BOSTON -- By the middle of the Eastern Conference Second Round between the Boston Bruins and the Columbus Blue Jackets, it was clear that at least one of the Bruins' young defensemen was having a bit of a playoff coming-out party: Charlie McAvoy.
Though this is the third Stanley Cup Playoffs of his young career, it's the first in which McAvoy has been established, the first in which he's been able to show all the many gifts that he has at his disposal.
Which is why it will be so difficult to fill his shoes.
[RELATED: McAvoy suspended one game, will miss Game 1 of Eastern Conference Final]
The NHL Department of Player Safety announced on Tuesday that McAvoy will be suspended for one game, Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes, for his illegal check to the head on Josh Anderson in Game 6 of the second-round series against the Blue Jackets. That means the Bruins will be without half of their top pair at TD Garden on Thursday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS) in the best-of-7 series.
With the Bruins already down Kevan Miller, who has been out since April 4 with a lower-body injury, Boston will be forced to dig once again into its depth to replace the minutes that McAvoy has been logging in the playoffs, 24:46 per game.
Because Miller will not be ready for the start of the Eastern Conference Final - - though general manager Don Sweeney did not rule him out for the whole series - - that leaves John Moore and Steven Kampfer to fill the hole left by McAvoy. Moore has been listed as out with an upper-body injury, missing all six games of the second round, but Sweeney said he is available to play against the Hurricanes.
Video: McAvoy suspended one game for illegal check to head
Kampfer seems the likely replacement, because Moore has the injury, and also because Kampfer is a right-shot which would allow the Bruins to keep left-shot Matt Grzelcyk on his natural side. Kampfer played one game in the playoffs, Game 3 against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round. Moore played four games of that series.
"It's a little bit about the group," Sweeney said, about how the Bruins have dealt with absences in their defensive group. "I don't think there's any one player. Certain players play in different situations and we've had players step forward and play big minutes for us.
"Charlie and Brandon [Carlo] certainly have assumed, with Kevan out, some situational minutes. But again, Connor [Clifton] has done a nice job there and [Grzelcyk] has done a nice job playing with a guy, Connor, with limited experience."
But McAvoy represents a significant loss, if even for one game. He has been the best and most consistent defenseman for the Bruins in the playoffs, elevating his game when the team has needed him to do so. In the 13 games through the first two rounds, McAvoy has six points (1 goal, 5 assists) with two of those points coming on the power play, where he is on the second unit.
He had a signature moment at the end of Game 5, when he blocked a shot off his foot as the Bruins fended off the Blue Jackets. The block left him limping off, but he was back for Game 6, the game in which he delivered the "high, hard check" to Anderson's head, which left him with a minor penalty at the time and later the one-game suspension.
So he will be missed.
Video: Don Sweeney talks of the Bruins' success thus far
"His ability to skate and make plays, it's always been there," Zdeno Chara said during the last series. "He's a very skilled player. He's got really good vision. But he's adding to his game. He's sacrificing his body, blocking shots, playing more physical and doing a great job with his stick. He's adding to his game. So that's great to see and good for him."
McAvoy's first introduction to the playoffs came two seasons ago, when he made his NHL debut in the 2017 playoffs in an Eastern Conference First Round series against the Ottawa Senators that the Bruins lost in six games. He was a revelation, even as a rookie. Last season was more difficult, as McAvoy missed a month leading into the postseason, returning only for the final four games of the regular season. He wasn't quite in sync and couldn't produce his usual results.
But this season everything has aligned for him -- or, at least, it had until Monday.
With no history of suspensions or fines, McAvoy's actions ultimately were deemed worthy of a one-game suspension, which means the Bruins will get him back for Game 2. That will be a very welcome thought for coach Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins, given the challenge they have ahead.
"I think he's transitioning the puck well," Cassidy said in the second round about McAvoy. "He's doing a good job between the blue lines, making some plays. He'll carry it deep. So it's a full 200-foot game. I know it sounds cliché, but he plays 25 minutes, generally against better players. His puck management's been excellent. Can't remember any silly plays that came back at us, so I think that's a sign of maturity. I guess just steadiness. He's been good, rock-solid, steady."