The Boston Bruins will be without a significant piece of their defensive unit Saturday night.
Knocked out of play on a heavy hit from New York winger Cal Clutterbuck in the third period of Game 3’s overtime thriller, Brandon Carlo spent Saturday morning off the ice and instead rode a bike. The latter was a positive sign with Carlo’s overall health, but the former confirmed that a Game 4 return simply wasn’t in the cards for Boston’s second-pairing shutdown man.
And for Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, whose team remains without Kevan Miller, the quick ‘fix’ for Carlo’s absence will come with midseason pickup Jarred Tinordi thrown back into action for his second game of the 2021 postseason.
“I think he’s true to his identity,” Cassidy said of the 6-foot-6 Tinordi. “He knows that he’s got to defend first, be a presence when necessary. Good on the penalty kill, got a good stick, willing to block shots. And [with] his puck play, we’re just asking him to be clean, make the plays are available to him, good first-pass outlet, know where his support is and go from there.”
This will not be the first time that the Bruins have turned to Tinordi, as he also got the call when the Bruins found themselves down a defenseman in Washington in the first round. He finished that fill-in effort with four hits and three blocked shots in 19:02, and that was certainly good enough for the Black and Gold by the night’s end.
“Coming into this series is always a little bit difficult in the middle of it [but] he did it once before,” said Cassidy. “He’s been around a little bit, so that part of it shouldn’t bother him. And hopefully he gives us a good, solid game. He did a good job in Washington in the closeout game, played good, steady hockey, so that’ll be the ask again.”
But the Bruins are not looking at Tinordi as a straight-up Carlo replacement. In fact, the morning skate lines indicated that he’ll stay on his natural left side and skate with Connor Clifton on the Bruins’ third pairing.
The ask to ‘be’ Carlo will instead go to the 24-year-old Jeremy Lauzon, who had a solid bounce-back effort in Game 3 and will move to his off side to place with Mike Reilly on Boston’s second pairing. This is a pairing that the Bruins simply haven’t iced since adding Reilly from the Senators prior to the trade deadline. But that’s of little concern to the Bruins.
“When Reilly came here, he hadn’t played with anybody, right?” Cassidy noted. “Now he’s had a few different partners [in Boston]. He’s had Carlo, he’s had Miller, Cliffy a little bit. So that’s just the way it is for him. He just has to play his game, Lauzon play his, and talk about the little details of certain situations.”
One of the situations that they’ll have to address first is their D-to-D passing. A key to the breakout against the Islanders’ forecheck, a Reilly-Lauzon pairing means that those passes will be lefty to lefty. Cassidy noted that those two have to be on the same page in terms of where they want those passes ahead of this game, and that’s especially true when looking at Reilly’s excellence in Game 3, and how the Bruins have been repeatedly willing to take hits behind their own net to make that first pass to spring play the other way (this was an area where Carlo excelled before Clutterbuck’s hit got the best of him).
The pairing could get some extra help from their forwards on that, too.
“I think it’s to come back quickly in your position, making sure — especially against their forecheck — you try to take some skin and deny that speed that they have and and the plays they are trying to get,” Patrice Bergeron said of the adjustments the Boston forwards will have to make with the Bruins down a top-four defenseman. “Go back to your position, get open [and] set some legal picks for them to be able to to skate and make that first pass.”
“At the end of the day, I’m sure you’ll see Reilly with different players,” Cassidy admitted. “Talking to Kevin [Dean], there’s no rule that says you have to play pairs every shift. You can mix guys in as far as the game unfolds, as it dictates, who’s going, who’s not. Situational stuff. Maybe D-zone draws versus O-zone draws. So you’re probably going to see a lot of different partners tonight together and then we’ll go from there and that’s how we’ll determine it.”
That alone would tell you that you’re going to see a heavy dose of Charlie McAvoy (as always), and that the Bruins may try to put Clifton in there with Reilly whenever possible. The Reilly-Clifton pairing was actually one of Boston’s best after the deadline, too, with the Bruins holding a 64-35 shot advantage and 9-2 goals advantage in 98:58 with Reilly-Clifton out there.
It will also be interesting to see how the Bruins — and the Islanders, really, especially with the benefit of last change on home ice — handle the loss of Carlo when it comes to the matchup with New York center Mat Barzal.
Through the first three games of this second-round series, the Bruins had Carlo out there against Barzal for 18 minutes of five-on-five action. In that nearly 18-minute sample with Carlo on the ice, Barzal and the Islanders generated zero goals and just one high-danger chance. Now, in over 25 minutes of five-on-five action with Barzal out there without Carlo, the Islanders scored two goals and generated six high-danger scoring chances on Tuukka Rask. In other words, Carlo, who also had three blocked shots from within the circles, was certainly doing his job as a disruptive presence against the ultra-talented Barzal.
Expecting one guy to make up for that is wishful thinking, and the Bruins know that.
“I expect all six [defensemen] will be at their best,” said Cassidy. “And hopefully whatever role they’re put in, they do it well so we don’t have to worry too much about mixing and matching. But I’m sure we’ll see bit of it and whatever helps us win is how we’ll approach it.”
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.