Matt Grzelcyk’s name remains largely unknown to many casual hockey fans, not to mention how to spell and pronounce (it’s GRIZZ-lick). But the entire hockey world will see his name a lot more tonight, and his return to the Boston Bruins lineup for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals against St. Louis is a big deal.
It’s a big enough deal that his return moved the NHL betting line, after Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy declared Grzelcyk good to go for Game 7, after missing most of the previous five Stanley Cup games of the series with St. Louis because of concussion symptoms.
The Bruins were -163 favorites on the moneyline to win Game 7 before the news. After the news, the moneyline moved to -180, with the Blues going from +135 to +145.
Why Does Grzelcyk’s Return Matter?
The Bruins won Game 1, with a healthy Grzelcyk playing nearly 15 minutes. The Bruins lost Game 2, in overtime, and Grzelcyk only played 4:29 of that game. He was concussed after taking a hit into the glass from the Blues’ Oskar Sundqvist in the first period - which earned Sundqvist a one-game suspension.
The Bruins lost three of the five games in which Grzelcyk was not a full participant, and it’s probably no coincidence.
The 25-year-old native of Charlestown, Mass., isn’t big (5-9, 175) and doesn’t score a lot (only three goals, 15 points in 66 regular season games), but he’s very good at skating with the puck out of defensive zone pressure.
When the Blues have won games in this series, they’ve done it with heavy forechecking pressure, getting in on the Bruins’ defense behind their net, causing turnovers and/or making it difficult for them to get the puck out in transition.
The absence of Grzelcyk made it easier for the Blues to do that. Now, it won’t be as easy. Grzelcyk will replace Connor Clifton in the lineup, and that’s just a big plus no matter how you slice it for the Bruins.
Clifton actually did OK for the Bruins in a relief role, but he’s young and prone to penalties (14 penalty minutes in the six games he played in the series), and you can’t afford any bad penalties in a Game 7. Grzelcyk had just six penalty minutes in 19 playoff games before he was hurt.
Intangibles Matter, Too
It can be dangerous to overstate the emotional impact of one player returning for one game. Zdeno Chara returned from that broken jaw for Game 5, to a roaring pre-game ovation from the TD Garden fans. Then, the Bruins went out and laid an egg in Game 5. Sometimes, you can get too emotional and lose some focus.
But this is more than just a sentimental, feel-good story with Grzelcyk’s return. His play will make a real difference in how the Bruins play. And, besides, sure, you want the crowd roaring as much as possible in a Game 7 at home.
His introduction to the fans will jolt the building and should give his team a lift. As long as the Bruins don’t get overconfident from getting a key guy back - and I don’t see how any team goes into a Game 7 of a Stanley Cup Final overconfident - then this is all a big plus for Boston and betting enthusiasts should react accordingly.