Charlie McAvoy wasn’t even born when the hip-hop single “Return of the Mack” hit the airwaves in 1996. The Mack Morrison hit became an appropriate analogy in McAvoy’s return to the Boston Bruins lineup during Thursday’s tilt with the Calgary Flames at TD Garden.
McAvoy played a pivotal role in Boston’s 3-1 victory, notching the go-ahead marker with 1:43 remaining in the second period.
“He’s so much fun to watch,” head coach Jim Montgomery said of McAvoy. “It’s a lot more fun coaching with him than against him.”
McAvoy’s only blemish — if you want to call it that — came when he was on the ice for Noah Hanafin’s tally from the point against a screened Linus Ullmark to give Calgary the early 1-0 lead shortly after Connor Clifton’s tripping minor expired.
Clifton bounced back from that infraction after netting his first of the year, following through on his rebound and burning a backhander past Dan Vladar on Tomas Nosek’s feed to even things up at 1-1.
Clifton’s continued emergence, McAvoy’s return, Ullmark’s stout goaltending, Nick Foligno’s prowess, and David Pastrnak’s empty-netter all played a significant role in the B’s 12th win of the season. Here’s what we learned after Boston improved to 12-2-0 overall and 8-0-0 on Garden ice.
Bruins receiving immediate contributions following injuries
There’s gotta be something in the not-so-dirty water the Bruins training staff gives to their players returning from injury.
Like Marchand, McAvoy encountered a similar early recovery period and returned earlier than expected.
A mere 14 days removed from Marchand’s three-point season debut, McAvoy netted his first goal in his first game of the year.
So what’s the secret to their immediate success?
“TLC, baby. Tender, loving, care,” McAvoy joked.
McAvoy continued: “That’s confidence mostly on where you’re at and the hard work you’ve done. We have a great group of trainers in there. They do an exceptional job. They do a great job with what they do; as you can see, we all came back early. It’s a lot of hard work from us and them, and there’s been a lot of days where you plateau, and they keep pushing you forward. It was exciting to get to this day.”
Whatever’s worked for McAvoy and Marchand, the Bruins hope similar results await for Derek Forbort (upper-body) and Jeremy Swayman (lower-body). Montgomery labeled both as week-to-week earlier this week.
“Now we have to wait for Swayman to come back and get a shutout and for Forbort to come back and get a hat trick,” Montgomery said with a chuckle.
The Bruins received another reinforcement with McAvoy on Thursday. Their next-man-up approach benefitted the club through the first 13 games of the year.
Clifton’s development is a welcome sign for the back-end
“Cliffy Hockey” became a popular term under Montgomery’s predecessor Bruce Cassidy. His energetic and blue-collar traits made him a fan favorite with every big hit, timely check, and occasional offensive spark.
Unlike Cassidy and Claude Julien before him, Montgomery implements a more active approach with his defensemen. At times it might lead to trading odd-man rushes. But Boston’s blue line received its share of opportunities under Montgomery’s system through transition and extensive puck possession in the attacking end. It’s allowed their blue-liners like Clifton to take risks in getting pucks deep along the walls and keep opposing defenses on their heels.
Without McAvoy, Clifton’s game has come into form. He’s creating those scoring chances without sacrificing his defensive skillsets. On Thursday, he found himself in a top-four role next to Hampus Lindholm.
Clifton thrived in his second pairing assignment, providing the B’s with a heavy physical presence highlighted by his hit on former Bruin Milan Lucic. Before that, he became the 17th different Bruin to find the back of the net this season, impressing both the traditional and advanced stats crowd in the process.
“That was big body contact there, two big bodies going at it,” the 5-foot-11 Clifton said of his collision with the 6-foot-4 Lucic.
“Two grade A [chances], just getting my Corsi up, right?” Clifton said regarding his first goal of the season. “Just a rebound in front of the net, really. Fliggy [Foligno] went to the net real hard, and a great pass by Nosey [Nosek], and I was fortunate to get the rebound.”
The Bruins now have 18 different performers who’ve tallied at least one goal following McAvoy’s go-ahead marker. But even the players who don’t find their name on the scoresheet find a way to contribute.
In fact, their best forward on Thursday didn’t record a single point.
Foligno creates havoc and leads by example
Even if their prime production days become a distant memory, a team with championship aspirations shouldn’t shy away from adding a veteran voice to a locker room, even one as tight-knit as the Bruins.
At some point, those vets need to produce. The Bruins nearly moved on from Foligno after the preseason, but the former Blue Jackets captain received a second chance after clearing waivers.
Indeed, Foligno continued his redemption tour against the Flames without tallying a goal or an assist. With his stout net-front work, the veteran winger created space for Clifton to notch his first tally of the year.
His physical work continued in the third after taking exception to Kevin Rooney’s hit from behind on Nosek. Foligno promptly dropped the gloves with Rooney and landed a couple of jabs before taking him down to the ice.
“I think Nick Foligno is having a great year. He’s helping us win in so many different ways,” Montgomery said of Foligno. “I can’t find him enough ice time. I can’t find enough ice time for the third and fourth lines at times, especially when there’s a lot of special teams like there were tonight.”
Foligno only tallied 8:29 time on ice. Despite that, he put forth another worthwhile outing.
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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