The Bruins were dealt a potentially fatal blow Sunday morning when they learned defenseman Charlie McAvoy would be unavailable for Game 4 against the Hurricanes after testing positive for COVID-19.
Boston appeared to have some momentum on its side after winning its first game of the series versus Carolina on Friday night, drawing blood in the Stanley Cup playoff first-round matchup. Without McAvoy — and still-injured running mate Hampus Lindholm — evening the series Sunday felt like a pipe dream.
However, the Bruins were able to dig deep and find a way to overcome the adversity. Boston got contributions up and down the roster en route to a 5-2 win.
Here are a few takeaways from the Bruins’ Mother’s Day matinee.
Pitching in without McAvoy, Lindholm
Bruce Cassidy said during an in-game interview with ESPN that the team wasn’t expecting Josh Brown or anyone else on the Bruins’ defense corps to fill the role of the vacated McAvoy. It would take a team effort, of course, which is what the Black and Gold delivered.
Each Boston blue liner played at least 12:52, led by Connor Clifton (20:16), Brandon Carlo (19:32) and Derek Forbort (19:07). Carlo blocked a game-high five shots, Clifton registered a game-high six hits and Forbort brought the body, too, while leading the team in short-handed time on ice.
It wasn’t always perfect, of course.
Matt Grzelcyk overcommitted to the left wing on a Carolina rush in the first period that opened up a shooting lane for Brett Pesce to jump into the play and score the game’s first goal.
Brown and Mike Reilly then both got caught below the goal line, opening the front of the net for the second Hurricanes tally.
But those sorts of issues were expected. Credit to the rest of the Bruins for picking up the slack where necessary.
A lot of that is attributed to goaltending. Jeremy Swayman had arguably his finest moment as a pro, stopping 26 of the 28 shots he faced. It wasn’t a performance filled with highlight-reel stops, but he was efficient and made the plays he needed to make.
And there’s also credit to be doled out to the Boston forwards. The Bruins’ first line (more on them in a bit) played a vintage game, while the other lines all played a fairly responsible game.
“We’ve always been about a team game,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said in his postgame press conference. “Our leaders lead and our followers follow. Our followers back there did a real good job with that tonight. … The next part of it is your top-end guys, the forward group, has to with some high-end puck end-movers back there and guys who generate, they’re going to have give a little more. We saw that with Bergy’s line and a lot of guys for that matter.”
First-rate first line
The “Perfection Line” moniker is overused and trite at this point, but Sunday was as close to perfect as you’re going to see from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. Marchand, in particular, had a day to remember, scoring twice and adding three assists for a playoff career-high five points.
Sure, the production is great, with Bergeron and Marchand on the ice for each of the Bruins’ five goals. But it’s the little things that really add up to the “little more” Cassidy asked of his top line. Like on the Bruins’ first goal, when Marchand barreled into the faceoff to yank a loose puck out of the scrum before Pastrnak won a puck battle and took a massive hit behind the net as he moved it in front for Bergeron to score.
And that set play leading to the fourth goal? *Chef’s kiss*
The move to reunite Pastrnak with Bergeron and Marchand obviously has worked so far. The real test will be what that line can do the rest of the series with two of the remaining three games in Carolina where A) the Hurricanes have been really good and B) Rod Brind’Amour has last change.
The little things matter, especially at home
Speaking of last change, the Bruins’ first goal Sunday was the perfect example of a team taking full advantage of home ice. While it was the top line finding the back of the net, you’ve gotta give credit to the fourth line for setting it up. Solid forechecking from Nick Foligno forced Canes defenseman Brendan Smith to run the puck along the boards down the ice. Boston had the play well-covered in the neutral zone, which kept Carolina from touching the puck, leading to icing. Cassidy responded by deploying the first line against the Hurricanes’ fourth line and third D-pairing, leading to a goal.
After winning just 40% of his faceoffs in Carolina for Games 1 and 2, Bergeron won 30 of 44 draws in the games in Boston. Jordan Staal abused him down in Raleigh, winning 29 of 40 faceoffs between the two, but last change allowed Cassidy to avoid that matchup in Boston, with the two captains facing off just 12 times combined in those two games. Bergeron also fared much better, winning nine of those.
Whether Bergeron and the Bruins can sustain the success on the road — which they certainly haven’t yet this series — is obviously the No. 1 factor for Boston to advance.
Bucking the trends
We touched on this after Game 1, but the Hurricanes are built to play with a lead. Their two wins improved their record when scoring first to 42-4-6, and in each of those wins, they built a multi-goal lead and are now 45-1-0 when doing so. Carolina actually scored first in both of the games in Boston, too, but the Bruins were able to punch back and keep the Hurricanes from building on the lead. If the Bruins can ever break through and score first, they’ll really be in business.
And don’t look now, but the Bruins’ power play seemingly has come alive. After being held to one goal on eight chances in the first two games, the Bruins have converted on four of 14 chances in the last two contests. One of those goals was in a 5-on-3 situation, but they all count the same, and you can see the confidence growing with each man advantage.
“Our power play has to help us,” Cassidy said Sunday. “It’s increasingly gotten better as the series went on and to get out of the third, as well, now it becomes a weapon. Whether that’s in their head or not, we know it’s functioning better and that gives us a little more confidence.”