It’s by necessity, but it’s officially Charlie McAvoy time for the Bruins.

The Bruins and Senators will begin their first round series tonight. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins and Senators will begin their first round series tonight. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

It’s by necessity, but it’s officially Charlie McAvoy time for the Bruins.

After three morning skates with the Bruins, all spent with different pairing partners, the 19-year-old McAvoy appears set to skate on the right side of the club’s second pairing with Kevan Miller for his NHL debut in tonight’s Game 1 meeting with the Senators.

Asking McAvoy, who has played in just four AHL games since leaving Boston University just a couple of weeks ago, to jump right into the fire of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is a daunting task, but it’s one they believe that the poised 14th overall pick from last year’s draft can handle.

“But at the end of the day, once the puck drops, it’s hockey,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy said of the message to McAvoy. “That’s what we’ll tell him: you’ve got to play to your strengths and understand that you’ll be playing against men, so they’ll be much harder on the puck, but he’s has the luxury of playing some games down in Providence. It’s not the National Hockey League, but they’re older players, it’s older than college, so he has that under his belt.”

It’s all happened extraordinarily quickly, and McAvoy will be the first to tell you that.

“I’ve already played a stint in Providence. Now I’m in Ottawa for the playoffs. I mean, it’s crazy. It’s been a whirlwind,” he said.

McAvoy and Miller are not a guaranteed pairing, and it wouldn’t be shocking to see Cassidy bump McAvoy up with Chara or down with Liles as the night progresses and given his overall affinity for making in-game switches if something doesn’t click.

Although the Bruins head into this game without forward Noel Acciari (upper-body) and defensemen Brandon Carlo (upper-body) and Torey Krug (lower-body), good news comes for the Bruins with word that both David Krejci and Dominic Moore, who missed yesterday’s practice with maintenance issues, will be in uniform for tonight’s contest. Brad Marchand, the team’s leading scorer who missed the final two games of the regular season with a suspension, is also back in the B’s lineup.

Tuukka Rask gets the call in net for the Bruins. Rask finished his year on a high note, with a 4-0-1 record and .971 save percentage in his final six appearances of the season, and comes into action on the heels of a career-high 37 wins and eight shutouts this year. The 30-year-old has not played in the playoffs since 2014, but has 28 wins and a .930 save percentage in 47 career playoff tilts.

Ottawa counters with Craig Anderson. The veteran Anderson was a nightmare for the Bruins this season, with four wins and stops on all but one of the 95 even-strength shots the Bruins threw his way in four games this year. But when the Bruins did beat Anderson with goals, they came on the power play, where he stopped just eight of 13 shots thrown his way. Anderson has 12 wins and a .933 save percentage in 27 career playoff games, including two wins and a .972 save percentage in four games in 2015.

This is the first ever playoff meeting between the Bruins and Senators.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Backes

Drew Stafford – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Matt Beleskey – Ryan Spooner – Frank Vatrano

Tim Schaller – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash

Zdeno Chara – Adam McQuaid

Kevan Miller – Charlie McAvoy

John-Michael Liles – Colin Miller

Tuukka Rask

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
John-Michael Liles will skate in his first playoff game since 2013. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles will skate in his first playoff game since 2013 in tonight’s Game 1 in Ottawa. (Sergei Belski/USA Today Sports)

Bruins defenseman John-Michael Liles remembers the last time he played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But he’d probably prefer not to.

It was in 2013 that Liles’ skates last touched playoff ice. May 13th, to be exact. It was from the bench at TD Garden that Liles watched his team’s playoff hopes go down in complete flames in a span of 16:47 — a 17-minute intermission extended it to nearly 34 agonizing minutes on the ice, on the bench and in the locker room, actually — as the Bruins pulled off the greatest comeback in Game 7 history and the Leafs pulled off the greatest choke in Game 7 history as the B’s stormed back from down 4-1 in the third period to beat Liles and the Leafs in overtime.

It’s the absolute last playoff memory that Liles wanted to have, and not in the Mark Recchi going out a champion kind of way.

