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.
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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.