And what’s most impressive is that none of those players’ contributions should come as a shock to anyone.
Typically, when a fourth liner and a bottom pairing defenseman get on the scoreboard, it’s a revelation. For the Bruins, it’s just another night.
Entering the 2019 postseason, much of the talk about Boston focused on the ‘Perfection Line’, and rightfully so. The trio of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand has been as successful as any in terms of production. But as we’ve seen throughout the Stanley Cup playoffs, they haven’t always been at their best.
In the club’s series-clinching victories against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets, not a single member of the top line notched a point. Instead, it was contributors from the third and fourth lines getting it done when needed. Almost the same thing happened in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, with the first line's lone goal coming on Marchand's empty-netter.
Boston’s layered forward group would not be possible without the vision of NHL General Manager of the Year finalist, Don Sweeney. Sweeney is responsible for the additions of Marcus Johansson, Charlie Coyle, Joakim Nordstrom, and (a bit further back) Kuraly.
Although the contributions from the team’s offensive depth have been impressive, the role players on the back-end have been equally, if not more, impressive.
Cliffy Hockey is more than just a phrase in the Bruins locker room: it has become a way of life thanks to the aggressive style of a smaller-in-stature defenseman who was a relative unknown in NHL circles prior to this season.
I’ve been impressed by Connor Clifton. Last time I checked, he’s been bumped up to play top pairing min with Chara tonight as McAvoy is out. Here he is with an open ice hit. He’s physical. He’s a zone exit machine. Fun guy to watch. pic.twitter.com/xjhKFfnQ8D— Josh Tessler (@JoshTessler_) May 9, 2019
Connor Clifton’s emergence would not have been possible without the laundry list of injuries the Bruins encountered this season. But the 24-year old from Long Branch, New Jersey has made the most of his opportunity, carving a role out for himself in the club’s lineup.
His defensive partner, Matt Grzelcyk, is cut from a very similar cloth. Sure, the diminutive defenseman doesn’t play with the same physical aggression, but he’s displayed an increasingly impressive capability to be a threat offensively these playoffs.
Being able to rely on your defense to make an impact in the offensive zone has become common practice in the NHL, and it is clear that the Bruins’ third defensive tandem can be counted on to do just that.
When you have a hockey club that expects production throughout it’s lineup, you don’t get surprise performances - you get players executing.