“No, that was…” Liles says with a wry chuckle and a chin scratch, still struggling to come up with the words to best summarize that collapse four years later. “I was in that game, in that series.”

And Liles will be in tonight’s Game 1 and in this series against the Sens, which is exactly how he drew it up last summer.

“Last year was a tough one for me getting traded here and for us not making the playoffs,” Liles, who was traded to the B’s from the Hurricanes at the deadline and posted six assists in 17 games for the club in a did-not-qualify finish, said. “Personally I felt I had some unfinished business, and that we as a team had some unfinished business.”

Signed to a one-year, $2 million contract following the Dennis Seidenberg buyout, Liles skated in a topsy-turvy season that featured a concussion and prolonged stretches as a healthy scratch on the B’s eight-man defensive rotation, but still had an appreciation for the moment that came when the B’s officially punched their ticket to the postseason last week.

“After we clinched against Tampa, I remember taking a minute and appreciating the moment because it was one of the reasons why I signed back here was to be in this situation and get back into the playoffs and have another chance,” Liles said.

They’re the chances that, at 36 years old and with his days of 40-point seasons long behind him, Liles knows are slimming down.

“Early in my career I was fortunate to play in a lot of playoff series,” Liles, who broke into the league with the Avalanche back in 2003, admitted. “But it’s been a few years. That’s kind of how it goes sometimes. It’s not an easy thing to predict. It’s tough to get into, tougher to win, and obviously the toughest thing to do is win the Stanley Cup.”

And with Brandon Carlo (upper-body) and Torey Krug (lower-body) out for the beginning of this series, and with the 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy set to make his NHL debut as a complete unknown, Liles knows that he could be relied upon as the veteran presence needed to help solve an Ottawa puzzle that’s mystified the Bruins through the first four meetings this season. But they’ll also turn to Liles, who has 40 games of postseason know-how, to be a voice that helps a Boston blue line that has just 11 games of playoff experience (all by Kevan Miller) once you get beyond the club’s projected top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid.

“First and foremost, just enjoy the moment,” Liles said of his message to the team’s younger talents like McAvoy and Colin Miller. “You think early on in your career it’s going to happen every year and it’s not necessarily true.

“Play your game. That’s the biggest thing. Know that the intensity ramps up. That was something I learned early on in my career. As the season goes on, the intensity increases and then you step into the playoffs and there’s another increase in the level of intensity. That’s something guys told me, and that’s something I’ll tell some of the young guys.”

It’s a role that fits Liles well given where he’s at in 2017.

“Closer to the end than the beginning, I’ll say that,” Liles said of his career.

But something that Liles hopes will not be case when it comes to this year’s playoff memories.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

The Bruins have experience and know-how to beat the Senators. (Marc DesRosiers/USA Today Sports)The Bruins lucked out in the first round. 

Patrice Bergeron gave those trying to get under Brad Marchand's skin some advice. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Patrice Bergeron gave those trying to get under Brad Marchand’s skin some advice. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Bruins winger Brad Marchand is as chatty as they come. No one knows that better than Patrice Bergeron, Marchand’s linemate of seven years.

In a piece penned by Bergeron for the Players’ Tribune on Wednesday, Bergeron touched on a number of subjects, including Marchand’s penchant for his on-ice chatter, and those that come to the rink and try to outduel his war of words on the ice before, during, and after play.

“Don’t. Just don’t. You won’t win. Nobody ever wins,” Bergeron wrote as advice to those trying to find ways to get under Marchand’s skin.

“But one thing you absolutely have to know is that you will not outchirp Marshy. You just won’t. The guy always gets the final word. As soon as a guy on the other team messes up, Marshy will be right there to skate by him and say, “That’s the best play you’ll make all night. Keep going.” That’s if he’s in a good mood and going easy on the guy.”

To be honest, this is nothing you didn’t already know about Boston’s favorite agitator.

