The 2018 Boston Bruins Playoffs are presented by JetBlue
BOSTON - Charlie McAvoy is still classified as a rookie as he enters these Stanley Cup Playoffs. But the blue liner boasts something that the majority of his fellow first-year Bruins do not as they prepare to kick off the postseason with a first-round showdown against Toronto.
A six-game cameo - the first six games of his NHL career - during last spring's opening round series with Ottawa provided the 20-year-old with a wealth of experience and expectations that have prepared him for his second go-around on the game's grandest stage.
"I think it did a lot, as far as putting me in a position heading into this year," McAvoy said when asked how last year's postseason readied him for his first full NHL season. "I felt confident that I could play at this level, having had that experience last season. We had to ride the wave, those ups and downs this year, but we're back in the playoffs and I have that experience from last year to lean back on. I'm very excited."
McAvoy will be joined by a handful of other rookies when the Bruins take the ice for Game 1 on Thursday night at TD Garden. In addition to Sean Kuraly - whose memorable two-goal performance against Ottawa last spring led Boston to a Game 5 victory - Boston's roster also includes first-year NHLers Jake DeBrusk, Ryan Donato, Matt Grzelcyk, and Danton Heinen - all of whom have never experienced the Stanley Cup Playoffs firsthand.
"Everything is just so magnified, but at the same time it's so exciting," said McAvoy. "I think last year it was kind of a flash in the pan and we were done. Every game was a one-goal game. The decisions you make, everything you do matters."
Video: Grzelcyk and McAvoy discuss approaching playoffs
Unlike last April, when injuries thrust him into the spotlight without any regular-season tune-ups, McAvoy knows far better what to expect this time around and is happy to share his experiences with his teammates - though he realizes there are plenty of players throughout the Bruins dressing room that may be a bit more qualified to impart such knowledge.
"We have guys on this team that have won a Stanley Cup," said McAvoy. "I kind of keep my mouth shut when it comes to that. I'm still asking them questions and trying to figure out how to be the best that I can be in the playoffs. Obviously I have a small sample size of experience that I can try to impart on these guys. But when you're looking at guys to ask for advice, the list is very long and I'm probably on the bottom."
So what is the message that Boston's Stanley Cup-winning core will be delivering to their younger teammates?
"I think it's the approach that you have towards it," said Patrice Bergeron. "You have to embrace the challenge, you have to be ready for it. You have to expect a different style of hockey. When you're ready for that, it doesn't really matter as long as you bring it every night. We're there to help them and bring them along. It's up to everyone to do their part."
"Playoffs, it's a different league. You have to keep your emotions in check," added David Krejci, twice the Stanley Cup Playoffs' leading scorer. "Everybody is going to be excited, the building is going to be going crazy. Just be excited, but have your mind in the game and focused on the next shift."
It is all sound advice, which the playoff newcomers are making sure to soak up as quickly as they can.
"I think they've kind of been a lot more vocal recently, in the last couple days, just making sure that they use their experience as much as they can, just trying to help us out," Grzelcyk said of his veteran teammates. "It's obviously greatly appreciated. Anything they say we're going to take very seriously, they've had those experiences and they've won the ultimate prize. It's great to have them around, I've been really fortunate."
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said he would be "mindful" of the situations he places his young players in during the series, but is confident in how each of them has grown since the beginning of the season.
"I've tended not to coach too defensively with the young guys all year because we want to get them better in March and April than they are in October," said Cassidy. "But we'll be mindful of it. I think the veteran guys have been through that…that's one area they can help our younger guys grow if we expect to have success in the playoffs. They can be good big brothers towards them; they have been all year, so that won't change."
Video: Bergeron speaks about nearing playoffs
Not to be discounted, however, is the experience some of Boston's youth gained during the Providence Bruins' run to the AHL's Eastern Conference Finals last spring. DeBrusk, Grzelcyk, and Heinen - who led the P-Bruins in playoff scoring - each played in all 17 postseason games, which allowed them a glance into what to expect at the next level.
"Never really experienced something quite like that," said Grzelcyk. "To have us go three rounds last year, I think that was huge experience-wise for those of us down in Providence last year. I think that's something that we can kind of put in our back pocket a little bit.
"Obviously it's a little bit different being in the NHL. But still, you kind of know the ins and outs of what you need to do off the ice. Maybe we don't have to figure out that quite as much. That's nice to have in our back pocket."
Regardless of their level of postseason expertise, Boston's bevy of young talent certainly knows that there is nothing quite like the intensity and passion that the Stanley Cup Playoffs present.
"From what I've heard, it's really intense and a lot of fun and brings guys together," said DeBrusk. "I think you've got to step up your game in every aspect. It's going to be lots of fun, it's going to be crazy. Two Original Six teams, the rivalry that we've had with that organization. They're a good squad and we're going to need to bring our best to beat them."