Carlo's first NHL goal helps Bruins to victory in Winnipeg

Carlo's first NHL goal helps Bruins to victory in Winnipeg

Brandon Carlo isn’t going to forget his first NHL game in Winnipeg, and it won’t be for their raucous home crowd or the city’s notoriously nasty winters.

Instead it will forever be the setting for the 19-year-old rookie defenseman’s first NHL goal that served as the important insurance score in Boston’s 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre on Monday night. Carlo pounced on a loose puck at the high slot after Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck poked the puck away from a charging Brad Marchand, and the 6-foot-5 defenseman blasted a shot that rattled off the post before settling in the back of the net.

So now Carlo has both his first career point and his first goal out of the way just three games into his NHL career, and was just happy that his first score served an important purpose in a win for his hockey team.

“I kinda blanked out there, I guess you could say,” said Carlo to reporters in Winnipeg. “I was really excited to get that opportunity there in the slot and put it in the back of the net. That definitely kind of sealed the game and I was really excited to get the ‘W’ out of this.”

More impressive than scoring his first NHL goal is the overall job that Carlo is doing this season with just eight games of NHL experience on his resume. The 2015 second round pick now leads all NHL rookies with a plus-7 rating on the season after a plus-3 in the Monday night win, and he skated a career-high 24:50 of ice time while serving as a shutdown defenseman with Zdeno Chara against the Jets best offensive players. It’s only three games, obviously, but it’s clear that both Carlo belongs in the NHL despite his inexperience and that he already represents an upgrade over some of the options Boston rolled out on their back end last year.

“The key word is first goal. As an NHLer, the quicker you get that off your back the better it is. You won’t be feeling the pressure anymore of looking for that first one,” Julien said to reporters in Winnipeg. “It was a really important goal, and it was nice to see him do that. He’s played against top lines since the start of the season, and for a young player to do that he’s shown a lot of poise.”

The rare poise from such a young defenseman is exactly why Carlo is going to stick with the B’s even after their veteran blueliners return from injury, and mobility, puck-moving abilities and offensive upside make him a better option than others on the organizational depth chart. It’s only three games into his NHL career, of course, and there are still hurdles to climb and tests to pass before Carlo is the kind of player that will be blindly counted on to serve as a trusted top-pairing, shutdown guy.

But at this early date it’s already clear that Carlo is a keeper for the Black and Gold, and they have no business taking him out of the lineup for any reasons for the foreseeable future. 

This Date in Bruins History: Blues beat B's in OT of Stanley Cup Final

This Date in Bruins History: Blues beat B's in OT of Stanley Cup Final

Only one game in the history of the Boston Bruins has been played on May 29, and it's one that fans of the Black and Gold would like to forget.

It was Game 2 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final at TD Garden, where the B's hosted the St. Louis Blues leading the series 1-0.

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The Bruins started off strong by opening the scoring with a goal from Charlie Coyle at 4:44 of the first period. The Blues responded about five minutes later with a goal from Robert Bortuzzo that came off a fortunate deflection. Boston wasn't fazed, though, and went back ahead when trade deadline pickup Joakim Nordstrom scored to give the B's a 2-1 lead in the first period. The Blues came right back and again evened the score when Vladimir Tarasenko converted on his own rebound opportunity with 5:05 left in the first period. 

These two teams played the remainder of regulation with great intensity and physicality, but the Blues went over the line toward the end of the first period when forward Oskar Sundqvist hit Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk into the boards from behind. Sundqvist was suspended for Game 3 as a result of the hit. 

Grzelcyk left the game and didn't return, which forced the Bruins to play the rest of the game with only five defensemen. It was a tough setback for the Bruins to overcome, and they were pretty tired in the overtime period as St. Louis dominated the extra frame and eventually scored the game-winner on a point shot from Carl Gunnarsson.

The victory for the Blues was the first of three for them in Boston during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, including the championship-clinching Game 7 victory. 

