How the Bruins’ defense overcame the losses of Charlie McAvoy, Hampus Lindholm in Game 4

Carolina's Antti Raanta and Boston's Connor Clifton vie for control of the puck in the second period of Game 4. AP Photo/Steven Senne

Bruce Cassidy didn’t expect the cleanest of outings from his six defensemen entering Game 4 without Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm.

The Boston Bruins encountered some mishaps against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday afternoon, failing to cover the slot on Brett Pesce’s first-period marker and struggling to clear the zone on Jordan Staal’s tally early in the middle frame. But collectively, Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Derek Forbort, Josh Brown, Connor Clifton and Mike Reilly, filled in admirably in the next-man-up scenario without McAvoy and Lindholm to even the series.

“I think collectively, we’re all going to pick up a couple more minutes,” Clifton said of the defensive approach without McAvoy and Lindholm. “No one is going to replace what Charlie brings to the table in terms of the minutes he plays. So collectively, we all picked up a couple of minutes here and there and played the best game we can with the six D that were in.”


The Bruins rely on McAvoy and Lindholm to log heavy minutes in a top-four postseason role. Cassidy didn’t want to tax his Game 4 defensemen with iron man duty in a must-win scenario.

He didn’t have to. The Bruins managed to distribute the D’s minutes rather evenly. Special teams attributed to that development a bit with Boston notching nine power-play opportunities.

Clifton logged the most ice time at a little over 20 minutes. No other B’s defenseman reached that 20-minute threshold.

The Forbort-Clifton pairing, which struggled with consistency throughout the regular season, shined over the last two games. The energetic Clifton picked up where Forbort left off from his nine blocked shots in Game 3In Game 4, the Bruins trotted out Clifton in crunch time to stave any potential Carolina comeback.

“Cliffy’s [Clifton’s] physicality has been excellent, counter hits, finishing guys, annoying guys that way. Forbort’s strength, PK, blocking shots, getting in the way has been good,” Cassidy said. “So they’re playing to their strengths, and now they’re feeling good about their game.”

Even with some hiccups, Clifton, Forbort and Boston’s D managed to hold a speedy and heavy Hurricanes bunch in check.

Jeremy Swayman had rather clean shooting lanes to work with. Amid the rare breakdown, the rookie netminder stood tall, making a handful of clutch saves during his second career playoff start.


“We’re digging in when we need to and having good things happen,” Cassidy said.

The series shifts back to Raleigh for a pivotal Game 5. McAvoy remains in COVID-19 protocol, but Cassidy said he felt better during Monday’s press conference.

Lindholm joined the team for the team’s optional practice in a regular practice sweater at Warrior Ice Arena. The former Anaheim Duck hasn’t received clearance from team doctors, but Cassidy said he’s a possibility to re-enter the lineup.

The Bruins hope to carry their recent defensive mojo into PNC Arena Tuesday night with or without Lindholm. The Hurricanes outscored Boston 10-3 during the first two games on their home ice.

A similar outing from their first trip to Raleigh would put the Bruins’ season on the brink. But a defensive performance akin to Games 3 and 4 in Boston could put Cassidy’s bunch within striking distance of another second-round appearance.


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