At TD Garden late Sunday afternoon, Bruins defenseman Connor Clifton stumbled upon the perfect, albeit tardy, Mother’s Day gift.
None other than the puck from the first goal of his budding NHL career.
“She’ll like that,’’ Clifton said, grinning. “She’s here, too. So that’s something special.’’
Clifton’s mother, Joan, was among the 17,565 in attendance to watch the Bruins issue a good old-fashioned beatdown on the Carolina Hurricanes in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals. Clifton said his family was in town because his younger brother had a two-day hockey tournament in Walpole, so they stuck around to watch him play, too.
They’re likely glad they did.
Three minutes into the second period, Clifton hustled out of the neutral zone, carried the puck along the wall, and fired a pass to left wing Marcus Johansson. While Johansson patiently maintained possession, Clifton quickly made his way behind the net and emerged with the perfect opportunity.
“It was me and the goalie,’’ Clifton said. “Er, me and the net without the goalie in it.’’
Pulled out of the crease to tend to Johansson, Hurricanes netminder Petr Mrazek had no choice but to hopelessly reach across the ice when Johannson’s pretty pass found Clifton, who wasted no time in putting the puck home.
“It’s pretty awesome,’’ he said after the Bruins’ 6-2 win. “I guess it’s about time. I’ve had some chances since I’ve been up here and haven’t capitalized. It was awesome to get one tonight.’’
Career goal No. 1 for Cliffy Hockey!
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) May 12, 2019
The score extended Boston’s lead to 3-0, and Clifton became the 19th Bruin to tally a goal this postseason, tying a franchise record. Defenseman Brandon Carlo and center Karlson Kuhlman are the only players who have dressed but not scored during the playoffs.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of character in this room,’’ Clifton said. “We don’t rely too heavily on one individual. We’re really team-oriented.’’
“You need everyone in the playoffs,’’ added Johansson, who finished with two assists. “This is that time of year. We need to get production from defense and offense — and everything from everyone. I think we’re doing that right now.’’
After getting called up in November to bolster an injured defensive corps, Clifton said his initial focus was simply to hold his ground on defense. Upon getting more comfortable in the NHL, however, he said he started to pick his spots offensively — an area where he’s capable of making contributions. He registered 22 shots in 19 regular-season games.
Clifton’s ability to get up and down the ice stood out to coach Bruce Cassidy immediately in developmental camp. So much so that Cassidy said he thought he looked more like a winger than a defenseman.
“You got an assertive guy,’’ Cassidy said. “It’s better to coach him back than having to push a guy to do that. He always had that in him — his willingness to try and make a play.’’
Clifton also logged a playoff career high in ice time (19:28) in Sunday’s Game 2. While some of the extra minutes could be attributed to the lopsided score, there’s no question Cassidy has faith in the 24-year-old rookie to get the job done.
“We have confidence in Connor,’’ Cassidy said. “He’s competitive. He’s not shying away from the moment. When he’s moving his feet, which we do have to remind him to get the motor running, he can separate and make good plays.’’