By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — He’s more than three months removed from a broken right fibula that kept him out for a third of the season after he blocked a shot by Vancouver’s Brock Boeser, but Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid didn’t hesitate to slide into another high-speed puck early in the third period Saturday.
The Bruins were protecting a two-goal lead and killing a penalty against the rival Toronto Maple Leafs when William Nylander leaned into a slap shot from the left circle and McQuaid kept it from getting to goaltender Tuukka Rask with a block off the top of his right foot.
Unfortunately the Bruins didn’t gain possession for a few seconds. McQuaid stayed on the ice until he could get to the bench, where he writhed in pain for a bit before he could take a test skate around the zone in front of Boston’s bench during the television timeout a couple of minutes later. McQuaid finished the game, which the Bruins won 4-1 to extend their lead to five points on the Maple Leafs for second place in the Atlantic Division.
“Yeah I guess I think any guy in that situation you’re not thinking about it,” McQuaid said. “I guess if you are, you’re probably not doing it. It’ just playing and reacting more so than thinking. Sometimes in those situations obviously you’re trying to be aware of what’s going on, reading situations … at the same time, I’m just playing.”
For eight years McQuaid has played for the Bruins with that playoff mentality, doing anything it takes to get a win. Sometimes things don’t go his way, he coughs up the puck at an inopportune time or the puck goes in Boston’s net off his body. Sometimes – too often, but not surprisingly because of the way he plays – he gets injured and the Bruins have to get by without him.
The Bruins’ rookies, of which there are five in the lineup right now, would do well to follow McQuaid’s example of sacrifice and determination, especially once the Bruins advance to the postseason.
If some of the Bruins’ first-year players were wondering what the Stanley Cup playoffs are like, they found out Saturday. With the national television audience watching across Canada, the Garden full and the tightness in the standings on everyone’s minds, the Bruins’ victory was played at a fever pitch from the first drop of the puck.
Despite their youth and inexperience, the Bruins played with more confidence and finer execution than the Maple Leafs. Being playoff tough isn’t about killing your opponent anymore, and the Bruins don’t really have anyone that’ll do that when Noel Acciari’s out of the lineup. The game has evolved to where winning when the game’s at a playoff pique is all about being hard on the puck, protecting it and pursuing it. It’s about what coach Bruce Cassidy likes to call a “junkyard dog” mentality. It’s about transitioning from defense to offense with speed, flying around the ice and finishing your chances.
And it’s about special teams.
The Bruins took care of the latter by going 2-for-3 on the power play and 3-for-4 on the penalty kill. The rest they did maybe not at their all-time best level, but at a level that took advantage of a Toronto team that seemed timid and out of its element. While the Bruins were shutting down plays in the neutral zone and making the Maple Leafs defense pay with a tenacious forecheck, the Maple Leafs had loose gaps all night and couldn’t seem to sustain possession in the offense zone for more than a dozen seconds at best.
Winning these rivalry games, like playoff games, requires going outside one’s comfort zone as an individual. You expect McQuaid to block a big shot or dive to break up James van Riemsdyk’s partial breakaway the way the Bruins defenseman did late in the second period. But you might not expect Ryan Spooner to protect the puck with a forearm shiver that dropped Dominic Moore the way the Boston center did in the third period. And you might not expect any of the other legions of little plays, skill plays and physical plays, the Bruins executed – man one through 18 in front of Rask – but everyone seemingly did something unexpected to help the Bruins earn an important win.
For Cassidy, the lessons learned about playoff intensity went beyond the win against the Maple Leafs and dated back to the loss to Anaheim and win against St. Louis earlier this week. The Maple Leafs game was a culmination of the Bruins’ toughest week in a while.
“I think this week they’ve gotten a little taste of it – life on the walls, life of winning pucks, zone to zone at times, low-scoring games that mistakes get magnified in … if you’re not careful,” the coach said. “So it’s good for them to learn against these types of teams that we expect to see down the road.”
The opponents provide the lessons as well as the teammates do. McQuaid said after he blocked Nylander’s shot and got back to the bench, he was “thinking it’s going to be all right. I’m hoping it is.” That willingness to act and then “wish” and “hope” to be all right could be the difference this spring between the Bruins going beyond where they went last year or their inexperience holding them back.
We won’t know everything about the Bruins’ makeup until we get to the real playoffs, but the warmup playoffs they endured this week, especially against Toronto, hinted that they’re going to be just fine. Just as long as they play with the attitude of Adam McQuaid.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.