In the playoffs, it’s conventional wisdom that having guys that can defend the puck is usually a good thing. A controversial stance, to be sure, but one most teams are at the very least willing to try.
And in the past, to the point that conventional wisdom says this must be a winning formula, the best way to have defenders that can stymy shots and scoring opportunities are big guys. Enormous, 6-foot-whatever monster men who can happily knock forwards over with their superior strength, use their long reach to corral pucks in the corners, and cover plenty of space with their sheer mass.
And following this, the Bruins have certainly populated their defense with large lads. Charlie McAvoy is 208 pounds of muscle and maybe a specific percentage of babyfat located entirely on his face stacked an even six foot. Brandon Carlo who must be having the time of his life knowing what a postseason looks like for the first time in a while is every bit the 6’5 wirey blend of smooth skating and impassioned play in the corners.
To say nothing of course, about the captain, Zdeno Chara. Whose imposing, super-soldier figure as the largest NHLer ever is a lightning rod of attention, good and bad. The Boston Bruins do indeed try in some capacity to keep to conventional wisdom when it comes to defenders.
...But they’re also making a low-key name out of something, specifically on their left-side, and especially on their third pair, right after their gigantic captain.
A collection of small-fry defenders. Playing their asses off. And paying dividends.
- Torey Krug, an undrafted signing from Michigan State, stands at 5’9, built roughly like a Mack truck compacted into the space of a Volkswagen, and tied for 4th on the team in point-getting, tied for first with Brad Marchand in assist-making. After a season of lots of ups (his sheer volume of points) and downs (the agonizing trend of the puck seemingly bouncing right over his head so that he has to backcheck hard on a moment’s notice), his play has finally coalesced into the perfect version of what he needs to be, and into an extremely strong performance over the last pair of rounds. Oh yeah and he demolished a couple dudes, that was pretty cool.
With his assist on the Pastrnak goal, Torey Krug is now one of six defensemen in Bruins history with 40 career playoff points:— Tucker Boynton (@Tucker_TnL) May 17, 2019
-Ray Bourque* (161)
-Bobby Orr* (92)
-Brad Park* (78)
-Zdeno Chara (51)
-Glen Wesley (47)
-Torey Krug (40)
* in HOF
- Connor Clifton from Quinnipiac, slightly under 6-foot at 5’11, playing the game of a man much larger than he is, a player who previously struggled to stay in the Providence lineup who has been a revelation in the later part of the season who just happened to find his game at the NHL level at the perfect time, and whose addition to the bottom pairing has been a fantastic fiery presence on the bottom pairing.
Connor Clifton puts “Cliffy Hockey” on display pic.twitter.com/fUlUGlj515— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) May 15, 2019
- Matt Grzelcyk. BU product. Only became a regular after 4 years as a Providence Bruin, and whose smart, speedy play turned him into a stable, easy-to-like rock for a tumultuous defending corps.
What a home run pass by Torey Krug to lead to the Matt Grzelcyk goal pic.twitter.com/arSFVsTmNf— Evan Marinofsky (@emarinofsky) May 12, 2019
Does this mean that the Bruins are tapping into a market inefficiency? Finding a place where traditional hockey knowledge has a blind spot for and as a result found a way to get to the SCF through use of these doodlebug defenders? Could this be the harbinger of the giant shotblocker? A look into a new NHL where defenders can both contribute offensively AND backcheck AND shotblock AND clog up lanes?
...Can “Yes and No” suffice here?
Look, Zdeno Chara is still a member of this team. Charlie and Brandon are still stalwarts and are in fact the TOI leaders of the blueliners at 5v5. There’s always going to be a place for a huge dude on the Boston Bruins in both the locker room and in the hearts and minds of fans, and if he’s actually good at hockey, so much the better. Furthermore, a huge portion of their success comes from their surgically precise deployment, to which Bruce Cassidy deserves the lion’s share of credit for finding the best way for these guys to succeed.
But at the same time...of the three guys listed, only one is playing with the team that drafted him; Clifton was previously a Coyotes prospect, and Krug was just some shot in the dark signing from nowhere. They were largely happy accidents that have come far beyond what anybody expected or even anticipated.
It’s not an accident that the Bruins, a team whose historical best players are both undersized defensemen who shattered records in points and played the game with speed and tenacity, would try and take flyers on guys like Clifton or Krug or try to develop guys like Grzelcyk. It’s a sneaky point of pride for Boston.
And, in a Game 1 that seems to establish how long the final round of the postseason usually is...they all had their part in taking the St. Louis Blues to the woodshed. Torey Krug led the Bruins in all situations and at 5v5. Connor Clifton got the third star in his first Stanley Cup Final game for kickstarting the Bruins after a period of malaise and rust. Matt Grzelcyk All three led defensemen in possession, and were practically driving the western conference champions crazy with how they exited the zone, stymied their play, and bashed their bodies. They showed them exactly what got them to the point that they are.
So give it up to the biggest little men in the Stanley Cup Finals, for which, the Boston Bruins owe an enormous debt if the next however many games fall in the right way.