BOSTON — The necessity of hockey proved to be the mother of invention for coach Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins on Sunday afternoon at TD Garden.
Brad Marchand broke a third-period stalemate with a decisive power-play goal in the opening seconds as Boston beat the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2 in Game 4, tying its best-of-seven playoff series at 2-2 .
While scoring decisive goals on special teams was nothing new for Marchand, it was his team’s handling of the power play that seemed a bit out of the ordinary.
While the majority of NHL power plays typically feature either three forwards, two defensemen, or three forwards with a fourth serve on point, alongside a defenseman, Cassidy opted to use all five forwards – a strategy that is rare at the NHL level. .
But with the Bruins’ two best defensemen moving the puck on the sidelines — injured Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy injured last minute with a COVID-related illness — desperate times have required desperate measures.
“Generally Charlie (McAvoy) is up front,” said Cassidy, who used to have veteran David Krejci at his disposal on the point for many seasons. “In the past, for 5 on 3, I prefer to have a straight stick. Krejci would move up there, (creating) motion games that we would have up there.
But with McAvoy sidelined, Krejci is spending this season in his native Czech Republic and resident right-handed shooting defenders Brendan Carlo, Connor Clifton and Josh Brown, best known for their tight-control defensive style – Cassidy called an audible, breaking a fifth attacking play against Marchand on the left point to open the verse.
“We went with Charlie Coyle with that right stick,” Cassidy said. “But the game has to evolve in some way.”
With David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Jake DeBrusk buzzing around the net, Coyle quickly entered the game giving a cross pass to Marchand at the left point. The star winger unloaded a nifty shot past Hurricanes goaltender Antti Raanta 44 seconds into the game, keeping Boston in front.
“I find what Carolina does best is block point shots well,” Cassidy said. “They anticipate the pass, so maybe shooting the forehand side before they could get into the lane was an idea, piston low. We had a few options. Marshy took the hit before they could get into the lane, and it was a hell of a hit. That’s kind of what we discussed between periods, and it worked. We don’t usually go with five strikers, but I thought in this case it was a valid risk for us to do so, and it’s paying off.
According to Marchand, the Bruins have always kept a positive frame of mind when they have had to deal with piling up injury lists.
“Part of our motto has been next man, regardless of who’s in or out of our lineup,” Marchand said. “We have to do a job, especially tonight. We knew the importance of the game.
And although they are currently without McAvoy, a vital part of the Bruins’ blue line, the team remains committed to overcoming its last bout of adversity as it returns to Carolina for Game 5 on Tuesday.
“(Charlie) is obviously an important part of our team, controls the back and plays a lot of minutes,” Marchand said. “But it’s just an opportunity for someone else to come in. (Josh) Brown did a good job. He played a great game tonight and a lot of the defense stepped up to fill that void. That’s how it should be done. You collectively have to fill a hole when a guy like Chucky goes missing.
“We had no choice, we are playing our season,” he said. “That doesn’t mean you can turn around and bend.”0