By Kevin Flanagan
BSD Bruins Senior Staff Writer
For a second-round series that no one could have seen coming before the playoffs began nearly four weeks ago, the Bruins and Blue Jackets haven’t disappointed anyone that loves NHL’s second season brand of hockey.
That is, of course, if you don’t call Tampa Bay home.
Columbus has proven to be every bit the team that toppled the heavily favored Lightning in the first round of the Stanley Cup tournament, and if the Black and Gold want to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals to face the equally upstart Carolina Hurricanes, they will need every bit of the resiliency and fight they showed in the third period of the Game 5 4-3 win at TD Garden Saturday night.
And they will need their kids to continue to blossom into the Cup contenders they have looked like in their back to back victories against an equally resilient Columbus club.
When asked about the younger players in his lineup stepping up in such a crucial game with the series literally in the balance, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was quick to give praise to his group of kids.
“Well, it’s huge. I mean, we need everybody to contribute. 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 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, and you have to if you’re going to win at this time of the year because they’re young guys that are playing in our lineup,” said the B’s bench boss.
The youngsters’ contributions were not lost on Patrice Bergeron, who now stands just nine wins away from his second Stanley Cup Championship.
“Yeah, you know. We have some character young guys and you know it’s like I said, we feed off of them as much as they feed off of us and you know we’ve been a tight group all year. And I think that translates on the ice. So yeah, when you see those young guys stepping up like they do right now, you have no other choice but to elevate your game. It’s about having 20 leaders on the ice and doing that together.”
And leadership is certainly not lacking from a Bruins team that just 24 months ago was in a critical transition, but now stands to be the best of the final four teams remaining – on paper, of course – that are left to compete for a Cup this spring.
And as for Brandon Carlo – the star crossed youngster who looks like the most likely of the young defenseman who will take over the shutdown role once the ageless Zdeno Chara calls it quits – he was pretty level headed when it came to his performance in the Game 5 victory, after tragically suffering season-ending injuries prior to the last two years his team was in the most exciting tournament in professional sports.
“It feels great, but obviously understand the situation with us being down three-two in Toronto and the way that teams battle back. We’re not thinking that we have a layup or anything like that, we’re just going to go in and act like we need to finish up this game.”
Wise words from a playoff newbie. However, given the way that the team’s young talent has blossomed this season, something tells me that there are several weeks of hockey ahead of a team that once saw their Stanley Cup winning potential closing prematurely just a few scant years ago.
And that’s why we watch, right?