And fresh off his two-game ban, you can expect Marchand to begin this series with a mouthful for any and everybody on a pesky Senators group that will do anything they can to get under anybody on the Black and Gold’s skin.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Tuukka Rask could backstop the Bruins to the second round. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)

If he’s on his game, Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask could backstop the team to the second round. (Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports)

It’s painfully obvious, borderline insulting even, of me to write that strong goaltender can take you far this time of year. Especially in this town, as Tim Thomas told you exactly that with more than anything I could write back in 2011’s wild run to the Stanley Cup, and when Tuukka Rask nearly did the same in 2013’s bid that came just two victories shy of Boston’s second Cup in three seasons.

But it bears repeating that as a starter, Rask, who has been called everything in the book since he first arrived on the B’s scene in 2009, has never failed to make it out of the first round of the playoffs.

In his first year as a playoff starter back in 2010, Rask bested the Sabres in a six-game round one matchup, and posted a .927 save percentage over the course of the series, complete with a double-overtime, 35-save effort in a series-changing Game 4 victory. In a return to a starting role in 2013, Rask outlasted the Maple Leafs in seven games, with a .923 save percentage and back-to-back 45-save games in Games 3 and 4. And in his last trip to the playoffs, which came back in 2014, Rask handled the Red Wings in the first round with just six goals allowed and a dominant .961 save percentage in a five-game series win.

When it comes to the first round, Rask has been money, and Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy’s club will need that in what’s expected to be a tight-checking, low-scoring opening round series with the Senators that begins tonight in Ottawa.

“He’s played real good hockey of late,” Cassidy said. “Tuukka just has to be Tuukka, really, with what he’s done lately and generally most of the year. He’s been real solid for us. We need goaltending, just like I’m sure [Ottawa] will say the same thing.”

In an undeniably up-and-down season, the 30-year-old Rask still found ways to shine, with a career-high 37 victories and eight shutouts, and led by a 4-0-1 record and .971 save percentage (stops on 136 of 140 shots) in his final six games of the year.

It’s the strong finish that’s reinforced the idea that Rask is ready for a return to the big stage after three years on the sidelines.

“You have to appreciate the fact that you’re in,” Rask said. “You wanna be in every year because it’s the best time of your season. The weather gets nice, the atmosphere in the city and the hockey rinks is different so you miss it a lot, but we’re in now.”

This is typically where the Finnish-born backstop has played his best, too.

Among goaltenders with at least 30 playoff games played over the last four seasons, Rask ranks second behind just Braden Holtby for the league’s top save percentage (Rask has a .936 while Holtby has rocked a .939 in spite of his losing record), and Rask’s .945 save percentage at even-strength over that span is the best in the league (it’s there that Holtby sits behind Rask, at .936). Most of those lethal numbers were recorded when Rask went on an absolutely insane tear during the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it’s important to note that those figures came when the B’s defense corps were decimated with injuries — Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, and Wade Redden all missed time back then, and Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug will miss time now — which forced Rask to shoulder the weight of the late first and second rounds in front of the Boston net. He’ll have to do the same in this round, with Charlie McAvoy and Colin Miller (zero total NHL playoff games experience) expected in the top four to begin this series.

Still, his mission remains the same now as it was then.

“Good for the young guys to step up. It doesn’t change anything on my end,” Rask said. “Just try to be in there and give us a chance to win, but we have some young talent on defense and offense, and it’s good to see these guys getting a chance to play.”

Helped by the breather given to him by Anton Khudobin’s strong play down the stretch (Rask said Khudobin taking some games off his back ‘absolutely’ helped and that he needed that), Rask knows the difference he can make this time of year.

“Maybe steal a game here and there, play great hockey when your team’s not at 100 percent and you might make an extra save or two and give your team a chance,” Rask, who did not beat the Senators this season but gave up just 10 goals in four games, said. “But at the end of the day it’s the same thing as any other game in the regular season, you have to give your team a chance to win.

“There’s no player in the league that’s not ready for the playoffs.”

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

It’s hard to have a bigger brother than the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.

