BOSTON – We're seeing a changing of the guard with the Bruins defensemen right before our eyes.
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While Zdeno Chara visibly and noticeably struggled to simply clear the puck out of the D-zone and hang on for dear life in the third period of Boston's 4-3 win in Game 5 of their second round series vs. the Blue Jackets, younger D-men like Brandon Carlo, Charlie McAvoy and even Connor Clifton were making plays to help Boston secure the "W."
It was Carlo that closed off a play with Artemi Panarin in the third period, and then shipped the puck up ice quickly to start a transition play that led Brad Marchand to feed David Pastrnak with the game-winning strike late in the contest.
Carlo finished with the assist in 21:27 of ice time without much in the way of numbers on the stat sheet, but it was a massive, poised play by a D-man that's really coming into his own as a shutdown defenseman this postseason.
"Brando's [Carlo] been doing it not just all playoff long, all year long. He doesn't get the credit he deserves; he ends more plays than I've seen by anybody in this league to be honest," said Carlo's D-partner Torey Krug. "Then he gets rewarded with an assist on the game-winning goal, it's a big moment for our team. He takes one of the best one-on-one players in the world [Artemi Panarin] and ends a one-one-one and off we go and get a goal. [It was] a great job by him."
Clearly Carlo has found a way to elevate his game in his first playoff go-round, and McAvoy has been just as key for a Bruins back end that's really beginning to develop that veteran playoff edge to their game. The second-year D-man stepped up and used his right foot to block an Artemi Panarin shot in the closing seconds of the third period, a play that could have been extremely dangerous given that Columbus forward Cam Atkinson was open and hanging around the front of the net in a clear defensive breakdown.
McAvoy said he was "fine" following the game, and had a couple of blocked shots and a couple of hits in a heavy duty 24:31 of ice time where he was strongly supporting a struggling Chara in the final minutes of the game.
"That was a great block. We kind of turned the puck over a couple of times there. Definitely didn't want to do that, but he sacrificed and made a great block," said Tuukka Rask. "[Panarin] is one of the best players shooting their one-timer, so who knows what would have happened."
Certainly there is concern about some of the signs of fatigue in the 42-year-old's game where he was having real trouble breaking out anything late in the third period. It was to such an extreme that Cassidy may have to think twice about leaving him on the ice late in a game in another similar circumstance, which would have been unheard of even a couple of years ago.
But the late-game struggles from Chara were fortunately offset in Game 5 by the rising brilliance of Boston's young D-corps members.
"Those guys play a lot of minutes. [David] Pastrnak's a young guy. We talked about that the other day, came through for us. Connor Clifton, young guy makes a hell of a play to Marchy [Brad Marchand], so these young guys were able to rise up to the moment, big contributors to the win. You have to [have it] if you're going to win at this time of the year because they're young guys that are playing in our lineup," said Bruce Cassidy. "Jake [DeBrusk] did it last year for us, and I think, like I said, we're not going to advance if those young guys freeze.
"Brandon [Carlo] had a moment there in the second period that he had to sort of reset himself, and good for him. You know, we'll help him through that, but the individual has to be able to find his game, and he did. So, like I said, that's critical for us that those guys do their part. They did a little bit more tonight than that."
As Cassidy mentioned, it was Clifton that set up Boston's third goal when he drove the net aggressively after an offensive zone face-off win and then found Marchand cross-ice wide open at the doorstep. Sergei Bobrovsky was able to make the glove save on Marchand's first attempt, but the second was roofed top corner to for No. 63's first goal of the series. Clifton only played 10:57 of ice time for the Bruins, but that heads up, assertive play from a rookie with just a shred of NHL experience turned out to be one of the biggest plays of the game.
Certainly there will be bumps along the way still for some young players shouldering big responsibilities for the Bruins, but the B's don't win a pivotal Game 5 without guys like Carlo, McAvoy and Clifton stepping into the Black and Gold breach.
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