Thursday: Both players took part in the Bruins’ optional skate this morning, and were deemed “game-time decisions” by head coach Bruce Cassidy. Chara did not suffer a concussion on the play that broke his jaw.
Wednesday: All eyes are on the Boston Bruins right now, particularly who will suit up for Game Five of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night. With captain Zdeno Chara suffering a broken jaw in Game Four and Matt Grzelcyk the victim of a concussion-causing hit in Game Two, two of their three starting lefty defensemen are question marks moving forward. John Moore has already drawn into the lineup and is far from a typical depth defenseman, as evidenced by his strong play last game. However, will the Bruins be forced to move further down the depth chart to righty Steven Kampfer or inexperienced rookie Urho Vaakanainen? Both players received regular reps at practice today, while Chara did not participate and Grzelcyk did not take contact.
Yet, don’t be so quick to rule either one out. Head coach Bruce Cassidy, an abnormally honest and open coach when it comes to dealing with the media, would not state that either player was not in consideration for Game Five. He instead simply said that Grzelcyk was still in the league’s concussion protocol, which may be a formality, and Chara missed practice due to a facial injury, as one might expect from a 42-year-old with a broken jaw. Grzelcyk, who seems like the more likely player to return tomorrow night, may have practiced on the team’s “fourth pair” with Vaakanainen, but he also worked with the team’s second power play unit, a role that would seemingly go to one of the replacement players in need of man-up reps. Grzelcyk has had a week to recover from his concussion and may be good to go if he’s cleared by the league.
The more surprising news comes from The Athletic’s Joe McDonald, who believes that Chara will indeed suit up for Game Five, broken jaw and all. Chara did not return in Game Four after suffering the injury, but this could have been more precautionary, whereas with better knowledge of the injury now, the captain feels he is ready to go. McDonald spoke to several of Chara’s Bruins teammates who have played with broken jaws and they assured him that is not fun, but possible. They also vouched for the captain, stating that if anyone could play through the pain, it’s Chara. McDonald writes that his availability likely hinges on whether Chara required surgery to wire his jaw shut, which the team has not revealed. If so, communication, not to mention breathing, would be difficult for the massive defender and would likely keep him sidelined. If not, Chara could play through the pain to close out the Cup run with the Bruins.
One possible lineup change that Cassidy could make given the questionable health of his defense unit is to dress seven defensemen and eleven forwards. Whether that means both Chara and Grzelcyk are ready to go, just one can play and Kampfer returns to the lineup, or neither can go and Vaakanainen can make his NHL postseason debut, Cassidy has to strongly consider the option. It’s no coincidence that the two games that the St. Louis Blues have won have come when Boston played with just five defenders for two-thirds of the game. Both were narrow victories possibly prevented by full strength on the blue line. To avoid that situation again, the Bruins could ice an extra defenseman in their attempt to take back the lead in the series. Checking line forward Noel Acciari, little-used veteran David Backes, or ice-cold Jake DeBrusk could be candidates to sit if the team does decided to load up on the back end. The lineup decision, one way or another, likely won’t be made until close to game time on Thursday.