2020 NHL Playoffs: Will Bruins' experience, mental toughness carry them through?

2020 NHL Playoffs: Will Bruins' experience, mental toughness carry them through?

It really remains to be seen exactly how this hockey postseason is all going to play out.

Some players like Brad Marchand have their own ideas about it all and think that teams with older legs, like the Boston Bruins as the fourth-oldest team in the NHL for example, are “going to struggle” in bouncing back into midseason form after a nearly three-month absence from the ice.

Maybe the Bruins agitator is simply setting up a scenario where the Bruins can play themselves off as underdogs, or maybe that’s a genuine look at what lies in front of the Black and Gold.

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Others like Hall of Famer Mark Recchi think it’s going to be the mental strength and character component that will carry the eventual Stanley Cup champion amidst so many trials of adversity coming in the next few months.

Nobody really knows for sure what strengths or weaknesses will best serve the 24 NHL teams invited to take part in an NHL postseason that isn’t going to get going until early August. But Bruins President Cam Neely has his own ideas about what will serve a hockey club best once the Stanley Cup Playoffs are underway in earnest.

Not so coincidentally, it’s the exact kind of intangibles the B’s have in large amounts along with enough talent that made them the only 100-point NHL team when the regular season went on pause.

“Everybody is in the same boat. I’d like to think that because of the experience that we have some of that is going to help them in this situation as opposed to players that are newer and younger into the league,” said Neely, during a mid-week Zoom call with Bruins reporters. “But at the end of the day it’s how well you’re going to be prepared and how well you’re going to execute. Our players have a lot of experience in that regard and it’s just a matter of how it’s all going to fall into place.

"I know our guys are going to be well-prepared. I’d expect the same from other teams, but I know what our group does and how they do it, and how well the players respond to it. I’m expecting everybody to be ready to go once training camp is hopefully ready to begin."

All that being said there are plenty of variables that will play into a very unpredictable set of games when hockey does return.

Will a goalie like Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist stand on his head in a short play-in series and shine brilliantly just long enough to upend a higher-seeded team? Will teams with young legs like the Toronto Maple Leafs have an inherent advantage given that youngsters like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander aren’t going to need a great amount of time to rev up to full speed once again?

Will the ultimate advantage be with quality teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins that will be getting healthy returns from impact players like Steve Stamkos, Dougie Hamilton and Jake Guentzel who wouldn’t have been able to participate back in April?

These are all questions with answers that will be borne out once the games get played, but the hope is that the A-Z experience of players like 43-year-old Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask will come to the forefront with so many other things way outside the norm. 

Clearly there's also the elite talent of the Perfection Line with perennial 30-goal scorers in Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak among others, and a rested Rask when he's at his very best stopping the puck. 

They will, in some ways, be able to lean on their experience from the 2012-13 lockout when they all needed to ramp up quickly for a shortened 48-game season that began in January.

As we all remember, the Bruins did it well enough to get all the way to the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks.

“I’m hoping that leadership plays a big role. Once everybody is together and knowing Bergeron, Chara, Tuukka, Torey and Brad, those guys are going to get the others [going],” said Neely. “The others know what to expect from that leadership group, they know what to expect from themselves and they know what to expect from the coaching staff. So my hope is that they will recognize that we are going from a training camp in essence right to the playoffs.

That’s unusual as we all know, and I’m hoping that the experience of having it ramp up that quickly that the guys can lean on the older players for a little bit of comfort. They don’t necessarily have the experience [of this exact situation], but more being able to get yourselves ready to go in a short period of time.

But even in the 2013 lockout, the NHL players were skating in groups pretty regularly while the NHL and NHLPA were hammering out a new CBA, and they weren’t nearly as rusty as they will be this time around.

That’s a huge difference with the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs looming a couple of months from now as NHL players prepare to start skating in small groups next month, and look forward to a possible training camp that will now start no sooner than July 10.

It’s all so strange and new for an NHL group that’s always found comfort and success in sticking to the routine. It’s going to be fascinating to see just how much Boston’s leadership, character and experience will benefit them when all NHL players will need to go from 0 to 100 immediately once the games start getting played.