BOSTON – It isn’t lost on 23-year-old Connor Clifton that he’s getting a golden opportunity to carve out something for himself late in the regular season for a playoff-bound team in the Boston Bruins.
The young D-man was called up to Boston earlier this week when Torey Krug went on the shelf with a concussion, and the unheralded Clifton has once again stepped in and has done a good job for the Bruins in a tough spot. Playing in only his second game with the Bruins since his call-up, Clifton and partner Brandon Carlo were called into shutdown duty against the top line for Columbus about midway through the game. Clearly they did the job as they held the Blue Jackets off the board for the rest of the game and the hard-nosed, sneaky skilled Clifton finished with a solid 16:51 of ice time while impressing just like he did in his first stint with the Black and Gold earlier this season.
“I like his game. I like that he competes. Listen, it’s the Bruins identity. It’s our job to coach him up the rest of the way. They’ve got to bring up the compete level, obviously, the execution. Effort and execution, we always say, that falls on the player,” said Bruce Cassidy of Clifton, who now has a plus-3 and 11 penalty minutes in 11 games during two stints with the B's this season. “If we’re ever executing poorly as a team then we’ve got to talk about puck support, and that’s on the staff. He wants to compete hard, so if he’s willing to do that, and he was the first call-up, then we’ll find time for, try to get the best matchups. He’s got that.”
It remains to be seen how long Krug, Matt Grzelcyk and Kevan Miller are going to be out with injuries in a situation that’s creating a chance for Clifton, but he’s making the best out of it. He finished with a couple of shot attempts, four hits and a blocked shot and played the kind of well-rounded game he’s been known for in the AHL this season. And that’s pretty much the only thing he can do if he wants to try and stick around next month when the real fun begins.
“You just want to play your game, wherever it may be, whether [it’s in training] camp or in real games out here,” said Clifton, who has six goals and 27 points in 53 games with the P-Bruins this season. “I think you want to be true to yourself and play your game. I guess it started in the second [period]. You know they have speed and you just kind of want to match it.
“We just wanted to take away their time and space and we did a great job working together and being loud for each other. It went well. Obviously you want to play more ice time, I think I played 12 minutes the other night and it was a little tough to get into the game but I thought [Saturday night] was a lot better.”
It may be a longshot that Clifton is going to play this kind of role or minutes once the Bruins get a little healthier, and certainly a playoff roster spot isn’t going to be handed to him. But he is showing the B’s he can handle it if injuries hit again and the B’s need to dig deep into their D-man depth, and that’s a pretty important thing this time of year.
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