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Clifton, Zboril Set to Make NHL Debuts

Young blue liners step in for Chara, Moore as defense corps dwindles

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

DALLAS - To say the Bruins' defense corps is depleted is an understatement.

Boston will enter Friday night's tilt with the Dallas Stars down six defensemen, five of which were part of the Opening Night Roster. The latest to join the Black & Gold mash unit are Zdeno Chara and John Moore, both of whom were injured in the B's loss to Colorado on Wednesday night.

Chara played just over five minutes against the Avalanche before leaving with a lower-body injury. The captain returned to Boston on Thursday for further testing.

"Zee I have no update on," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said following morning skate at American Airlines Center. "I'm as anxious as everybody, trust me, to see what's going on there. But he's getting with our medical staff today and hopefully we'll have something by tomorrow."

Video: Cassidy talks state of defense, injuries

Moore, meanwhile, is day-to-day with a lower-body injury of his own and could miss both ends of this weekend's back-to-back with the Stars and Arizona Coyotes.

"Had a little bit of aggravation during the game on Wednesday and it wasn't very good yesterday," said Cassidy. "Better today, but he's questionable for tomorrow's game."

So for those of you keeping score at home, here is the updated list of Boston's dwindling defense.

  • Zdeno Chara (lower-body)
  • Charlie McAvoy (concussion)
  • Brandon Carlo (upper-body)
  • Kevan Miller (hand)
  • John Moore (lower-body)
  • Urho Vaakanainen (concussion)

So, coach, ever seen anything quite like this?

"No. Not this many at the same time," said Cassidy. "Clearly when you lose guys through the course of the year, five or six, but not at the same time. It will be a challenge, no doubt."

The Bruins have turned to Providence for reinforcements, recalling Jakub Zboril and Connor Clifton, both of whom will make their NHL debuts against the Stars.

"It's the National Hockey League, you can either play in it or you can't. We'll find out with some of these guys," said Cassidy. "Sometimes this is the best way to find out, that's the positive in it. The negative is we've got a lot of good players out of the lineup back there.

"If they want to play here it's a great opportunity to show what they can do right now. That's the way I look at it. This is kind of their dream to get here. Well, here you are, have at it."

Zboril, the 13th overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, has been working on adding a level of urgency to his game during his year-plus in Providence, and the 21-year-old Czech native hopes his progress translates to the ice tonight in Dallas.

"I've been waiting for this moment all my life," said Zboril. "Growing up as a kid, I was just dreaming of being in NHL one day and its' finally happening. Now I have like five hours to actually step on the ice and play my first NHL game and my feeling can't even describe it."

Video: Zboril to make NHL debut versus Stars

The Bruins signed Clifton to a two-year contract in May after he played last season in Providence on an AHL contract. The 23-year-old has suited up for 14 games this year for the P-Bruins, notching four assists to go along with a plus-4 rating. A native of Matawan, New Jersey, the 5-foot-11, 190-pounder captained Quinnipiac University during his senior season.

"Really excited…was expecting to play in Providence this weekend, but opportunity presented itself, so I'm going to try to make the most of it," said Clifton. "I don't really know what to expect. Gonna move my feet and support my D partner tonight, which is [Torey Krug], so hoping for the best. Just gonna work and see what happens."

Clifton, who Cassidy called "very engaging [and] competitive," said his biggest focus during his time in Providence has been reeling himself in and not "going rogue…kind of like a cowboy," as he put it.

"For him it's learning the nuances of the game, when to be competitive. I think they've worked hard on him the start of this year on that," said Cassidy. "Last year, we saw a very raw talent, likes to get up involved in the play, a defenseman that leads the forecheck at times.

"It will be interesting to see what he's done this year to help settle those parts of his game down where he just does his job and does it well and adds a few things here and there.

"I'm interested to see him play because sometimes those are the guys that get to this level and have the willingness to want to get engaged in the game that do well."

Video: Clifton set to make NHL debut against Dallas

While nerves and jitters will certainly be expected, Clifton and Zboril are happy to be sharing their moment.

"I actually just talked to him about it," said Clifton. "He said he was a little nervous…I guess he saw me first time this morning and he was like, 'Oh, let's go, Cliffy. Let's go.' It's nice to share it with someone."

"Was getting my first NHL game and now I saw that Cliffy got called up too," echoed Zboril. "My nerves kind of dropped down a little bit. I was like, 'OK, I'm not alone in this. Let's just go.'"

The End is Near?

As tough as it seems right now, there could be some light at the end of the tunnel. Cassidy said Miller is still targeting Wednesday in Detroit for a return and would not rule out Carlo, McAvoy, or Vaakanainen meeting the team for that tilt with the Red Wings.

"[Miller's] on the trip to practice," said Cassidy. "I don't think that's changing anytime soon, no matter if we lose more bodies tonight. That's just the medical evaluation on him and that's not even set in stone, but we're hoping for Wednesday.

"There's a few others for Wednesday as well. I know Carlo was ruled out for this week, Charlie's been skating, Vaakanainen…so maybe they progress between now and Wednesday, but we're not gonna see any of them today or tomorrow."

Video: Two Bruins set to make NHL debut

Friday's Projected Lineup

In other lineup news, Noel Acciari will be back in after three games as a healthy scratch, swapping in for Chris Wagner as the fourth-line left wing.

"His numbers don't look great, his stat line…but he's been a good, hard player for us," said Cassidy. "So he wasn't gonna sit forever…we wanted to keep the third line in tact and give them some reps and see if they can continue to defend well and then grow their offensive games, so it was gonna be someone from that Kuraly line. Happened to be him. We'll see.

"I don't like to speculate whether it will be a different guy on that line tomorrow or the next day, it's him tonight and we'll see where it goes."

And Tuukka Rask will be back between the pipes for his first game since returning from a leave of absence.

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Joakim Nordstrom - David Krejci - Jake DeBrusk
Danton Heinen - Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson - Anders Bjork
Noel Acciari - Sean Kuraly - David Backes

Torey Krug - Connor Clifton
Jeremy Lauzon - Matt Grzelcyk
Jakub Zboril - Steven Kampfer

Tuukka Rask
Jaroslav Halak

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