By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Leading up to the Bruins’ Game 1 matchup with Toronto in the Eastern Conference first round on Thursday, coach Bruce Cassidy was transparent about the final decision he had on defense between playing Adam McQuaid or Nick Holden.
Both have unique attributes that could help the Bruins against the speedy Maple Leafs, and Cassidy went with McQuaid. With a couple of lengthy second-period penalty-kill shifts, which helped preserve a 1-1 tie and set up the Bruins for a four-goal outburst, McQuaid validated Cassidy’s decision.
With Zdeno Chara in the penalty box early in the second period, McQuaid took a 1:37 shift helping to keep the second-ranked Leafs’ power play off the scoreboard. Just 6:37 later, Danton Heinen went to the box and McQuaid started the penalty kill with Chara. By the time McQuaid got off the ice, 2:24 later, Toronto had still been prevented from breaking the 1-1 tie and Heinen, just out of the box, finally dumped the puck into the Leafs zone so McQuaid could make a heroic return to the bench.
“A little bit of communication and maybe a few prayers,” McQuaid said about the end of that shift.
McQuaid finished the night with 16:33 in total ice time in the 5-1 Bruins victory, including 5:11 of the six minute Boston was shorthanded. With all the Leafs’ weapons buzzing passes left and right in an attempt to get ahead of the Bruins, those shorthanded minutes can be more like survival than hockey. There are battles in the corners, battles in front of the net, a lot of chasing of loose pucks and blocked shots (McQuaid had four).
McQuaid’s teammates certainly appreciated his effort.
“That definitely doesn’t go unnoticed for us,” defenseman Matt Grzelcyk said. “We know how hard that is, especially against how talented they are, they’re moving the puck side to side, Quaider’s in and out of the lanes, blocking I don’t know how many shots. It seemed like double digits at one point. He’s a warrior.”
For McQuaid, marathon shifts (of which he obviously hopes there will be fewer as this series unfolds) are more a matter of the right mindset as much as physical prowess. The euphoria that comes from keeping the opposing power play off the scoreboard is the feeling he can’t wait to have even as his consecutive time on the ice adds up to unthinkable totals.
“There’s times you’re sucking wind a little bit, especially if you’re out there for the full two minutes. … You gut it out and it feels that much better when you’re able to get back to the bench and you can catch your breath,” McQuaid said.
The least-heralded of the Bruins’ remaining 2011 Stanley Cup championship players, McQuaid now has 57 games of postseason experience. He has a track record for not just playing his brand on brutish hockey in the postseason but surprisingly contributing in other areas, like when he pinched down the wall to set up Nathan Horton’s two overtime goals in the first round against Montreal in 2011.
McQuaid was attacking at the offensive end with five shots attempts, three on net, in Game 1 against Toronto. He may have been overmatched mobility-wise against the spry Leafs but he made up for it with his strength, positioning and stick work. Nothing’s written in stone, but it sure seemed as though McQuaid earned his spot in the lineup for Game 2 on Saturday.
Kevan Miller, along with Chara, is held up as one of the masters of physical fitness in the Bruins’ dressing room. For as long as Miller has been teammates with McQuaid, though, the Prince Edward Island native has quietly been right up there and continues to be a player the Bruins want in the lineup at the most important times in the season.
“He’s 100 percent in that category. Probably one of the top guys for sure,” Miller said about McQuaid’s fitness. “He’s been that way forever, though. I think everybody knows that. He battles, he kills penalties, he does all the things, blocks shots, plays physical, makes good plays out of the zone. He’s a workhorse back there. I love having him as a teammate.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.