If you were getting a little nervous for Brandon Carlo as the calendar turned from March into April, you’re not alone. Carlo himself admitted his past misfortunes had started to creep into his mind.
But it’s all good now. On Friday night, coach Bruce Cassidy texted him to let him know that he’d made it through to the next stage of his career. Carlo had earned a spot in civvies for Saturday’s regular season finale, thus ensuring that the third-year defenseman would finally get to be a participant in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. No last minute injuries to derail him this time.
Carlo appreciated the day off.
“There was a little bit of a relief, honestly,” said Carlo in between the first and second periods of the B’s 6-3 loss to the Lightning at the Garden. “Just with the history of it all, it’s been on my mind the past couple of games. But I’m really excited to take this next step and join the playoffs. It’s been a lot of fun to watch the past two years, kind of learn from the experience and see the intensity. But I’m really excited to be a part of it.”
In the final regular season game in his rookie season two years ago, Carlo suffered a concussion on a hit from Alex Ovechkin that ended his season. Then with eight days left in the regular season last year, he tried to kick the puck soccer-style with his skate, his blade got caught in the ice and he broke his ankle, rendering him a spectator for the most important part of the season again.
But all that is ancient history for Carlo. He’ll get his first taste of the playoffs in Game 1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Garden, most likely on Thursday (the schedule will be released Sunday at 10 a.m.). And judging by the solid regular season he’s had, Carlo is ready for this moment.
He had burst on the scene in his rookie season, a bit under the radar as a second rounder, and some folks mistakenly pegged him as a future No. 1 defenseman because of his quick assimilation int the NHL. In his second season, he was moved off the top pair with Zdeno Chara and placed on the second unit with Torey Krug and it was a bit of a roller coaster.
This season, however, Carlo and Krug seemed to have learned how to play with each other, and it’s led to a solid bounce-back season for Carlo.
“I feel like we’ve meshed well,” said Carlo. “We understand each other’s games and overall we hear each other’s voices on the ice to make the decisions coming out of the D-zone or the switches that you have to make. I’ll recognize the times that he has to be offensive, I’ll stay back and handle that. He’s done a really good job with me, letting me know certain plays and where he wants me to be. With the chemistry we’ve built over the year, I think we have a good comfort level for when the games get faster in the playoffs.”
Carlo is a much stronger player than when he arrived in Boston two-plus years ago, both physically and mentally. He’s not only got a few extra pounds to withstand hits in order to make plays, he’s learned how to position himself better for those hits.
And when Carlo does make mistakes, he doesn’t let it eat him up.
“I feel very good about that,” said Carlo. “I’ve kind of gotten a grasp on that throughout the year and I found a consistency in my game and that’s nice. I just hope it carries into the (playoffs).”
There is, of course, only one way to find out, and we all will at the same time later this week when the Leafs come to town to renew acquaintances. Much has been made of their big improvement from last year (John Tavares), and rightly so. He’s been everything the Leafs could have hoped for. They’ve also added playoff-tested defenseman Jake Muzzin.
But Carlo, both healthy and improved, makes the Bruins that much better as well, and he can’t wait to get it going.
“I’ve just really been looking forward to the playoffs this entire month after we clinched. That was a big step,” said Carlo. “I’m just excited to be out there with the guys. It’s special being a part of this group in general during the regular season, preseason, whatever it may be. But when it comes down to battling for your life every night in the playoffs with them, it sounds like a lot of fun to me.”
It sure beats watching the game from the ninth floor.