NEW YORK — The hit dropped Charlie McAvoy to a knee. His shoulder went numb.
Not only did he not miss his next shift, he set up a critical goal on it.
In that Game 6 win over Carolina last May 12, the compromised Bruins defenseman helped force a winner-take-all game. With that busted shoulder, he led his team in ice time in Game 7 and assisted on both goals in the 3-2 loss.
The Bruins, rolling along with the best record in the NHL (10-1-0), are soon to have that presence back in their lineup. McAvoy, who was cleared for contact last week, will not take the ice for Saturday’s game in Toronto. However, his recovery from June 3 surgery (arthroscopic stabilization on his left shoulder) is nearing its end.
McAvoy was expected to miss six months, but it’s conceivable that he could return by the time the Bruins host the Hurricanes for a Black Friday matinee Nov. 25 at TD Garden.
“It’s his first week getting back into a rhythm with us,” coach Jim Montgomery said before Thursday’s game against the Rangers. “We’re just hopeful with him. No updated timeline. We have our internal process. He’s ahead of that Dec. 1 date, but we don’t know exactly. There are boxes to be checked.”
Few in Boston have forgotten that the 24-year-old McAvoy, who finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting last year (10-46—56 in 78 games, 24:38 per game), is one of the game’s best blue liners.
“Now we’re in the phase of strengthening,” said McAvoy, who remained on the ice for a long workout after the team’s morning skate Thursday. “That’s the biggest thing. It’s about getting stronger. It’s about supporting those muscles around [the shoulder] and getting to a spot where you feel like you can give and take contact for long periods of time.”
A video review of McAvoy’s Game 6 shifts show he didn’t absorb much punishment that night, mainly because he was darting all over the ice.
In the first period, defense partner Hampus Lindholm broke up a two-on-one with a stick swipe, seconds before McAvoy blew the roof off TD Garden by nailing Sebastian Aho with an open-ice hit.
In the second period, McAvoy collided with Brady Skjei and tumbled backward near the boards, bracing for the fall with his left arm.
The injury likely happened at 4:58 of the third period. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, seeing McAvoy wheel a loose puck behind the net, skirted around traffic and came downhill as the defenseman, his left shoulder facing the boards, cleared the puck up the ice.
On his next shift, the Bruins were protecting a 2-1 lead when McAvoy created space with his legs and found Erik Haula in the slot for a deflection. McAvoy used his bottom (right) hand to push the puck to Haula, rather than take a full windup.
The Bruins built on the lead and forced a Game 7. McAvoy appeared to be limited the rest of the game; on the power play, he faked one-timers but never took one.
In Game 7, he assisted on both of Boston’s goals, logged a game-high 27:52, threw two hits, and blocked two shots.
In the days after, McAvoy recalled, he “wasn’t thrilled” when he was told his injury was “complex.”
“We kind of threw the kitchen sink at it to get it to feel good,” he said. “So you play, get through it, and I was like, ‘Oh, you know what? Must be fine.’ Like, I felt strong and I did everything. Then you get the imaging done.
“I really didn’t have much of a choice, as far as longevity and quality of life with an injury. Just had to get it fixed.”
McAvoy said he reached out to other players who had had the surgery.
They told him that “it freaking sucks. The overall theme that everyone’s told me is to be patient. It’s a weird injury, and mine was pretty complex.
“It’s not a one-size-fits-all, like some injuries. This one really is different for everybody. So sometimes you need a little extra time. Not fun to deal with, but I’m lucky about the people that we work with.”
He also missed on chances to bond with his new coach. Montgomery called McAvoy to connect over the summer, and they attended a Red Sox game with their families. They have spoken with each other every day at Warrior Ice Arena, but McAvoy returned to practice just last week.
“A lot of people are, like, ‘Hey, how’s Coach?’ I’m like, he’s doing a hell of a job, so he must be great,” McAvoy said with a laugh. “But, you know, it stinks. I’ve just been on my own for a while. But all the coaches, him included, all the players, everybody does a really good job of keeping you involved, checking up on you.”
Montgomery, who likes to unleash his defensemen, is eager to see McAvoy take command.
“His instincts are so exceptional,” said the coach. “When you have special players like him and Lindholm, they’re going to do stuff that’s different, that’s off the team structure, but that’s why they’re special.”
Toronto (5-4-2), which hosts Boston at 7 p.m. Saturday, will see a resurgent Nick Foligno. The former Blue Jackets captain, dealt to the Maple Leafs in April 2021, put up four assists in seven games and then one assist in four playoff contests with them. He was struggling with a back injury that limited him to 2-11—13 in 64 games with the Bruins last year (0-1—1 in seven playoff games). A healthy Foligno already has 3-4—7 in 11 games this season, and he was briefly promoted to the top line in Thursday’s win in Manhattan. “He looked like the Nick Foligno I coached against in Dallas when he was in Columbus,” Montgomery said afterward. “He just keeps getting better, and you can tell his confidence is growing.” … Montgomery said Thursday that David Krejci and Craig Smith (upper body) were possibilities to play in Toronto, and he was leaning toward starting Linus Ullmark in net.
Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.