Connor Clifton is familiar with the position he was in Tuesday night. After all, his entire NHL career has been centered around seizing the moment when given an opportunity.
The Boston Bruins’ depth defenseman got into game action Tuesday night with Jeremy Lauzon dealing with an injury. The end result was a solid showing with few gaffes for Clifton as the Bruins won 3-2 in overtime of Game 2 in their first-round playoff series against the Washington Capitals.
The message from the coaching staff to Clifton got through.
“He did a real good job,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said Tuesday over Zoom. “I thought he did a good job staying clean, that was the ask. How (we framed) it is ‘You’ve got to be physical, Cliffy, that’s part of your game, and that’s what’s going to happen tonight for both sides. When it’s there, don’t be reckless and when you have the puck try to understand what they’re doing in the neutral zone, where it can be dangerous to put pucks and where the better play will be.’ So we walk through a little bit of that, and then just play hockey.”
Clifton’s best qualities sometimes can sink him. He is aggressive as all get-out, which makes him a delight, if at times a wild ride, to watch. But when he channels that aggressiveness well enough and picks his spots, good things tend to happen.
“He stayed within himself very well, he managed his assignment well,” Cassidy said. “He answered that bell well, and that goes back to what we talked about earlier, you’ve got to be ready to play against whoever comes over the boards. It’s hard to shelter guys in this league, you can do it, you certainly can do it for a while, but eventually, there’s nowhere to hide. So, you’ve got to go out and (play), so the message is usually you’re in the lineup for a reason, you’ve been there, you’ve done it, you ‘ve been on your offside. Just stay within yourself, and he did a nice job.”