Leafs-Bruins: McAvoy’s return energizes Boston in time for Toronto visit
BOSTON— The Boston Bruins, who have managed to stick around the playoff race despite a rash of injuries, are starting to get healthy again.
Defenceman Charlie McAvoy made a surprise return to the lineup on Thursday against the Lightning, having recovered from a concussion that had kept him out since Oct. 18.
“I thought Charlie was good,” head coach Bruce Cassidy told reporters in Tampa.
“I thought he was rusty handling the puck at times and I fully expect that, perfectly normal.
“I was just happy to see that he had conviction in his game, wanted to be a differencemaker. How’s he going to react after being out? There’s going to be obvious rust, but how is his assertiveness? And I thought it was very good.”
McAvoy — a dynamic blueliner at age 20 with 38 points in 71 career games — was credited with three giveaways, finished minus-1 and took a penalty after he turned the puck over late in the first period, but seemed happy about his first game back.
“I thought in the second and third I kind of let my brain and my skills work, let it all take over, and I was able to play what I thought was good hockey,” McAvoy told the Boston Herald.
“And I’ll continue to grow on that, but it was just a win in itself to be back out there with these guys.”
The Leafs and Bruins, who cancelled Friday’s practice, have split the first two games of their season series.
The Leafs visit the Bruins on Saturday night.
“Last time, we lost there,” Leafs winger Andreas Johnsson said before the trip to Boston. “We have to play a tight game and try to get a win.”
While the Leafs are on a 5-0-1 run, the Bruins have lost four of their last five.
Their vaunted power play has struggled with just three goals in its last 15 chances.
So getting McAvoy back might mean more to Boston than William Nylander’s return does to the Leafs.
“Charlie back in the lineup helps (the power play),” said Cassidy.
“Moving it along the blue line a little more, it opens up some seams.
“You want to attack the net, but if they’re jamming it up you’ve got to go to the open player, and that’s usually the defenceman.”
Despite their slump, the Bruins have managed to tread water and hang around the Atlantic Division playoff race.
Expected to be among the top three with Toronto and Tampa, injuries have taken a toll.
The Bruins have lost 105 man games to injury and still have four players on long-term injured reserve, including captain Zdeno Chara and centre Patrice Bergeron.
They’ve made frequent use of their farm team and the waiver wire.
The Leafs, by comparison, have lost just 17 man games and boast a healthy roster.
Boston’s Charlie McAvoy says it’s a win just to be back on the ice.