Zdeno Chara enjoys his mentoring role for the Bruins. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will rely on Zdeno Chara to be an on-ice mentor for Charlie McAvoy in the first round. (Dennis Wierzbicki/USA Today Sports)

It’s hard to have a bigger brother than the 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara.

A giant on the ice in skates and in the B’s locker room with his lead-by-example actions, the 40-year-old Chara has had his share of siblings over his 11-year run in Boston. He’s helped accelerate the development of prospects into legitimate top-four talents — from Dennis Wideman to Johnny Boychuk to Dougie Hamilton and now Brandon Carlo — and has helped inexperienced first-timers ‘escape’ getting feasted on via unfavorable matchups. Fringe players like Steven Kampfer, Zach Trotman, and teenagers like Hamilton (again), and even Carlo (in the first few weeks of the season) come to mind there in that latter group.

Chara has a new sibling that fits both criterias now, as Charlie McAvoy appears set to make his NHL debut to Chara’s right when the puck drops on the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs tomorrow night in Ottawa.

“We like the young guys with Z,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said following Tuesday’s practice.

“Z likes to be the big brother. He relishes that role.”

A 19-year-old defender with zero games of NHL experience, and just four games of AHL experience (all coming within the last few weeks as McAvoy joined the P-Bruins on an amateur tryout agreement mere days after Boston University’s season ended), there’s no doubt that the Bruins feel he needs veteran support going from the NCAA to the AHL to the NHL in three weeks. And McAvoy, who skated with the 36-year-old John-Michael Liles in his first practice with the Bruins on Monday, got that when he was paired with Chara for the duration of Tuesday’s on-ice session, which seemed rudimentary in nature but also focused heavily on D-to-D communication and some transition drills, at Warrior Ice Arena.

“I think if we’re speaking with Charlie [playing with Chara], he’ll complement Z getting back on pucks, help him with the transition game,” noted Cassidy. “I think that’s where Carlo has been good. Those young guys, they’re able to get back on pucks.”

It’s also a familiar combo, at least in terms of what the B’s have done with Chara really since Hamilton left and even before that when Boychuk was moved to the Islanders, and one that Cassidy knows will be accepted by his best defenseman.

“I think Z enjoys tutoring the young guys,” Cassidy said of Chara’s hand in helping developing the organization’s younger talents. “When you put a young guy with a partner, I think that partner has to have some sort of communication skills and want to do it. It’s pretty tough for a young kid to go in and the [partner] is in his own world and focused on only his own job. It makes it a little more difficult. I think that’s the biggest reason and sometimes it gets thrown together out of necessity.”

It was out of necessity in October, with Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid injured late in the preseason, that the Bruins paired the teenage Carlo (who spent almost all of training camp with Liles) up to Chara’s right for a two-headed monster that lasted the year. Again, while surprising, it was not the first time that Chara helped morph a wide-eyed teenager into a poised No. 2 on the right.

“I’m gonna guess Dougie Hamilton — I can’t expand on that much — but he was another right-shot that Z definitely had contributed to his development. He’s kinda gotten used to it now, and he enjoys it,” Cassidy continued. “[Chara]’s a student of the game even talking to him one-on-one about different things, so I think that translates when he deals with young guys.”

Tuesday’s skate featured plenty of one-on-one conversations between Chara and McAvoy, too, as almost every drill either began or concluded with No. 33 and No. 73 talking or demonstrating where the other one will, won’t, or should be in game action.

“Sometimes things just fall into place,” Cassidy said, “But we’re appreciative of Z doing that.

“It makes our job a lot easier.”

Something McAvoy, if capable, will find out soon enough.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
David Krejci missed Tuesday's practice, but is expected to play tomorrow. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

David Krejci missed Tuesday’s practice, but is expected to play tomorrow. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

In less than a week’s time, the Bruins have become ravaged by injuries, and their series with the Senators hasn’t even started yet.

