The Boston Bruins will have the opportunity to close out the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Friday night. Following two victories in Pittsburgh and a double-overtime win in Game 3, the Bruins are a single game from earning their second trip to the Stanley Cup Final in three seasons.
According to cliché, the fourth victory is always the hardest one to win. For the Bruins, at least, the fourth victory will have to come with some change.
Center Gregory Campbell will miss the remainder of the season due to a broken leg sustained by blocking a shot in Game 3. Forward Kaspars Daugavins will draw in his place but will not fill his void on the fourth line. Instead, head coach Claude Julien will put Daugavins on the third line with Rich Peverley and Tyler Seguin. Chris Kelly will replace Campbell on the 'Merlot Line' with Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton.
While that is the pairings the Bruins will begin the game with, Julien made it clear that it might not be the groupings they end with.
"I can interchange guys, move them around," he said after morning skate when asked about his line combinations. "We'll see how things go. That's what I had this morning in the morning skate. They know it can change. Not necessarily set in stone."
Considering the effectiveness of the Merlot Line, adding Kelly to the mix is a logical move. Kelly has won 61 percent of his faceoffs, which will allow Julien to continue to use the line as a defensive matchup against Pittsburgh's scoring lines.
In terms of the pressure of closing out the series, Julien remained confident in his team's maturity level to understand the situation.
"I think we know how we need to play," he said. "It's nothing more than about one game, what we need to do here. So we try and minimize all the hoopla around everything and keep it to the one game, how we need to play. Again, I mentioned yesterday that we didn't play our best game last game. They played better. So we need to be a better team tonight."
Pittsburgh provided an improved performance on Wednesday night. While the team failed to come away with the win, they certainly came as close as they have thus far in this series. Of course, the team is still struggling to score, which could be a problem in extending the series.
If outside circumstances are any kind of motivation for the Penguins, questions have already surfaced about the futures of head coach Dan Bylsma, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury. As was seen in Vancouver earlier this postseason with the Canucks, bowing out of the playoffs as a favorite by way of a sweep can carry ramifications.
Whether that will drive the Penguins' performance in Game 4 remains to be seen.