2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Ryan: Charlie McAvoy willingly paid the price to put Bruins on brink of Eastern Conference Finals

Adam Richins for BSJ

Charlie McAvoy considered himself “lucky” following Boston’s dramatic Game 5 triumph over the Blue Jackets at TD Garden.

A contest that, as David Backes so eloquently summarized — made sure that "anyone with cardiac problems certainly got tested" while watching. But for McAvoy, the aforementioned luck wasn’t in reference to his team, which relinquished a pair of two-goal leads in the final period of play but still managed to eke out a 4-3 victory.

Nor was said luck graced at his current condition, as McAvoy walked without much of a limp and tabbed himself as “fine” postgame — despite deflecting a howitzer by Artemi Panarin off of his skate with just 0.6 seconds left in regulation.

Rather, the 21-year-old defenseman felt fortune was on his side because he put himself in the way of Panarin’s rocket of a one-timer from just outside of the left circle. 

Even though David Pastrnak's second goal of the stanza put Boston back ahead with 1:28 left on the clock, a Blue Jackets club that managed to light the lamp three times in a span of 3:27 earlier in the third was ready to punch back — especially with Sergei Bobrovsky pulled in favor of an extra skater.

From the seconds following Pastrnak's strike, the Jackets managed to pepper Tuukka Rask with a pair of shots — including a bid from Cam Atkinson that was stymied by a mass of bodies crowding the crease. Another redirect by Matt Duchene didn’t count as a SOG, but only because the puck clanged off the post.

Sooner or later, puck luck had to swing back on the Blue Jackets’ side, right? And it appeared to be granted when Brad Marchand coughed up the biscuit to Duchene — who fed it to the lurking sniper in Panarin.

Without even a second available to react, McAvoy motioned to his right — sticking his foot out in a last-ditch effort to put at least something in front of Panarin’s rip.

“I wasn’t going to be able to get my stick out there,” McAvoy recalled. "He did a good job of popping out to an area, so I kind of just dove."

McAvoy's didn't hesitate when it came to putting his body on the line, even if the results had him doubled over on the ice. The last-second block stood as the Jackets' last gasp in search of an equalizer — although McAvoy wasn't able to celebrate with teammates on the ice in the immediate aftermath. He was already down the tunnel, with Bruins head athletic trainer Don DelNegro assessing the damage.

Still, the promising young blueliner didn't have many regrets when addressing the media in front of his locker 30 minutes later.

 “You want to leave your imprint on the game in any way possible and, like I said, I got lucky," McAvoy said. "I threw my body out there, and I was fortunate enough that it hit me. Whatever it takes, right?

"I think you put any person on our bench, I have complete faith that whoever it was out there is going to do that, is going to jump in the lane."

For McAvoy and his teammates, the various welts, cuts and other battle scars incurred on the ice simply come with the territory. But especially in the postseason, putting oneself in harm's way is more than just a good 'ole hockey mantra. It's an obligation.

"It’s great plays, unbelievable," Torey Krug said. "What Chuck did there — it hurts to win." 

Playoff success may be measured by Stanley Cups, goals and highlight-reel stops, but a choice few in Boston's locker room know all too well the kind of spark that can be generated when a teammate welcomes plenty of punishment in pursuit of a greater goal.

“Those are the kind of blocked shots that you tell stories about in the future," Brandon Carlo said. "That was pretty fantastic to see and that just shows his dedication to that win.”

McAvoy is in a much better position than what was afforded to Gregory Campbell back in 2013.

"It stings, but in a good way," McAvoy said his injury, adding, "That’s what it takes, and Butchy has been preaching that, and we all know that."

Still, the sentiment remains the same when it comes to McAvoy and Campbell, and falls in line with Bruce Cassidy's impassioned message to his club midway through Boston's Game 4 victory at Nationwide Arena.

"Play the f------ game the right way," Cassidy preached to his team. "It's hard. It hurts to win. We've been through that a hundred times. That's life in April and May."

If the Bruins are going to extend their 2018-19 campaign into late May and early June, stalwarts like McAvoy are going to have to pay the price for the greater good. Luckily for Boston, it benefited from a game-saving stop while not losing McAvoy to a major injury.

And the B's are going to need McAvoy to continue to operate at a high level going forward. So far, he's answered the call, averaging a team-high 24:47 of ice time through 12 playoff games while tallying a goal and adding five assists. It's a heavy workload for McAvoy, one made even more arduous given the fact only 48.15 percent of his faceoffs have come in the offensive zone — while most of his matchups have been against a top-six forward group. McAvoy hasn't blinked yet — generating a 52.01 CF% and a plus-12 shot differential in 252:25 of 5v5 TOI logged in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, while his expected goals-for mark of 8.82 leads all Bruins skaters.

As he fielded questions in the Bruins' locker room, McAvoy couldn't help but be frank when one query centered around if that frantic third period was "fun."

"I don’t know if I would say fun, man," McAvoy responded. "My heart was beating pretty fast there."

But after a slight pause, he continued.

"I guess you could say it’s fun. I mean, we’re playing hockey here in May, and now we’re a win away from our goal. My goal in every game is to have as much fun as I can and realize just how blessed and how thankful I am to be in these opportunities, but it’s hard. The emotions ran high there at the end, and just really fortunate to get that win there."

For all of the pain that McAvoy's split-second decision brought upon himself — the Bruins now sit just one win away from the Eastern Conference Finals. And just nine wins away from hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup.

A fair trade, in McAvoy's book.