The Boston Bruins cruised to a 5-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Thanksgiving Eve. More importantly, they potentially avoided a significant scare.
Carrying a comfortable 4-1 lead into the third period, Charlie McAvoy found himself on the receiving end of a late hit from behind via Sabres forward Zemgus Girgensons. Boston’s trainers attended to McAvoy as he laid down on the ice for a few minutes before the fifth-year defenseman skated to the dressing room for facial repairs.
Girgensons earned a five-minute major and a game misconduct for boarding McAvoy into the boards. The Bruins, who built their cushion on the heels of four first-period tallies, added another insurance marker on the ensuing power play on Taylor Hall’s fifth of the season.
Bruce Cassidy provided an encouraging update on McAvoy following Boston’s 10th victory of the season. Here’s what we learned as a pivotal early-season matchup with the New York Rangers awaits.
The potential short or long-term ramifications without McAvoy loom large
“He got some stitches, but he was up moving around, so that’s good,” Cassidy said of McAvoy’s health. “I don’t expect there will be much going on. He’ll have a gash over his eye. Hopefully, there are no other [issues]. That’s what you’re hoping when your head goes into the boards like that. Hopefully, he feels healthy, knock on wood, has some turkey, and be ready to go on Friday.”
Cassidy’s positive report on McAvoy provided a collective exhale from the passionate Bruins fanbase ahead of their Turkey Day festivities. Now they await word on McAvoy’s status for Friday’s matinee.
To state the obvious, the Bruins can’t afford to lose McAvoy. He’s undoubtedly one of the best two-way blue-liners in the league. The Bruins don’t have the defensive depth to make up for McAvoy’s potential short or long-term absence.
Brandon Carlo would likely ascend to a top-pair role in McAvoy’s absence. Yet, the right shot options beneath him aren’t anything to write home about.
Cassidy scratched Connor Clifton following a handful of inconsistent outings. Jakub Zboril slid from his strong side D over to the right side of the third defensive pair with Mike Reilly. In their three games together, the up-tempo duo provided a steady hand in Boston’s transition game and hardly looked out of place defensively.
But McAvoy’s potential absence goes beyond the defensive structure. It would likely leave questions on how Carlo and Derek Forbort adapt to a top pairing role. It would also leave Matt Grzelcyk, who skated with McAvoy on Wednesday, in a rather precarious spot with Clifton or a potential Providence callup like Urho Vaakanainen.
The defensive core hasn’t performed all that poorly in the first 16 games. Zboril’s consistency and Forbort’s unlikely offensive contributions provided encouraging signs. But they’d all have to perform well above expectations if the Bruins lose McAvoy on a short or long-term basis.
Bruins quickly respond to Okposo’s first-period tally in style
The odd early-season schedule hardly allowed the Bruins to find their rhythm consistently. At times, they’ve established a steady flow in all three zones with quick transition and quality secondary scoring chances. In other instances, they’ve passed up shots in favor of the perfect play, often times resulting in quality looks down the other end of the ice.
As the first period progressed, the Bruins slowly found their groove in front of a sparse KeyBank Center crowd. A tough break resulted in a 1-0 deficit as Kyle Okposo beat birthday boy Jeremy Swayman short side on the heels of Aaron Dell’s pad stop on David Pastrnak during a 2-on-1 opportunity.
It didn’t take long for the Bruins to respond. Captain Patrice Bergeron struck a mere 2:33 after Okposo’s fifth goal of the year, firing a backhander past Dell for his seventh of the month.
A slick wrister from Charlie Coyle matched his goal total from a year ago, putting the Bruins ahead for good with his sixth of the season just 51 seconds after Bergeron’s equalizer.
Another 2:39 elapsed before Pastrnak blasted home his sixth goal of the year — and second power-play tally — increased the lead to 3-1.
Mike Reilly ended Dell’s night with a rebound marker — his second on the year — 2:01 after Pastrnak’s one-timer.
In a 5:31 span, the opportunistic Bruins turned a 1-0 deficit into a 4-1 lead.
“We really pushed through after that [Okposo goal],” Cassidy said on the four-goal first. “We kind of controlled the play and got some breaks in front of the net.”
The Bruins played to their identity against the downtrodden Sabres. Somehow, they need to establish similar outings against teams ahead of them in the standings. They’ll get another chance at that on Friday against a Rangers bunch that’s two points removed from the Hurricanes and Capitals for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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