The 2019 Boston Bruins Playoffs are presented by Beth Israel Lahey Health
BOSTON - Torey Krug was joking - we think.
Nevertheless, his plan to keep defense partner Brandon Carlo in one piece ahead of the postseason was a good one.
"I know he's been bummed the last couple years," said Krug. "But I've kept a close eye on him the last few days, wrapped him in bubble wrap, and made sure he's able to go."
Carlo just completed his third season in the National Hockey League, but the 22-year-old blue liner has yet to suit up for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, with each of his first two campaigns cut short by ill-timed injuries.
After playing in all 82 games during his rookie year, the Colorado native was concussed in the finale, causing him to miss Boston's 2017 first-round series with the Ottawa Senators. Last season, a fracture to his left ankle in Game 77 cost him a shot at the postseason once again, forcing him to watch as the Bruins advanced past Toronto and into the second round against Tampa Bay.
But it appears that the third time will be a charm for Carlo, who is healthy as the Bruins gear up for their first-round rematch with the Maple Leafs.
"Growing up, you watch this time of the year and it's the most important time of the year," said Carlo, who sat out the regular-season finale against Tampa for rest purposes. "To be in this position is the dream for every kid that you can imagine, so you emulate these games playing mini hockey or street hockey, and it will be a lot of fun finally being able to play it."
Video: Carlo excited to appear in first playoff game
Having Carlo in the lineup will no doubt be a boon for the Bruins, who have missed dearly the 6-foot-5, 212-pound defenseman's shutdown prowess and smooth skating in the playoffs, particularly last spring against the highly skilled Maple Leafs and Lightning.
"He's such a massive part of this team defensively," said fellow blue liner Charlie McAvoy, who is set for his third postseason. "He can move the puck, he can skate from the back end. We really missed him. Obviously a couple unfortunate circumstances the last two years. But here he goes now and we're gonna lean on him a lot."
Carlo impressed in each of his first two seasons, but took a massive step in Year 3, with coach Bruce Cassidy relying on the 2015 second-round pick for heavy minutes, both at even strength and on the penalty kill. Carlo's 2:47 of shorthanded ice time per game ranked second on the Bruins behind Zdeno Chara (3:03), while his overall average of 20:55 was good for fourth.
"It starts with PK and one of his biggest strengths, shutdown defenseman," said Cassidy. "That's what we missed last year at times against Toronto…you have that big body that can defend well and skate…the ability to play 20-22 minutes, reliable minutes, is probably the biggest thing that you miss at that time of year, especially when you get into extended games, overtimes. He's a guy that can handle that."
Krug, who has played alongside Carlo for much of the last two seasons, believes that his partner has not been given enough credit for the impact he's had on Boston's success this season.
"Kind of one of those guys that goes under the radar," said Krug. "He works extremely hard every day, he ends a lot of plays. He's extremely important to our penalty kill, that first unit. He's always blocking shots, he's doing all the little plays that allow us skilled guys to take over with the puck and go to work. He's a guy that we missed a lot that we're very lucky to have this year."
Video: Krug talks Leafs, defensive partner Carlo
Carlo has been in the building for some of those postseason games - saying, "you can tell the atmosphere is pretty electric" - but is using the time ahead of Thursday's Game 1 to prepare himself for everything that comes along with playoff hockey.
"I just don't want to overwhelm myself," said Carlo. "I feel like I had a pretty solid year, and I've stayed consistent throughout that. I just want to continue that play coming through the playoffs and do my job, ultimately. Do everything I can to help the team in the ways that I can. I think I understand the player that I am more so now, and I just want to bring that into the game now and contribute."
One thing he knows for certain is how much the compete level and intensity ratchets up once the calendar turns to April.
"Everybody competes as hard as they possibly can, so you have to bring that same level of intensity," said Carlo. "You can tell that the tensions rise throughout the series, especially by Game 3 or 4 there's a couple more bodies being thrown around. I think that's the name of the game.
"If you play teams that many times in a row, guys just get under your skin and it carries over into the next night."
With last season's seven-game series and four more regular-season matchups fresh in their memories, there is certain to be plenty of ferocity between the Bruins and Maple Leafs.
"It's no secret that they have a great offensive team, but at the same time I feel like the same could be said about the defensive group here and the offensive group here," said Carlo. "As long as we do our jobs, I feel like we'll be in a good position to give ourselves the best opportunity at success."
And Carlo is hoping his first taste of the Stanley Cup Playoffs contains plenty of that.
"We're in a good position," said Carlo. "We worked hard all year and gained a lot of confidence throughout the entire year…we're all just really excited, especially myself being in this position, and I'm really looking forward to the opportunity of going out there."
Video: Cassidy readies for challenge of Leafs