Charlie McAvoy

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Bruins have evolved into one of NHL’s best under Cassidy

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On Feb. 4, 2017, the Boston Bruins were an organization that seemed to be stuck in mediocrity. They had narrowly missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons, had won just 26 of their first 55 games that year, and were preparing to fire Claude Julien, a Stanley Cup winning coach and one of the most successful coaches the team had ever had.

While there were some signs that the 2016-17 team had performed better than its overall record under Julien (they were a good possession team but were getting sunk by sub-par goaltending) the team had just seemed to hit a wall where there was no way forward. It was not a particularly deep roster, the defense was full of question marks, and it just had the look of an organization that was teetering on the edge of needing a rebuild.

It was at that point that Bruce Cassidy took over behind the bench for his first head coaching opportunity in the NHL since a mostly disappointing one-and-a-half year run with the Washington Capitals more than a decade earlier. All the Bruins have done since then is evolve into one of the NHL’s most dominant teams under Cassidy and enter Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final on Thursday just one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since the 2012-13 season.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

It has been a pretty sensational run under Cassidy’s watch.

Since he was hired the Bruins are second in the NHL in points percentage (.670), goal-differential (plus-130), Corsi percentage (53.2 percent) and scoring chance percentage (53.4), and 10th in high-danger scoring chance percentage (52.2). They have made the playoffs every year he has been behind the bench and gone increasingly further each time. They are now just five wins away from a championship.

Obviously there is a lot of talent on this Boston team, especially at the top of the lineup where they have a collection of some the game’s best players, including the trio of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.

That will help any coach.

But what is perhaps most impressive about the Bruins’ success over the past two seasons is how many games Cassidy has been without some of those key players, and how often his team has just kept on winning.

Since the start of the 2017-18 season the group of Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk, Charlie McAvoy, Torey Krug, Zdeno Chara, and Brandon Carlo has combined to miss 203 man-games. That is an average of more than 20 games *per player* over the two-year stretch.

That is not only a lot of games to miss due to injury (or, in some cases, suspension), it is a lot of games for pretty much all of the team’s best players. That does not even take into account the time starting goalie Tuukka Rask missed earlier this season.

The quick response to that sustained success, obviously, is “depth,” and how a lot of credit should be given to the front office for constructing a deep roster that can overcome that many significant injuries.

After all, McAvoy has been a game-changer on defense, Pastrnak has blossomed into a star, and while the Bruins may not have maximized the return on their three consecutive first-round picks in 2015 (they passed on Mathew Barzal and Kyle Connor, just to name a few) they still have had a nice collection of young forwards emerge through the system, especially Jake DeBrusk.

While all of that is certainly true to a point, this is also a team whose depth was probably its biggest weakness and question mark until about two months ago.

Everyone knew their top line was the best in the NHL. Everyone knew their defense with McAvoy blossoming into a star and Krug producing the way he did was starting to turn around. But they were still a remarkably top-heavy team that did not get much in the way of offense outside of their top five or six players. And they spent a lot of time over the past two years, in the league’s toughest division at the top, and still managed to win a ton of hockey games.

[MORE: Bruins head to Stanley Cup Final after sweeping Hurricanes]

Maybe the depth was better than it was originally given credit for, and maybe the goaltending duo of Rask and Jaroslav Halak has helped to mask some flaws. But you also can not ignore the job Cassidy has done behind the bench and the success the team has had since he took over. In the two-and-a-half years prior to him (including during that very season) the Bruins’ points percentage was only 18th in the NHL, and while their possession and scoring chance numbers were still good, they were not as downright dominant as they have been under Cassidy.

It doesn’t matter who he has had in the lineup, who he has been without, or what run of injuries have been thrown his way his team has just simply gotten results. Even more important than the results is the way they are getting the results. They control the puck, they get the better of the scoring chances, and they just simply play like a championship level team.

