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Injuries may prevent Bruins' Charlie McAvoy from getting paid the way he'd hoped

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Injuries may prevent Bruins' Charlie McAvoy from getting paid the way he'd hoped

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When the Bruins take the ice tomorrow for the Winter Classic at Notre Dame Stadium, it doesn't appear Charlie McAvoy will be out there with them.

McAvoy -- who missed 20 games with a concussion this season after sitting out 19 last year due to a heart procedure and then a knee injury -- suffered a lower-body injury while blocking a shot against Nashville on Dec. 22. He played the next night at Carolina, then was placed on injured reserve and sat out the following two games as the problem lingered. He traveled here with the team but was unable to practice either Sunday or Monday. Coach Bruce Cassidy had said Sunday that if McAvoy didn't practice Monday "it isn't looking good" for him playing against the Blackhawks tomorrow. If he does indeed sit out the Winter Classic, it will be the 23rd game he's missed in 2018-19.

It’s still too early in his career to call the injuries and missed games a pattern, but it’s beginning to become noticeable that McAvoy is having a hard time staying on the ice.

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Some things, like the heart condition and subsequent procedure, are impossible to avoid. And to his credit, McAvoy did come back from the knee injury in time for last season’s two-round playoff run through Toronto and Tampa Bay.

Still, for McAvoy to become the No. 1 defenseman he seems capable of becoming, he can't miss pockets of time each and every season. Drew Doughty, a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman to whom McAvoy has been compared, has played the full 82-game schedule five times in his career and has never missed more than six games in any season that he’s played for the Kings over the last decade.

Some of that certainly is good luck; Doughty has been fortunate to avoid serious injury despite not shying away from contact. Some of that, though, might be a matter of getting used to playing through pain.

Only McAvoy and the Bruins medical staff know when he’s 100 percent, and only a player knows when he’s feeling well enough to play after a concussion. Injuries are often nobody’s fault and can heal slowly even though urgency is the name of the game at the NHL level.

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But if he doesn't find a way to stay on the ice, it’s difficult to see McAvoy getting the massive second contract that once seemed inevitable. As it stands now, McAvoy won't be able to command an eight-year, $60 million contract like the one signed by Aaron Ekblad, or even the six-year, $34.5 million deal Dougie Hamilton received. There are still too many questions to answer. The Bruins can’t sign a young player to an exorbitant contract like that when he’s frequently injured, and when there's still much to prove even when he’s out there.

The Bruins and McAvoy could certainly find middle ground on a shorter bridge deal with his rookie contract coming to an end at the close of this season. And maybe there’s still time -- if he gets back and stays in the lineup, has a monster second half, and amps up the playmaking and physicality skills he's flashed when healthy -- for him to prove he deserves the contract that will push him into that top echelon of young defensemen.

But right now the Bruins can’t give McAvoy his big payday. Not until they see him consistently on the ice earning it.

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Bruins considering adding Karson Kuhlman back into lineup for Game 6

Bruins considering adding Karson Kuhlman back into lineup for Game 6

BRIGHTON, Mass – Bruins rookie Karson Kuhlman has been a healthy scratch for the last couple of games, but it looks like the speedy, smart young forward might draw back in for do-or-die time with the Black and Gold.

Kuhlman was among the top-12 forwards during the line rushes for the Bruins at Saturday’s practice at Warrior ice Arena, and Bruce Cassidy indicated that the former University of Minnesota-Duluth standout is knocking the door to get back into the lineup.

“We might make a few adjustments. Tuukka is going to be in the net and then we’ll go from there,” said Bruce Cassidy of his Game 6 lineup. “We’re considering [Kuhlman]. Certainly he’s played well for us and he adds an element of speed and responsibility.”

The 23-year-old Kuhlman suited up for the first three games of the series against the Maple Leafs and finished with an assist and six shots on net in three Stanley Cup playoff games with the Black and Gold. It appeared that 34-year-old David Backes would be the odd-man out if Kuhlman draws back into the lineup for Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena. Backes played under five minutes in Friday night’s Game 5 loss to the Maple Leafs, and has increasingly had difficulty making an impact in the series as his skating game has slowed against Toronto.

