BRIGHTON, Mass – Any hockey club aspiring to win the Stanley Cup is going to need players ascending to greatness during the long, grueling playoff run, and the Boston Bruins are no different than everybody else.
And that goes double when it comes to franchise defenseman on Cup contenders that are touching greatness.
Pretty much every Stanley Cup champion in recent memory has boasted a bona fide No. 1 defenseman in the prime of their career, whether it was Victor Hedman and the Tampa Bay Lightning last season or a 34-year-old Zdeno Chara with the Boston Bruins during their 2011 Stanley Cup run. Or Alex Pietrangelo leading the St. Louis Blues over the Bruins a couple of seasons ago and Duncan Keith finishing as the Conn Smythe winner for the Chicago Blackhawks in the middle of their dynastic Stanley Cup run.
So, it’s a wholly encouraging Bruins sign that Charlie McAvoy has ratcheted things up to the next level for the Black and Gold during the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The 23-year-old McAvoy has five assists and a plus-4 rating in five playoff games against the Washington Capitals and has averaged a massive 27:15 of ice time thus far in the postseason.
As Bruins President Cam Neely said, “[McAvoy] has really taken it to another level.”
It isn’t just the surface numbers, however, as the Bruins have dominated puck possession, shots on net and every other fancy stats category when McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk are out on the ice together.
Going into tonight’s games, Charlie McAvoy has been… significantly better than any other defenseman in the 2021 playoffs (feat. a whole bunch of Bruins in the top 20). pic.twitter.com/WkIMOn1m0V
— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) May 22, 2021
The two have been teammates and a defensive pair dating back to their Boston University days together, but Grzelcyk makes it clear that his BU buddy is on a different level these days.
Chucky Bright Lights has turned Chucky Big Time.
“(He’s) unbelievable. I can’t say enough good things about him,” said Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk of McAvoy. “I got to play with him in college, and you could see from an early age he was a special player. He’s only gotten better and better each year. The biggest thing about him is when the spotlight is on him and the lights get brighter, Chucky shows up to play and elevates his game.
“Being his partner, I want to make sure I’m supporting him: Putting pucks in good spots for him to get going the other way in transition. I think we read off of each other really well. It’s really fun to play with him. It’s fun to watch him grow up right in front of our eyes. He’s one of the best defensemen in the league.”
While McAvoy certainly had a solid regular season for the Bruins and will get his share of consideration for the Norris Trophy this time around, the young B’s defenseman is playing his way right into national recognition with his current postseason. If it continues this year then perhaps McAvoy will end up as a Conn Smythe candidate should the Boston Bruins live up to their potential, but it should also lead to heavy Norris consideration next season as well.
Among NHL teams that advanced past the first round of the postseason, only Josh Morrissey, Brett Pesce, Brady Skjei and Neil Pionk have logged more ice time per game than McAvoy and one of them have as many points as the Boston Bruins D-man. McAvoy’s ability to soak up massive minutes without compromising his level of play is becoming his calling card, and it’s something even Patrice Bergeron is actually envious of at this point.
“It’s probably one of the first things you notice with him in training camp or in captain’s practices when you scrimmage out there, he could be on the ice for five minutes and he will still be flying out there,” said Bergeron. “He’s one of those guys that can just skate forever and never gets tired. It’s a great [skill] to have. I wish I felt that way as well. It’s very impressive and it’s a testament to his conditioning.”
When Bergeron is giving that kind of effusive praise for the kind of conditioning that he prides himself on, it’s something to stand up and take notice of. Certainly, McAvoy’s head coach has taken notice of the kind of workhorse his No. 1 defenseman has developed into just a few seasons into an NHL career with all kinds of possibilities.
“Everything we give him he seems to excel at and, obviously, still a young guy in this league that’s only going to get better,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “There’s a tremendous ceiling, he seems to get highly motivated for the bright lights.
“And the thing that goes unnoticed with Charlie is he plays a lot of hard minutes but recovers well. He’s just got a real good ability to reset and get back out there. I don’t know if he’s got extra-large lungs or what.”
Certainly, some will point to Tuukka Rask and his .940 save percentage or Brad Marchand and his game-winning overtime goal in Game 2 as encouraging signs of a Bruins team poised for a long playoff push. But McAvoy’s brilliance with his physicality, his shutdown abilities, his Herculean ability to play massive minutes and now his power play acumen are efficiently dominating these playoffs.
The PP production is the newest wrinkle with McAvoy taking over for Grzelcyk as a point man on the top power play unit with all five of his first-round assists vs. Washington coming on the man advantage. Prior to the playoffs, McAvoy was languishing a bit on the little-used second PP group that essentially picks up for the scraps from the top unit.
That has now changed with McAvoy, Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and David Krejci now operating on the top PP group.
As Don Sweeney said after the series vs. Washington was all over, McAvoy “was really dominant on both sides of the puck for large, large stretches” against the Capitals whether it was setting up PP looks or smashing headlong into Tom Wilson during a massive Game 5 car-crash collision.
Charlie McAvoy with a big hit on Tom Wilson: pic.twitter.com/pCkxWWcjll
— Conor Ryan (@ConorRyan_93) May 23, 2021
Either way, McAvoy is just trying to finish the job he and the rest of the Bruins fumbled on when they lost the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
“Just trying to do whatever the team needs me to do, whatever I can to help us win hockey games,” McAvoy said. “I think that’s everyone’s mindset, everybody’s pulling the rope and guys are elevating, the whole team’s elevating. We’re trying to build something here; we’re trying to grow each game.
“It’s the playoffs now and winning’s all that matters. I’m just trying to pull the rope just like everybody. I think that’s what the whole team is doing.”
Everything that McAvoy is doing right now is helping the Bruins win hockey games, and if it keeps up at his current dominant levels it may help the B’s get to exactly where they want to be about six weeks from now.