It is a far jump from where they were just a little more than two years ago, and the turnaround started the day they made the switch behind the bench.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

McAvoy’s back for Bruins, and now comes the easy part

BOSTON (AP) — When he’s playing, Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said, it’s easy for him to maintain his composure and concentrate on the game in front of him.

Up in the press box, that’s the hard part.

”I’m not a very good hockey watcher,” McAvoy said as he prepared to return from his one-game suspension for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals against the Carolina Hurricanes. ”The game seems like it’s much longer.”

McAvoy was suspended for a shoulder to the head of Columbus forward Josh Anderson in the second-round finale. So instead of taking the ice in his usual pairing with Zdeno Chara, McAvoy was wandering around the media dining area before Game 1, wondering if he had to pay or not. (He didn’t.)

And while his teammates were beating the Hurricanes 5-2 in the conference final opener, McAvoy was in street clothes on the very top level of the TD Garden, trying to keep his emotions under control.

”Here on this level, I’m like this,” McAvoy said, holding out his hand, palm down, and moving it in a steady and straight line in front of his face.

”But up there,” he said, pumping his fist and bouncing out of his imaginary seat. ”I’m glad I get to play tomorrow.”

A 21-year-old first-round draft choice from Boston University, McAvoy had seven goals and 21 assists from the blue line this year, his second full season in the NHL. He missed six weeks early in the season with a concussion and another two over Christmas because of a foot injury.

But he hadn’t had to sit out healthy, for just one game.

McAvoy said he would try to use the forced break to his advantage.

”Whenever you’re out, you can use it as an opportunity to get other things feeling right,” he said, adding that watching the game from above game him a perspective that would be beneficial. ”I feel like I picked up on some things.”

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said McAvoy was missed for his physical play and his ability to start the transition to offense.

”Those up-the-middle passes that maybe the other guys just don’t have the vision or confidence, or both, to make,” he said. ”Those quick-strike plays where forwards are getting the pucks in their hands in good spots with a better chance to attack.”

Steven Kampfer, who replaced McAvoy in the lineup, had Boston’s first goal, and the Bruins scored four times in the third period on Thursday night to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. Game 2 is Sunday at the TD Garden, with the series moving to Carolina for Games 3 and 4 on Tuesday and Thursday.

The Hurricanes fell behind 2-0 in their first-round series against the Washington Capitals before eliminating the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games. In the second round, they swept the New York Islanders.

”We don’t want to get down 2-0,” Carolina coach Rod Brind’Amour said. ”If we get to that point, that’s what everyone will be saying. We have some things to draw on, no matter what, no matter which way this thing goes.”

INJURY UPDATE

Cassidy said forward Noel Acciari won’t play in Game 2 but may be on track to return for Tuesday’s Game 3 in Carolina. Acciari (undisclosed injury) returned to non-contact practice on Saturday and was expected to be cleared for full practice on Monday, Cassidy said.

Saku Maenalanen is skating, but he still can’t shoot because of his hand injury, Brind’Amour said. Forward Jordan Martinook ”is going to play,” Brind’Amour said. ”He’s banged up, a little gimpy out there. But we want him in the lineup.”

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Penalties crush Hurricanes as Bruins storm back in Game 1

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The Carolina Hurricanes had their moments in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, but penalties ended up being their Achilles’ heel in a 5-2 loss to the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins got on the board quickly thanks to Steven Kampfer, who was only in the game in the first place because Charlie McAvoy was serving a suspension. That lead was erased quickly though when Andrei Svechnikov‘s shot was deflected by Sebastian Aho just three seconds into a Hurricanes power play. Just like that, the score was 1-1 a mere 3:42 minutes into the contest.

Things calmed down after that until Greg McKegg charged hard into the net midway through the second period. Replays showed that he scored before colliding with Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask and the Bruins ultimately didn’t challenge the call, giving the Hurricanes a 2-1 lead.

Carolina’s edge wouldn’t hold though and it was largely due to a lack of discipline. Micheal Ferland was charged with interface late in the third and while the Hurricanes killed off that penalty, they weren’t so fortunate in the third. First Jordan Staal boarded Chris Wagner just 49 seconds into the frame. There might have been coincidental minors there as rookie defenseman Connor Clifton took exception to what Staal did, but Brad Marchand pulled Clifton back before the situation escalated.

That certainly isn’t a role Marchand is known for, but that wasn’t his only contribution in the period. He helped set up Marcus Johansson‘s game-tying goal on the ensuing power-play. When Dougie Hamilton took a roughing penalty at 2:41 of the third to put the Hurricanes in the box yet again, Marchand got another power-play assist, this time feeding the puck to Patrice Bergeron.

That said, the player who deserves the most credit on the Bergeron goal is arguably Jake DeBrusk, who collected the puck on his knees and got up while making the pass to Marchand to get that sequence going.

Hamilton took yet another penalty at 5:29 of the third, just to make life a little harder for the Hurricanes, but at least Carolina killed off that one. From there, the Hurricanes could not battle back. Brandon Carlo got an empty netter at 17:47 and Chris Wagner got one by Hurricanes goaltender Petr Mrazek at 17:58.

Carolina can look back at this game as a missed opportunity to take one early in Boston. The silver lining for the Hurricanes is that this series has only begun.

Hurricanes-Bruins Game 2 from TD Garden will be Sunday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. ET on NBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.

Bruins’ McAvoy suspended for Game 1 against Hurricanes

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Charlie McAvoy‘s hit on Josh Anderson didn’t draw a major penalty in the Boston Bruins’ Game 6 win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but it will force McAvoy to sit out Game 1 of the 2019 Eastern Conference Final versus the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.

Here’s the video explanation from the NHL, which labels the check as an illegal check to the head, one that McAvoy could have avoided. Anderson was able to return during the third period of Game 6, and also seemed to share a cordial handshake with McAvoy following Boston’s 3-0 win.

The video gets into the nitty gritty of the hit, noting that McAvoy attempted a hit that would be difficult to execute without making contact with Anderson’s head. The Department of Player Safety also claims that McAvoy elevated to make the hit.

The league also noted that McAvoy hadn’t been fined or suspended during his NHL career before this incident, so that factored into the check drawing a one game suspension, rather than something more severe.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins’ McAvoy to have hearing for Game 6 hit on Anderson

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(UPDATE: McAvoy has been suspended one game.)

When the Boston Bruins host the Carolina Hurricanes Thursday night in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final, defenseman Charlie McAvoy likely will not be available.

The Bruins blue liner will have a Tuesday hearing with the NHL Department of Player Safety following his second period hit on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Josh Anderson in Game 6.

McAvoy was assessed only a minor penalty on the play due to the fact that the official deemed it an illegal check to the head under Rule 48.1, which only carries either a minor or match penalty with it, not a major or game misconduct.

The Blue Jackets failed to score on the ensuing power play and were eliminated following the 3-0 defeat.

“I thought it was a hockey play,” McAvoy said afterward. “I mean, I put my shoulder into it. When I hit, I do my very best to keep my elbow tucked so I don’t get it out there. I hit with my shoulder. I try to hit with as much power as possible. He’s a bigger guy, it was a hockey play.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

John Tortorella did not divulge what the officials told him regarding the call. The Blue Jackets players were obviously frustrated considering it was 1-0 at the time of the hit and had Kelly Sutherland and Steve Kozari been able to call a five-minute major, that extra power play time could have swung the game.

“It sucks,” said Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno. “Kelly is a good ref. I don’t want to get into it. He had a tough call to make. I just think when your player is injured, it’s an automatic five minutes. … At the end of the day, he probably makes the right call, but at the time you probably want to see it be a five. Then again, we got a two-minute power play and we didn’t make anything of it. We got another power play after that and we didn’t make anything of it.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.