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BOSTON (CBS) – It’s impossible to tell if something is bothering Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid.
While his teammates might’ve coined the nickname “Darth Quaider” for him, his demeanor off the ice in front of the media is more reminiscent of another sci-fi star – Mr. Spock.
Things have been going better in recent days for McQuaid, especially after he scored the game-tying goal in the Bruins’ 2-1 shootout win over Columbus. You can even detect an extra air of confidence and see a sly smile on the 25-year-old’s face.
“I think it’s coming along. I just felt at the start of the year, it was hard to get into a rhythm,” said McQuaid, who missed time at the start of the year with a sickness and then a neck injury. “And probably I had more expectations for myself coming into this season. And maybe I was putting a little bit too much pressure on myself to want to do too much. Instead of the same old, playing simple.”
McQuaid held his own on the Bruins’ third defense pair with Tomas Kaberle during Boston’s run to the Stanley Cup championship. He impressed the Bruins’ brass enough to earn a three-year contract extension, which will kick in next season.
Those things might’ve combined to make him think of himself more than what he is – a big, strong stay-at-home defender who can contribute at the offensive end once in a while.
“I don’t know. Maybe just this is my second year, and I wanted to come in and prove that I could play more and I wanted to help the team more regularly,” said McQuaid, whose goal was his first of the year. “The more I came to the realization that doing what I was doing before was what I needed to do. And plus, I’m starting to feel a little better. I’m playing more regularly now. And the start of the year, being in and out with being sick and being injured, I’m just getting back into a rhythm.”
If McQuaid’s focus was going to go anywhere but to the defensive end of the rink Thursday, head coach Claude Julien made sure to challenge McQuaid with a tough task. In the absence of Johnny Boychuk, Julien placed McQuaid next to Zdeno Chara most of the night and matched them up against the Blue Jackets’ most dangerous line led by Rick Nash and joined by Jeff Carter and R.J Umberger.
That trio failed to score a point and Nash was limited to six, mostly harmless, shots on goal. Several times he streaked down the wing and was kept wide and out of harm’s way by McQuaid.
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“Things like that happen throughout the year where different guys have to step up in different situations,” said McQuaid. “It’s nice to get have that opportunity to be relied on. And when you get that chance you want to make sure that you make the most of it and show that you’re capable without overthinking things too much. That was really just my mindset.”
Julien showed a confidence in McQuaid he might not have had just a couple weeks ago.
“Adam’s a big guy, and he had played against top lines,” said the coach. “They’re a big, heavy team, so we needed a good physical presence up there, and I feel that Adam’s been playing better the last few games, as far as handling the puck and making better decisions all around on getting beat back to the net and those kind of things that were haunting him a little bit there earlier. He’s been a better player for us, and it was nice to see him play well tonight and score the goal that got us back in the game.”
There might be more primetime defensive assignments in McQuaid’s future. If he sticks to the same formula, he’ll have similar success.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com. He operatesTheBruinsBlog.net and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on twitter @TheBruinsBlog.