Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy was all smiles during Saturday morning’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
“It’s the conference finals,” McAvoy said after the 45-minute session. “I’m looking to make an impact in whatever way I can.”
Eager to get his first postseason crack at the Carolina Hurricanes, McAvoy had his Eastern Conference finals debut put on hold because of a one-game suspension for an illegal hit in the final game of the second-round series against Columbus. McAvoy watched Game 1 against the Hurricanes from Level 9 of TD Garden.
“I’m not a very good hockey watcher,” McAvoy said. “The game tends to feel like it’s much longer, and the emotions are way up.”
McAvoy said he tried to take advantage of the punishment by studying and scouting the Hurricanes, paying attention to their tendencies. He declined to share what things he picked up on, but noted he was sure to pass along the observations to his teammates.
“You get to see how they play, just from a different perspective,” McAvoy said. “I’m glad I was able to do that.”
McAvoy said he also used the short time off to continue to maintain his physical health, which has undoubtedly taken a beating through 13 postseason starts. McAvoy has averaged the most time on ice (24 minutes 46 seconds) among Boston’s skaters.
“Whenever you’re out, you can use it as an opportunity to get other things feeling right,” McAvoy said. “Get your body right. So, I really tried to do that. It’s a little more time to be able to work out and have a chance for your body to recover. Just try to do all the right things for my body.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy said the team missed McAvoy most on breakouts, while also highlighting his physicality — after all, he did get suspended for it — and his ability to match up with the opponents’ top line.
“The quick transition in the neutral zone,” Cassidy added. “Those kind of seam passes or those up-the-middle passes that those other guys just don’t have the vision or the confidence to make. Those quick-strike plays where the forwards are getting the pucks in their hands in good spots with a little better chance to attack.”
While he would have preferred to be on the ice, McAvoy said he couldn’t have been happier for replacement Steven Kampfer, who buried the Bruins’ first goal in Thursday’s 5-2 victory.
“Kampf stepped right in and looked like he didn’t miss a beat,” McAvoy said. “He scored right away in the first period. He played terrific, he was strong on pucks all night, he played an awesome game. He really did. We’re definitely fortunate to have that depth.”
A long time ago
The oldest of the four starting goaltenders remaining in the Stanley Cup playoffs, 32-year-old Tuukka Rask is well aware of what’s at stake.
“Once you get closer to retirement, you realize that these opportunities don’t come that often,” he said. “You can’t take it for granted. When you’re a young guy and if you happen to be in the finals or win or whatever, you’re kind of like, ‘Whoa, this is easy. I can be here every year.’
“That’s most likely not the case. When you’re a veteran, and you’ve had the luxury of seeing it, and then a few years you don’t make it, you’re kind of like, ‘Whoa, this is actually really, really tough.’ I’m just trying to embrace it and really enjoy it.’”
His consistent play is certainly backing up that mind-set.
With 31 saves in Game 1, Rask’s save percentage stands at .938 this postseason. His even-strength save percentage is even better, at .945. During these playoffs, Rask has faced a league-high 466 shots, saving a league-high 437.
“I’m really impressed with his focus every night,” Cassidy said. “Even his puck play hasn’t slipped.
“Every part of his game seems to be focused and dialed in. It doesn’t mean he’s perfect, but it just seems like he’s ready for whatever’s coming.”
“He just seems like he’s in the zone,” added McAvoy. “He’s been our best player since the start of this thing. He’s playing confident. He’s having fun while doing it.”
Rask said his approach hasn’t changed, although he did acknowledge he feels a bit more rested mentally because of the split time in playing time with backup Jaroslav Halak during the regular season.
“We just go round by round, game by game, and be excited every day,” Rask said. “We’re not looking back or ahead. We’ve got to go game by game, series by series, play our best, and enjoy it.”
Forward Noel Acciari, who last played in Game 4 against the Blue Jackets, skated in a red, noncontact jersey. Cassidy said Acciari will not available for Game 2 on Sunday but expects him to be a full participant in Monday’s practice. The hope, according to Cassidy, is that Acciari will play in Game 3 at PNC Arena on Tuesday. Cassidy did not have an update on defenseman Kevan Miller, who has not yet played this postseason because of a lower-body injury . . . Brad Marchand turned 31 years old Saturday. So, did he get any notable presents? “Another beautiful day,” Marchand said with a smile.