With that in mind trading out Backes for Kuhlman would up the speed factor for the B’s against a Maple Leafs team that’s controlled them in the series with their speed and skill level.

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairing against the Maple Leafs for Game 6 based on Saturday’s practice:

LINE COMBOS

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Johansson

Heinen-Coyle-Kuhlman

Kuraly-Acciari-Wagner

D-PAIRINGS

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Moore

Rask 

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Bruce Cassidy on underachieving Bruins: "We have to reach our level if we expect to advance"

Bruce Cassidy on underachieving Bruins: "We have to reach our level if we expect to advance"

BOSTON – When the first round playoff series against the Maple Leafs is over with and the Boston have either advanced or started making tee times, one thing will remain true about the games played. It feels pretty clear at this point that many people, the fans, the media and perhaps some people in the B’s organization as well, vastly underestimated how difficult things would be against the Maple Leafs, and just how much that Toronto team has grown in a season.

One would have assumed that the Bruins would be the victorious team in a scoreless defensive battle that went into the third period before the first goal was scored. That assumption would have been wrong in Game 5 as Auston Matthews and Kasperi Kapanen scored third period goals to pace the Leafs to a tight, defense-heavy 2-1 win over the B’s at TD Garden.

The Bruins have now lost two of their three home games in this series and have been held to just one goal in two of those three defeats at TD Garden. It’s a far cry from the Leafs team that ranked 20th in the league in defense during the regular season averaging three goals allowed per game, and the B’s are learning that the hard way.

Clearly some credit is due to the Maple Leafs for the way they’re playing, but Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy also sounded like he’s pretty tired of watching his team fail to get to their highest level of play in this series.

“This is a whole new group, and they’ve got to find their way. That was the message [to the team]. There was a lack of urgency in our play [in Game 5]. At times it was there, but in general I don’t think this team has reached where it can get to in the playoffs in terms of team play,” said Cassidy. “We’ve had pockets of it and we’ve played well at times, with value for both of our wins. But we have to reach our level if we expect to advance.”

While it’s clear that the Bruins aren’t playing at their level best, it’s also about the Maple Leafs improving from last season. It’s almost as if adding a world class two-way center in John Tavares and a shutdown defenseman in Jake Muzzin have made the Maple Leafs significantly better than they were last spring.

“We obviously would like to see them generate more, but there’s not a lot of room out there. We’ve said it. I think Toronto has done a better job defensively on us. We have to fight our way through it, find different ways to crack at it, and I think we did out there,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I thought we got some goals [in Game 4] because we caught them in between on a pinch. We recovered a puck, got it to the top of the crease for the Marchand goal.

“Obviously, our power played helped, but we did get three even-strength goals, and I thought tonight we were having a tough time.”

So what are the Bruins to do if they want to change things in the series?

It starts with getting offense from Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak given the overwhelming success the Bruins have enjoyed when they get on the score sheet, and it continues with getting Jake DeBrusk going after he was a key offensive figure with five goals in last spring’s first round series. It sounds like the Bruins think part of the problem has been worrying too much about what Toronto is doing, and not putting enough into dictating terms in the series with their own play.

One would expect that’s going to change in Sunday’s Game 6 at Scotiabank Arena with the B’s backs against the proverbial wall.

“We’re all capable of so much more, especially collectively as a group. We have the ability to beat anyone in this league and play at the top consistently, and we showed that throughout the season,” said Torey Krug. “Now we reach this point where both teams are working hard. They’ve done a good job, but I think we just need to play up to our potential, focus on ourselves and make them adapt to us. Don’t worry too much about what they’re doing and instead focus on ourselves.”

If the Bruins carry through with all of their real talk following Game 5, there will be probably be a good result in Game 6 and an ensuing Game 7 at TD Garden next week. If they don’t then everybody will be left to wonder how this 107-point team from the regular season never quite made it to that level once they hit the Stanley Cup playoff circuit in April. 

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