Already down Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug for the start of the series, the B’s will also skate without Noel Acciari for at least Game 1, and it’s hard to imagine their situation getting much worse between now and tomorrow’s series opener at Canadian Tire Center. But further trouble appeared to come for the Black and Gold when both David Krejci and Dominic Moore were missing from Tuesday’s practice.

Without Krejci, Ryan Spooner skated in the middle of a second line with Drew Stafford to his left and David Pastrnak on the right, while Sean Kuraly and Jimmy Hayes rotated in Moore’s spot as the right winger on a fourth line with Tim Schaller and Riley Nash.

This was Krejci’s second straight day away from the ice, as he left Monday’s practice early because of a ‘maintenance issue’ according to Bruins GM Don Sweeney, but with Krejci (and Moore) given the ‘maintenance’ designation once again on Tuesday, it’s expected that both centers will be ready to go when the puck drops on the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs in just over 24 hours.

“I do,” Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy said when asked if he expects Krejci and Moore to play in Game 1.

“We’ll have a better idea tomorrow morning, but I do expect them to play.”

Cassidy remained secretive (as all coaches are this time of year) in regards to the nature of their ‘maintenance’ issues, but did note that neither player is suffering from the flu that hit Bruins backup goalie Anton Khudobin last weekend.

It’s worth noting that losing Krejci, frustrating regular season or not, for any stretch of playoff play would be a devastating blow for the Bruins. The 30-year-old pivot tends to find that extra gear come playoff time, and has been the straw that’s stirred the drink any time the Bruins have put together a deep playoff run. And his postseason slumps or injuries have almost always parlayed into early exits for the Black and Gold (Krejci had just four assists in 12 games in the B’s last postseason run in 2014). Losing Moore, though he plays about half the minutes of Krejci at five-on-five, would be equally troublesome, as he is a key piece of the B’s top of the line penalty killing corps behind the Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combination.

A two-time postseason scoring leader, Krejci has 29 goals and 77 points in 93 career playoff games. Meanwhile, Moore has skated in 93 playoff games as well, including 49 since the 2014 playoffs, which is the 8th-most in the NHL over that span.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
Bruins forward Noel Acciari will miss Game 1 against the Senators. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Bruins forward Noel Acciari will miss Game 1 against the Senators. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The injury bug has already hammered the Black and Gold’s defense ahead of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals showdown with the Senators. It’s extended to the club’s fourth line, too, as Noel Acciari has been confirmed out for Wednesday’s Game 1 in Ottawa.

“It gets pretty vague this time of year, if players aren’t in the lineup, then you won’t hear why or what not,” Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said following Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “But Noel will not play. I’ll give you that one. He won’t play in Game 1.”

The loss of Acciari, who was injured in last Thursday’s shootout loss to the Senators, is a sneaky big one, as his chemistry on a fourth line with Dominic Moore moved to the wing and Riley Nash at center was noticeably improving with each passing contest.

In 10 games upon his latest NHL recall, the 25-year-old Acciari recorded two goals and three points, and chipped in with 36 hits.

To lose that kind of stat-line, especially against a pesky Sens group that loves to lay big hits when they can, and given the B’s year-long battle for balanced scoring, is a sneaky big one for the Bruins.

“We’re still tinkering to a certain extent,” Bruins interim coach Bruce Cassidy admitted of his lineup, which has maybe one and a half set lines heading into this series. “The Acciari — who was playing well and kinda solidified a line — injury has made us rethink that part, so we’re gonna roll through what we think gives us the best chance to win.”

Acciari’s fellow Providence College alum, Tim Schaller, who was a frequent fit with Moore and Nash earlier this season before he missed 14 games with a lower-body injury, was the first pick to skate in Acciari’s spot in last Saturday’s season finale, and finished the 3-1 loss with three hits, three takeaways, and a blocked shot in a modest 11:03 of time on ice. And he’s probably the most likely bet to start with the Nash line to begin Wednesday’s series with the Sens, barring another last-second shuffle from Cassidy.

“We’re still trying to build on the chemistry we have so far,” Cassidy said.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson