BOSTON — OK, it’s time for the kid.

Since the start of the playoffs, the chorus of pleas for Coach Bruce Cassidy to insert rookie Ryan Donato into the Boston Bruins’ lineup have seemed a little unrealistic.

The Harvard junior had played a grand total of 12 NHL games and, in the one playoff contest in which he participated, it was hard to get a gauge on his performance as the Bruins blew out the Toronto Maple Leafs in that Game 2.

But after the Bruins looked terrible at times and top-heavy throughout their Game 3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning at the Garden, the feeling here concerning Donato’s inclusion is: Why the hell not?

For the second straight game, the Lightning were clearly the better team and, while the concerns about Donato’s NHL-ready defensive skills at this nascent point of his career are well-founded, the Bruins couldn’t give up many more prime scoring chances than they did Wednesday night.

The problem right now – or at least one of them – is the Bruins are getting no production from the third line of Riley Nash, Danton Heinen and David Backes. The trio has been very good at times through the course of the season. In fact, Cassidy’s hunch to go back with it in Game 7 after scratching Heinen in Game 6 against Toronto proved prescient. But right now, the line just may be turning into a pumpkin in front of our eyes. By the end of the game, Backes – minus-6 in 10 playoff games this year – was on the bench and Jake DeBrusk took his shift.

In the first five minutes of the second period with the Lightning already in somewhat of a defensive posture, the top two lines took all the shifts in the first five minutes of the period as Tampa Bay took several icings. That should tell you all need to know about the confidence level in the bottom six to generate chances.

After the game, Cassidy was more concerned with the amount of Grade-A chances being allowed, but did not rule out a personnel change on the third unit without mentioning any names.

“I am concerned,” said Cassidy. “We’ve got some guys that weren’t dressed tonight who’ve played well for this team. So we’ll have the conversation tomorrow. It’s easier to do it the next morning instead of immediately after the game.

“Some guys have had a tough time and if they stay in, they need to be better. The discussion (Tuesday) centered around secondary scoring. That matters, but if you’re not bringing that and, we’ve talked about this, if you don’t have your A game, you have to bring your B game. Well, you have to defend better. And that’s where my issue lies. You need to bring something else to the table and then the scoring will eventually come if you’re a guy that’s scored in this league. I believe that. I think that’s where, fundamentally, we’re missing out with the players we’re relying on.”

So what should the lineup look like for Game 4 on Friday night? Here’s one stab at it.

The Patrice Bergeron line with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak stays intact. No brainer.

The next line, however, should have David Krejci centering Donato on the left wing and Jake DeBrusk on his off wing.

Then take another look at the Rick Nash, Riley Nash, Backes combination that was tried in the Toronto and had its intriguing moments. Yes, Backes has looked very slow this series, but I still want his edge in the lineup.

For the fourth line, go with Danton Heinen on the left or right side, Sean Kuraly in the middle and then take your pick of Noel Acciari, Tommy Wingels or Tim Schaller on the other wing.

Is Donato ready to carry this team? Of course not. But he could contribute to a win, and could have a big impact on a single game.

Seven years ago, Tyler Seguin wasn’t really ready when he was thrust into the lineup in the Eastern Conference finals against Tampa Bay after Bergeron suffered a concussion at the end of the series with Philadelphia.

The Bruins had lost Game 1 to Tampa Bay at home but, in a dire situation in Game 2, Seguin had two goals and two assists in a win for the Bruins. Seguin was pedestrian the rest of the way but his skill got them over a hump.

Well, the Bruins are facing a pretty good hill right now. It’s worth it to see if Donato can provide just a little bit of that kind of magic.


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