BOSTON – It didn’t take long at all for Boston Bruins defenseman Hampus Lindholm to make an impact after returning to the lineup for Game 6 on Thursday night against the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Swedish defenseman made a great, instinctive shutdown play to break up a 2-on-1 with Sebastian Aho and Seth Jarvis in the first period as the lone man back on defense, and then Charlie McAvoy swooped in and drilled Aho with a massive, clean body check in the train tracks before the puck was moved back up the ice for a quick Brad Marchand chance at the other end.
It was that Boston Bruins top pairing working with the combination of ruthless efficiency and merciless physicality that Lindholm and McAvoy can bring when together, and will make them hard to handle.
Lindholm said simply afterward, “that’s playoff hockey right there.”
Charlie McAvoy doesn’t want the playoffs to end tonight for the Bruins pic.twitter.com/34x8CkewsR
— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) May 12, 2022
“I know when I break up a play like that there I want to get the puck up quickly, but [McAvoy] came and cleaned it up for me there. That was a good play on his end,” said Lindholm. “That was a clean, hard hit.”
It set the foreboding tone that the Boston Bruins weren’t going to go easily in an elimination game on their home ice, and sent a message to Aho, in particular, that it was going to be a long night.
It’s probably no coincidence that Aho, normally a Boston Bruins killer, finished without zero points and didn’t even have a shot on net while treading lightly for the rest of the game.
The Boston Bruins carried through with that early momentum gained from the massive McAvoy hit to a 5-2 win over the Canes to extend the series. Certainly, it also pumped up Lindholm getting an up-close look after missing the last three games with an upper body injury while getting similarly steamrolled by Andrei Svechnikov in Game 2.
“They’re both just good players, and they both have an offensive mindset, in addition to defending well, so they read off each other well when to go,” said Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “When Charlie has the puck, [Lindholm] knows ‘if I had the puck in that situation where would I want my partner to go’. So they have that natural sort of read off each other to get [the puck] out of their own end and get through the neutral zone.
“Mostly they’re just good players with good hockey IQ that want the puck. Some guys are more defensive-minded and don’t want it a lot, but those two guys both want it. So they’re presenting themselves in good spots to get [the puck] and I think that’s what happens with both of them.”
Lindholm was exactly what the doctor ordered for the Boston Burins logging 24:48 of hard-working ice time with four shot attempts, one takeaway and two blocked shots while keeping the puck moving north against the blanketing Hurricanes forecheck. The ex-Anaheim Ducks blueliner was certainly just happy to be healthy and back in the playoff mix after barely getting his footing a couple of games into the series, and being forced to watch the middle games of the series while laid up with an upper body injury.
“It was great to be out there,” said Lindholm, who had almost four minutes more of ice time than anybody else among the Boston Bruins defensemen. “Like I said this morning, watching hockey is not something I’ve ever been good at. Super happy to be out there with the boys and a big win tonight.
“We know we have a good group. We just have to work as five out there with every shift. It says a lot about our character the way we responded in the third when it was a 2-1 game, so we just need to keep it up.”
Now we’ll all get to see what kind of difference-makers a top pairing of Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm can be in a winner-take-all Game 7, the exact kind of scenario that Lindholm was brought in to help with at the NHL trade deadline.