An 'amazing experience' for McAvoy in impressive Bruins debut

An 'amazing experience' for McAvoy in impressive Bruins debut

OTTAWA – If the Boston Bruins had a perfect storybook scenario for how things would go in the NHL debut for 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy, the rookie defenseman’s performance in Game 1 of the playoffs stuck very closely to the feel-good script.

McAvoy finished second among all Bruins players, behind just workhorse Zdeno Chara, with his 24:11 of ice time and was one of the five key players on the ice when the game-winning goal was scored in a 2-1 win over the Ottawa Senators. There was nothing forced or frantic about the youngster’s game, and instead he showed poise, confidence and honest-to-goodness puck-moving instincts and tape-to-tape skills that seemed to have a calming effect whenever he was on the ice.


It was exactly what the Bruins needed with Torey Krug out of the lineup with a lower body injury and his considerable skills shelved for the time being. But McAvoy was more focused on the playoff win than anything he might have done individually during the game.

“I don’t think about the ice time or the numbers. I just wait for coach to call my name, and then I just try to bring it every shift,” said the 2016 first-round pick. “It’s great to see that they trusted me and gave me the ability to learn through my mistakes tonight. Overall it was just an amazing experience tonight.”

McAvoy finished a plus-1 with three shot attempts, a hit and a couple of blocked shots. The young D-man, with just four games of AHL experience, left no doubt he’s going to be a fixture on Boston’s back end for a long time to come. Bruce Cassidy said before the game he simply wanted to gauge McAvoy’s readiness by what he saw out of the young guy in game action, and needless to say the B’s interim coach came away impressed.

“I thought [McAvoy] was terrific. A 19-year-old kid comes in and has never played a game in the National Hockey League, and comes in with composure, saw the ice and defended well,” said Cassidy. “He got his indoctrination early when he tried to dump a puck in, it hit our guy and it came back our way. But he stayed out of trouble and we needed it. We were having trouble breaking pucks out and that’s an element of his game he does very well. We needed it. The injury to Colin Miller really magnifies the situation and if [McAvoy] struggled then we would have really been in trouble. So it was a nice boost for us.”

The capper for McAvoy was finding himself on the ice with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Zdeno Chara in the closing minutes of the third period, and helping create the game-winning goal with a monstrous scoring shift. The quintet kept winning puck battles and pumping up the offensive zone time while putting pressure on the scrambling Sens, and McAvoy at least twice made slick plays at the blue line to keep possession going. That eventually led to a Bergeron blast off a shin pad that landed on Marchand’s stick, and sent the Bruins home happy with an early advantage in the best-of-seven series.

“Out there with a group of guys like that, a forward group like that with Chara obviously, they were so good at reloading just puck after puck after puck after puck,” said McAvoy. “So we were able to get that fortunate bounce and that was awesome.”

So now the name of the game for McAvoy becomes matching and perhaps exceeding the heady baseline performance he set for himself with the Bruins after one game of playoff experience, and helping in any way he can to push Boston toward eventually advancing past the first round. It won’t be easy but McAvoy showed he’s up to the challenge on Wednesday night, and the Bruins have themselves a pretty special young D-man moving forward in a league that absolutely covets those kinds of players. 

Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

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Backes escapes skate blade situation with deep cut that 'wasn't too dangerous'

TAMPA – David Backes certainly didn’t escape the scary situation with an errant skate blade unscathed, of course. 

The 33-year-old limped his way to the Bruins team bus out of Amalie Arena after Boston’s 3-0 shutout win over the Tampa Bay Lightning, and needed approximately 18 stitches to close up the gash on his right thigh. But Backes was still able to joke about it as he exited the dressing room while knowing that it could have been much, much worse with that kind of freak accident on the ice. 

"I'll play a second period one of these days,” said a smiling Backes, who was forced out of Saturday night’s loss with the skate blade cut in the last minute of the first period and exited the Florida loss as well after catching a match penalty in the first period as well. Luckily for him, there was no structural damage to Backes’ right leg after Yanni Gourde caught him in the thigh area as both players were down on the ice around the Tampa net.

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There was a lot of blood, however, as he quickly exited the ice, sped past the bench and headed right to the Bruins dressing room with Bruins trainer Donnie DelNegro trailing right behind. 

“I went in and saw him between periods. He’s okay. There’s no structural damage. There will be concern going forward about swelling or infection, but it looks like he’ll be okay. We’ll classify him as day-to-day, but I don’t know if he’ll be ready to play on Monday,” said Bruce Cassidy of Backes, who actually scored the second goal of the game for the Bruins as a power play strike. “You see a guy coming off like that and you see the blood pooling up, and you’re always worried they could hit an artery somewhere. He was able to get up. That was the first good sign and he was able to be tended to quickly. 

“It is scary. But we were told it would be a deep cut that would require some stitches, and it wasn’t too dangerous.”

For now it just becomes an eventful month for Backes where he’s been suspended, tossed out of a game with a match penalty and now forced out of a game after a freak skate blade incident, but there’s no doubt he’ll return better and stronger than ever in rapid fashion as he’s done through the last two seasons with the Bruins.


B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

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B's make a big statement to Tampa, rest of the NHL with gutsy win

TAMPA – One has to wonder what the Tampa Bay Lightning are thinking after Saturday night’s game. 

It’s probably something along the lines of “Oh crap” after the Bruins completely shut them down while missing their top defensemen pairing, their best all-around player and top line center, their most impactful rookie forward and also losing their best power forward, who was filling in as top line center, in the first period. The undermanned Bruins made a big, fat statement with their 3-0 win over the well-rested, healthy Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena at the end of a long, four-game road trip, and now sit just two points behind the Bolts with 12 games to play in the regular season. 

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It was impressive enough that the Black and Gold won at all against the NHL’s best team while missing so many of their top shelf players, but to do it while also totally shutting down Tampa’s offense was something worth remarking about. The Bruins defense and goaltending had been playing a bit fast and loose for the better part of a month, and had been bailed out time and again by an offense that’s been dropping big numbers lately. 

But the Bruins went into Saturday night determined to leave an impression with the Lightning about what awaits them next month once the playoffs start, and they did it with physical, gritty defense that left Tampa with little space to operate. Even better the Bruins defensemen moved the puck pretty much perfectly and swiftly all night, blocked shots with hard-nosed determination and proved they could do more than survive without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy. 

That’s damned impressive when you consider the opponents from Tampa Bay lining up against them with a chance to clinch their playoff spot, and what’s on the line for both teams headed into the final three weeks of the regular season. 

“We were looking at it as more of a bounce-back against a really good team, and let’s see where we are. I thought we answered the bell,” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “Probably the biggest win in a long time. We've had some nice comebacks and some high-scoring affairs, but it was nice to get a zero [goals allowed] in the column. It’s been a while. 

“It was just good, solid team defense…winning pucks. It was probably not the prettiest hockey, but I thought the goals we scored were pretty nice ones going to the net. It was playoff hockey. I thought we were better at it than they were tonight. Who knows how the next one is going to go, but we’re going to enjoy this.”

It was clear early on that the Bruins wanted to set the tone both physically and style of play-wise, and they did just that. The pounding physicality clearly bothered the Lightning as Steven Stamkos made an uncharacteristic choice to retaliate against Tim Schaller after he threw a heavy hit on the Tampa Bay star player. That landed Stamkos in the box and set the Bruins up for their first of two power play goals on the evening. 

Those two power play goals were proof enough that the Bruins had their special teams in good order, but it took just a combined 23 seconds of power play time to strike for those two scores against the Lightning penalty kill. That’s the kind of thing that’s going to keep Jon Cooper and the Tampa Bay coaching staff up at night before the final two meetings between these two teams. The suffocating defense, the stout physicality and the quick strike offense just completely overwhelmed the Lightning, and things went exactly according to the game plan that Bruce Cassidy had set out for them prior to the game. 

“We’re a confident group back there, and when we play the way we’re supposed to we can compete with anybody,” said Kevan Miller, who played a punishing, physical 21:41 of ice time in the win. “It’s that time of year where we’re pushing for the playoffs, we’re grinding away and we knew as a group after [the Florida loss] we needed to tighten things up. We did that. That’s a tough team over there, so you need to take time and space away from them. As a group we did a great job of that.”

About the only thing that didn’t go right for the Bruins early was David Backes exiting quickly at the end of the first after his right thigh got sliced by an errant skate blade. But even the 33-year-old Backes managed to avoid serious injury despite approximately 18 stitches to close the wound, and was cracking jokes about it as he limped to the Bruins bus postgame.

Clearly things can and will change with two games remaining between the two teams in the final three weeks of the regular season. The Bruins should theoretically be even better and more difficult to beat once they got all of their key players healthy, and that’s got to be a frightening prospect for the Lightning. 

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Then again perhaps the Bolts were a little rusty after three days off leading into Saturday night, and they needed to be kicked in the teeth by the Bruins to start getting that hunger back. Either way the Bruins are within a single win of pulling into a tie for the top spot in the East and home ice throughout the entire Eastern Conference playoff bracket. Nobody should be surprised the Bruins did it once again while fighting through injuries and a brutal late season schedule, and that’s a testament to how stubbornly they’ve successfully plowed through adversity this season. 

The dominant win over Tampa on Saturday night just serves as another piece of compelling hockey evidence that something special is building with the Black and Gold. It’s become impossible to deny or ignore as the Bruins continue bucking the odds in a way that should have everybody else’s full attention around the NHL at this point.