With the Boston Bruins having clinched a playoff spot on Monday night, the conversation now turns to readying the team for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy has several items on his checklist for the Black and Gold prior to the start of the NHL postseason, including locking down his bottom-6 line combinations and getting Jaroslav Halak a little work just in case he’s needed at some point.
But the biggest item on the docket is inserting shutdown defenseman Brandon Carlo back into the lineup and readying him for playoff action after missing the last month, and 28 games overall this season. That will happen on Tuesday night vs. the Devils as Carlo plays for the first time since April 3 after sidelined with an oblique injury. Cassidy will then need to figure out whether it’s Carlo or Kevan Miller as the right-handed partner for Matt Grzelcyk in the playoffs, or if they’ll instead pair up with Mike Reilly.
It certainly could be that the Bruins adjust to matchups as well with Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy employed as a top pairing against hard-checking teams, and Jeremy Lauzon teamed with McAvoy when going up against a big, heavy team like the Washington Capitals. The presence of a healthy Carlo provides the Bruins coaching staff with some flexibility they intend to explore over the final handful of games.
“I think we’re getting there. Obviously, Brandon Carlo is going to come into the lineup so let’s get him ready,” said Cassidy. “Obviously the guys that have played in his spot, Connor Clifton, and Steven Kampfer have done a good job. So, it’s nice to know we have depth back there. And who is Brandon’s partner? How do the top six guys work best together? Reilly hasn’t played with [Carlo], but he’s played with Clifton, Miller and Kampfer and done a good job with everybody he’s played with. So, there are still a few things to sort through with our group and the chemistry.
“I think we need a few more games out of the bottom two lines to sort out who’s the best fourth line. Who fits best with Lazar? Is it DeBrusk, Kuhlman, Wagner or Frederic? So, there is a little bit to go there obviously.
Carlo is simply happy to be skating, practicing with the group and getting ready for the playoffs while taking nothing for granted after a challenging last six months.
“Right now, I’m feeling very good,” said Carlo. “Obviously it’s been a process with injuries for the past little bit here, but we’ve got great guys around the room who have helped me to gain perspective on how blessed we truly are, so I’ve just been living day-to-day, working as hard as I can to get back and appreciate the situation, I’ve been in.
“It’s a blessing to be here, playing games in the NHL. It’s something you don’t want to take for granted because just as I got back (on March 30), I was very excited and then I went out again with this oblique injury. That was disappointing, but my overall morale is good.”
Certainly, it hasn’t always been easy for the 24-year-old defenseman this season while missing 28 of the team’s 51 games, first with a concussion after a nasty Tom Wilson head shot and then with an oblique strain just a couple of games into his return. The missed time has been difficult for Carlo, particularly when coupled with the alienation and loneliness caused by the NHL’s stringent COVID Protocols for this season.
Carlo has leaned on his Boston Bruins teammates this season more than ever, and thankfully they have been there at every turn.
“I feel very thankful because, even at times when I haven’t been on the road with guys, I’ve gotten a text checking in with me and I’ve done vice versa pretty frequently. I like to have the open-ended communication with guys,” said Carlo. “Things can be hard. This year hasn’t exactly been positive with COVID. You feel those depressive days and the anxiety can come in. We’re all dealing with it. The best thing that we can do is rally around each other and work through it together, recognizing that you’re not the only one in that situation. Through the battles that I’ve been facing, through the battles that everybody’s been facing, I feel like as a team and as players we’ve done a very good job looking out for each other. It starts from the top down. But definitely with guys who maybe have been going through certain battles, it’s pretty impressive for them to reach out beyond the negative struggles that they’re going through and check in on me. I feel like a lot of us have tried to do that. It hasn’t been easy. But overall, I think we’ve been pretty good at it.”
Here’s the rest of the projected Boston Bruins lineup vs. the New Jersey Devils in the second night of back-to-back games: