BOSTON - The Bruins 2017-18 season came crashing to a halt in Tampa, Florida after the Lightning surged past the Black & Gold in five games. After winning the first game of the series, the Bruins dropped four straight - mustering only seven goals in those final four contests. The B's depth scoring faltered, as David Krejci was the only forward not named Bergeron, Pastrnak or Marchand to find the back of the net.
On Sunday night, when Connor Clifton buried the puck into the open cage to record his first ever NHL goal, he also provided a bit of history for the Bruins storied franchise. Clifton became the 19th different player this postseason to score a goal for the Bruins, tying a franchise record set in 1988.
"The guys are coming to play at the right time," said Torey Krug, who has a goal and 10 assists in 15 playoff games. "Depth scoring is so crucial for playoffs. Most of the time when you see a matchup, the two big lines are going head to head, that kind of washes each other out typically over a series and then you have the depth scoring that comes into play and that's what wins you games and series so we have it right now, we want to bottle that up and continue to use it to our advantage. I said it all along that if we were going to make it and go on a run, it was going to be those bottom two lines that feed energy into this team and score big timely goals and we're going to need that going forward."
When told of his new place in Bruins history, Clifton kept things simple, crediting his teammates with putting him in a position to succeed.
"There's a lot of character in this room," said Clifton. "We don't rely too heavily on one individual and it's very team-oriented and it's awesome."
Video: CAR@BOS, Gm2: Clifton on first NHL goal in 6-2 win
The difference in these playoffs has been evident, with Cassidy referencing last year's Tampa series to demonstrate the growth of the group.
"We went through it a bit last year against Tampa," said Cassidy. "We weren't getting the goals, so you press with maybe your top guys instead of letting it play and the game just come to you. I think this year because we've scored a lot more up and down the line it's just a little easier to roll lines and look for your matchup but roll lines and not have to over-extend skill guys. I think any team that advances generally gets some level of that where everybody's contributing, where someone steps up in a different night."
Video: Cassidy speaks before flight to Raleigh
Players up and down the lineup are working hard, and their efforts are being rewarded on the scoresheet.
"You're getting the contribution from everybody and that's what you need," said captain Zdeno Chara. "Different guys, different lines, stepping up in different games in different times. We got that so you know, I think that it's nice to see players that aren't known for scoring goals getting rewarded for hard work. You know, that's something that at this time of the year nobody really cares who scores the goals, as long as we keep winning games."
With only four teams remaining, contributions from throughout the lineup are crucial.
"It's a staple and a necessity of having a deep run is you need to have depth because you're going to have injuries," said Backes. "Maybe not suspensions, you don't count on those but when they happen and Connor Clifton can fill in admirably for Charlie McAvoy, that's a huge feather in your cap to have. On the forward side maybe you can hide a guy a little bit if there's an absence, but on the defensive side, to have the guys that we have that are waiting in the wings if necessary, who knows what happens and those guys are willing and able and admirably jumping in when they need to be."
Video: Backes speaks before flight to Raleigh
The Bruins have received goals from six different defenseman - the highest mark in these years playoffs of any team and by a wide margin (STL, SJS and CAR each tied at 2). Grzelcyk has paced the group with three goals himself.
"It doesn't surprise me," said Cassidy of the surge in offense from the blueline. "[Steven] Kampfer the night before steps in and now it's Clifton. Grizz [Matt Grzelcyk] has played a lot of hockey for us but nice to see it from him. I think nobody wins without the secondary scoring, long term in the playoffs. We're certainly getting the benefit of it - encouraging it. We don't maybe play as up and down the ice as some other D corps in the league. We certainly want our guys when the opportunity is there to get up the ice.
"Both those goals were good reads by the defenseman. Grizz, the power play one was just part of the breakout where he's a little bit ahead of the play - he happened to continue on and found a puck."
Video: Grzelcyk has pair of goals in win over Carolina
Clifton and Grzelcyk both scored on Sunday by making smart reads and finding openings to receive passes from the forwards.
"They're up the ice supporting what was going on, not leading the rush," said Cassidy. "I think that's when our defensemen will contribute. It usually starts with a forward making a good play, separating somewhere on the ice, and then they're the next layer of attack, and that's generally how our offense comes from the backend - a lot of backends, but specifically ours. And it worked out for us [Sunday]. We need it."
Clifton's season began with the Providence Bruins back in October. One full season later, the New Jersey native has blossomed into a hard-nosed, slick skating defenseman in the NHL playoffs. While his development is a continuous process, his teammates and coaches were glad to see him rewarded with his first career goal in Game 2.
"I think it's his instincts that are the strength of his game and it's fun to watch," said Krug. "We call it Cliffy Hockey because he just goes out there and plays like no one else and he just thrives off instincts. The offensive part of it, he sees a chance, he grabs the puck and he goes and he's not scared to hold onto it. He's been a great addition to this defensive group and obviously something we can hopefully capture and move forward and continue to provide offense from that guy."
"We have confidence in Connor. A, because he's competitive. He's not shying away from the moment. When he's moving his feet, which we do have to remind him to keep the motor running, he can separate and make good plays…He always had that in him, his willingness to try to make a play."
Video: CAR@BOS, Gm2: Clifton pads lead with first NHL goal
The other young defenseman to score on Sunday, Matt Grzelcyk, took a big hit early in the game and was a bit shaken on the bench. Not long after, the 5-foot-9 blueliner was active in the offensive end to create and capitalize on a scoring opportunities.
"Aw man, he's a gamer," said teammate Charlie McAvoy. "So he's going to get hit like that and we had no doubt he was going to come back and play his game - he always does. He's a rock for us and he played awesome tonight. I couldn't be happier for him to break through and get a couple. You know, the first one is a great shot and the second one he showed just the kind of skill he has, you know, a lot of patience there to cut it back and make that play."
Video: CAR@BOS, Gm2: Grzelcyk nets second goal on power play
The Bruins have battled to a 4-2 record on the road this postseason. With road victories that have staved off elimination or ended a desperate opponents seasons, the Black & Gold have proven themselves outside the confines of the TD Garden. In Game 3 against Carolina, the Bruins will look to have another strong showing.
"Our veteran guys, they've been there," said Cassidy. "They've won a cup on the road. They've played big games on the road. I don't think it phases them where they play and our younger guys will feed off that sort of calmness with them."
Veteran David Backes knows a thing or two about big games, having played in a number of playoff games with the Bruins and as the captain of the St. Louis Blues.
"I think we've got a great mindset going into games, especially on the road," said Backes. "You're in a hostile environment, you know that it's going to be - you're going to get the other team's best and you bring your best or else it can be - losing a game sucks but you can get embarrassed if you're in someone else's building and you don't bring your intensity and your A game. In the playoffs, even more so. We always taken that, lets find a way, it doesn't have to be pretty and get the job done on the road."
The Bruins expect the Hurricanes to bring their best game as there are faced with a potential 3-0 series deficit.
"If I was in that position it would be do or die," said forward Sean Kuraly. "It's like your back is up against the wall. We're going to have to bring the same thing if we want to win Game 3. It's going to be, my guess is the most highly contested game of the series so far and of our season, is what we're getting ready for. It's two nothing right now bit it's all about Game 3.
"It's not just weather their storm but kind of go at them in the first 10 [minutes]. And then you have to play through the full 60. There's a lot of other stuff in there but it starts with a good start, on time and doing the little things that make us play a good game. Getting the puck in deep behind their defenseman and being hard on the forecheck and getting the puck on net, making them skate and work if they want any chances."
Video: Kuraly speaks before flight to Raleigh