In-Depth: How Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug thrived as Bruins' top defensive pairing in Game 1

May 9, 2019; Boston, MA: Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo controls the puck during the third period in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)
May 9, 2019; Boston, MA: Boston Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo controls the puck during the third period in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final of the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

If the Bruins were going to overcome the absence of Charlie McAvoy in Game 1 against the Hurricanes, Brandon Carlo and Torey Krug needed to step up as the de facto No. 1 defensive pairing. They didn't just succeed, they controlled the game against a Carolina attack that felt dangerous for stretches - but not nearly dangerous enough.

Key to the series for the Bruins is overcoming the Hurricanes' aggressive forechecking. They typically send two forwards deep and tight in the corners, sometimes with the third man pivoting between the two. It got hairy for the Bruins in the second period, in particular. But Carlo and Krug had the least trouble with it, mainly due to their stick work and smart puck movement.

"[The Hurricanes] definitely do a good job bringing two guys down on the forecheck. It’s definitely a hard forecheck," Carlo said. "But overall, if you can get it past those two guys there’s a lot of space that opens up and hopefully our guys just continue to get put towards the red and get the puck in."

Carlo also used his 6-foot-5 frame well to his advantage almost every time he was on the ice. Even when the Canes gave the B's trouble, Carlo and Krug gave them the best opportunities to break out.

Watch the below example. Jordan Staal helps Nino Niederreiter in the corner, but Carlo uses his body to shield Staal from the puck and chop it ahead to Brad Marchand. Ultimately Zdeno Chara whiffs on his breakout chance, but Carlo's puck protection got the opportunity started.

Carlo also singlehandedly created a breakout despite intense pressure from Carolina's dynamic duo of Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. Watch below as Svechnikov chases Krug then switches to Carlo to knock the puck loose. Aho gathers the loose puck but Carlo quickly wins the sword fight, instinctively poking it in favorable directions for him to recover and whack it out of the zone.

The Bruins created more space for themselves as the game went on. Let's jump ahead to the third period, when Svechnikov dashed through the neutral zone for a clean entry. Forcing a pass to Aho along the boards, Carlo disrupted the subsequent pass then Krug broke up Svechnikov immediately afterward, leading to a smooth breakout for David Pastrnak.

Also important to the pair's success was to keep getting the puck deep for the Bruins' own forecheckers. After struggling to maintain possession deep in the Canes' zone for much of the second period, the B's started to gain more traction late in that frame and carried it into the third. The forwards did a better job of grinding down the Hurricanes' backcheckers and parlaying puck battles into high-quality scoring chances. A big part of that was Krug and Carlo's ability to turn their quick breakouts into deep dump-ins to sustain the attack.

"I think as you put pucks behind them and make them go and break the puck out, they come up the ice a little bit slower after getting bumped a couple times below the goal line," Carlo said. "So, overall as defensemen we try to move our feet up towards the blue or red and get the puck deep, or just get it to our forwards and go from there."

This was a fun one: David Backes' second icing breakup was inconsequential to the game, but still the kind of play that a smart, tenacious team makes consistently on a successful Cup run. It started with Krug and Carlo getting it deep no problem.

The Patrice Bergeron and Sean Kuraly lines had particular success with this approach in the third. Krug was smart enough to get the pucks into spots where they can scoop them up and get to work.

"I think we’re a very effective group when we forecheck and try to hem them in their zone and we cycle the puck," Krug told reporters after Friday's practice. "When [the Bergeron line is] cycling in zone, there's not many teams that can defend them. So you just try to stay out of their way and let them do their thing."

The pair also joined the rush at times, like the below play from the second period. Carlo dropped it off to Joakim Nordstrom then burst ahead, beating Jaccob Slavin to the opposite corner and sparking a point-blank scoring opportunity. He even showed a mean streak, scrumming it up with a seemingly unwilling Dougie Hamilton after the play.

Overall, Carlo logged 10:27 of ice time against Aho, according to Natural Stat Trick. The Bruins held an 11-8 advantage in 5-on-5 shot attempts in that matchup. Add to that a 9-6 edge with Carlo against Svechnikov, and 12-9 against Teuvo Teravainen.

"I think it’s a good matchup for Brandon," complimented head coach Bruce Cassidy after the game. "He’s long, he can skate, so those taller left-wingers he can handle, or he can the smaller guys. Torey’s done it all playoffs. He’s done a really good job, played truly the number four hole, the second pair, so he’s usually seeing a really good line. So, good for them. We needed it. Obviously, missing Charlie [McAvoy] who’s going to create some extra opportunity. Hopefully, the guys dig in."

McAvoy, of course, returns to the lineup for Game 2. That may relegate Carlo and Krug back to No. 2 pairing duties. But their Game 1 performance bodes well for McAvoy to do a lot of the same things well, and for the Bruins to have even more success with their attack.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].