After missing nearly a month when a hit from Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson in March left him with a concussion only to return and suffer an oblique injury that would leave him on the sideline for nearly another month, Bruins defenseman Brandon Carlo is nearing a return.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Carlo could make an appearance on the ice next week against the New Jersey Devils.
With just eight games left in the regular season, the five-year veteran said he believes that’s enough time to get prepared before the playoffs. He also acknowledged he doesn’t have much of a choice.
“I’m going to convince myself in my mind that it absolutely is enough,” Carlo said. “I’m going to lean on my experience that I’ve gained in this league over the past couple years to mentally prepare for that. And also physically, I’ve been working harder than I’ve ever worked these past couple of weeks, just to ensure that when I get back, I’m coming back with confidence that I can. So I’m feeling very good in that regard.”
The last time Carlo took the ice was April 1 against Pittsburgh. At that point, he had spent nearly a month recovering from the second concussion of his career. He said he felt no lingering effects and was ready to play. The oblique injury was an unexpected setback, but it gave him extra time to make sure the concussion wasn’t still an issue.
“I think I’ve done a good job of being honest with all the concussion stuff and have felt very good going forward,” Carlo said. “And even when I was going to return [I felt] in a good position. But I will say that the extra days of reassurance to make sure that you’re stable and ready to go with all the head stuff if you look at it from a different perspective, that’s definitely something that has been helpful with having a little bit more time.”
Carlo, who had notched two goals and one assist in 23 games, played an important role for the Bruins, tasked with slowing down opponents’ top forwards and leading the penalty kill.
He was playing with an assurance that he said he expects to still be there when he returns.
“I felt like my game has been good for the past bit here,” he said. “I started off this year and I wanted to come in and play with confidence. I feel like that was something that I was accomplishing, going out there and doing my part. I feel like I have an identity with the player that I am and things that I contribute with this team and I felt a confidence on the ice. So I just want to continue to carry that confidence.”
When Carlo returns, he’ll give the Bruins some much-needed flexibility with its group of defensemen. Cassidy said he’ll play Carlo with Matt Grzelcyk, pairing a defender and a puck-mover together.
After missing such a significant amount of time, however, Carlo was largely thankful just to be able to play again.
“Right now, I’m feeling very good,” Carlo said. “Obviously, it’s been a process of injuries for me that past little bit here, but we have great guys around the room that have helped me gain perspective on how blessed we truly are. So I’ve just been living day to day working as hard as I can to get back and appreciating the situation that I’m in. It’s a blessing to be here and play games in the NHL and something you definitely don’t want to take for granted.”
The disparity between how many penalties have been called against the Bruins and how many have gone in their favor was hard for Cassidy to explain, but it was frustrating.
“I just find we’re not getting calls to go on the power play, especially in the last month,” Cassidy said. “It just seems head-scratching some of them.
The Bruins have allowed a league-high 167 power-play opportunities, but have only had 142 power plays, 18th in the league.
“I don’t know why that is,” Cassidy said. “It could just be one of those things that happen. So that’s where I get a little frustrated. But on the flip side, we don’t seem to be drawing the same amount.”
Mike Reilly and Chris Wagner both had maintenance days Friday. Cassidy said Reilly was dealing with a nagging injury that needed attention but should be able to play Saturday. Wagner, however, will not be available.
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.