Based on how things looked on Wednesday, Connor Clifton could be getting his playoff chance in Game 1.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy wouldn’t commit to any lineup plans following practice, but said there wouldn’t be too many surprises; if that’s the case, it might be safe to bet on Clifton as the sixth defenseman Thursday night against the Maple Leafs. He was on the third pairing with Matt Grzelcyk for much of practice, with Steven Kampfer sliding in later on.
With the B’s wanting to go with a quicker lineup against the speedy Leafs, it feels like the best possible blue line group when Clifton is active, at least while John Moore and Kevan Miller remain out.
Clifton believes he has the assets to be useful as well.
“I think they’re fast, and I guess they’re not too physical of a team,” he said. “Obviously we want to slow down their forwards, especially their speedy ones, and they have a bunch. I think (his skillset) will fit in pretty well.”
As far as if he’ll get a chance to play for certain, he wasn’t sure, but is preparing as if he’ll get his first crack at the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“I’m assuming — I talked to (assistant coach Kevin Dean) on Tuesday . . . he told me to be ready to go if I play or not,” he said. “I don’t think I’d change much if I was playing or not. Just getting physically and mentally ready. Taking it as another game, obviously it’s an important one, and first playoff game for me. It’s an exciting time.”
Clifton, who has two NHL points in 19 career games, has made an impact on the lineup with his playmaking and energy. For a Bruins club that wants to have that aspect of their game on display early, regardless of what changes may come later in the series, he would appear to be the right fit.
“When we were missing a lot of guys, he really stepped up,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “He played big minutes and situations … Probably getting confidence and he can probably build from that.”
No matter who gets the nod Thursday night, the Bruins will be shorthanded on the blue line.
If Clifton gets his chance, he’ll be another young Bruin looking to make an impact in what projects to be a tough series.
“We got a couple injuries right now and you want them to be able to count on you,” Clifton said. “Hopefully I’ve been able to prove they can do that, and I get a chance (Thursday) night.”
The Bruins potentially dodged a bullet when it comes to Charlie McAvoy. The 21-year-old, who was banged up ahead of last year’s postseason, was tangled with David Backes during practice and took a spill.
He was in pain for a few moments and went to the bench, but finished practice. He called it an awkward fall and said he would be good to go.