston Bruins as they get ready to head north for the start of the NHL’s postseason. But in reality, the same could be said about each of the other 23 squads that will congregate in either Toronto or Edmonton, all hoping to raise Lord Stanley’s Cup in early October.

The biggest news surrounding the Bruins — aside from, you know, the fact that they’ll be trying to complete the 2019-20 season during a global pandemic — is the fact that David Pastrnak and Ondrej Kase have yet to practice with the team in over a week. Pastrnak, of course, is coming off of a 48-goal regular season and is the Curly to Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron’s Moe and Larry on Boston’s top line. If the Bruins want a return trip to the Cup Final, they need a healthy dose of Pasta.

Kase’s situation is different, yet no less vital to the team’s success. The big winger has played only six games with Boston since coming over from Anaheim at the trade deadline in February, and he needs the ice time to continue the adjustment process with his new teammates. The organization also wants to figure out where he’ll slot best: alongside Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci on the second line’s right side, or if he’s a better fit opposite center Charlie Coyle on the third line.

Phil Stacey column: Bruins need healthy Pastrnak, Kase before games begin in bubble 

Having not practiced with the Bruins since July 15, David Pastrnak hopes to be back healthy and in his familiar spot as the team's first line right wing by the time they get to the bubble in Toronto next week.(AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

If both players have had to quarantine, as has been widely speculated, it seems the earliest they could be back with their teammates is July 30. That’s the date the Bruins will play their lone exhibition game in Toronto, taking on the Blue Jackets. Round robin play for Boston begins two days later against the Flyers, which means Pastrnak and Kase won’t have had much time to get up to speed, as it were.

“My best guess would be (in) Toronto,” Bruins President Cam Neely said Wednesday on a conference call with reporters, when asked about when the duo would be back and able to play with the squad. 

While the idea of not having either player (especially Pastrnak) is less than ideal, one thing the Bruins are certainly blessed with is depth. That gives them options to, in this instance, plug a forward or two into the lineup, either on one of the top two lines or among the bottom six and slide someone else up.

Provided he’s healthy, it shouldn’t be too difficult for Pastrnak to become simpatico with Marchand and Bergeron again. If for some reason he isn’t, though, Anders Bjork — who has skated on the top line during Summer Camp — could be a temporary fit. It’s a similar scenario on the second line if Kase can’t go, where Jack Studnicka or Anton Blidh could assume that role.

The ‘Unfit To Participate’ protocol that NHL teams now follow in a COVID-19 world means that we’re going to have guys missing from practices and games without explanation for the duration of the playoffs. It’s not as if Pastrnak and Kase are the only B’s who have been deemed as such; Krejci, Coyle, Sean Kuraly, Nick Ritchie, Torey Krug and Tuukka Rask have all missed time over the last two weeks under this designation. Chris Wagner returned to practice Wednesday after missing a few days; Charlie McAvoy did the same thing on Thursday.

If the NHL is going to pull this off — be able to actually get through two-plus months of playoff hockey and award the Stanley Cup this season — then this is the New Reality. Players are inevitably going to be sick (and injured); they’ll just disappear from the lineup under the UTP tag until they’re they’re healthier and able to come back.

A week from now, this could all be a moot point. Pastrnak and Kase could both be back to face the Blue Jackets as the team’s top two right wings, and everyone else will be healthy and ready to go.

But in case one or the other isn’t able to play — or anyone else on the roster between now and then — then be ready to see the reinforcements.

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Phil Stacey, the Executive Sports Editor of The Salem News, covers the Boston Bruins for CNHI Sports Boston. Contact him at pstacey@salemnews.com and follow him on Twitter @PhilStacey_SN

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