2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs

Ryan: Belief & brotherhood have been hallmarks of 2018-19 Bruins, and it’s stronger than ever going into Cup Final

(Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

RALEIGH, N.C. — It was no fluke.

It was the message that Charlie McAvoy harped on as he held court outside of his locker at TD Garden back on March 7.

Thirty minutes earlier, the Bruins had just etched another chapter in what is now shaping up to be a storybook season for the Original Six club.

For just the second time in franchise history, Boston managed to overcome a deficit in the final minute of regulation and still win before going into overtime — with goals from Matt Grzelcyk and Patrice Bergeron just 29 seconds apart capping off a wild 4-3 victory over the Panthers.

It was a miraculous comeback for this never-say-die crop of players, who extended the club’s point streak to 18 straight games in the process.

The odds facing Boston in those closing minutes seemed improbable when watching high above the ice at press level of TD Garden. But on the bench, the result seemed inevitable.

For as much as a shift / period / game / season can all hinge on a tumbling puck or a whiff in the slot, this Bruins club isn’t one to resign itself to things like puck luck. Not this team.

“I know what’s going on in here and how we feel as a team, the culture that is created with this group,” McAvoy said on that night back in March. "We’re finding our stride. It’s so fun coming to the rink every day. We really are a family, a brotherhood."

Belief — and brotherhood — are what drives this Bruins club.

It’s been the case since they dropped a 7-0 result to the Capitals in their season opener.

It’s been the case when injuries decimated their blue line during a brutal stretch in November.

And it became stronger than ever following a 26-6-5 run orchestrated over the second half of the regulation.

And now — this band of brothers has earned the right to compete for hockey’s top prize.

The day before the Bruins punched their ticket to the Stanley Cup Final for the third time in eight years, Charlie Coyle echoed McAvoy’s sentiments when it comes to the culture instilled within the locker room of the Original Six club.

Coyle, one of Boston’s deadline-week pickups back in February in anticipation of an extended postseason push, might be one of the newcomers on this team — but even from afar, he heard whispers of the kind of operation that the Bruins run from inside the room.

“I don’t know if there’s one word for it,” Coyle said at PNC Arena on Wednesday afternoon. "But being in Minnesota for however many years, you hear stories about the locker room and the leadership. Then you come in and experience it and you’re involved in it and you become part of it and it's everything you heard and more. ... The leadership, it just trickles down and everyone just follows suit.

“And it’s not just one guy, it’s a lot of guys, and everyone kind of picks up after that.”

What better way to exemplify that mindset than in the immediate aftermath of Boston’s series-clinching victory over the Hurricanes in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

The stalwarts that have left their fingerprints all over three Stanley Cup Finals appearances once again led the way in Raleigh — with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand combining for three goals and five points in what was a dominant showing from the B’s top line.

But across the rest of the lineup, Bruce Cassidy’s crew was without some key pieces.

On the fourth line, Noel Acciari slotted in for Chris Wagner — who likely surrendered a chance to play in the Cup Final by putting his body on the line during a blocked shot in Game 3.

On the blue line, the Bruins are still without Kevan Miller, limited to just 39 games this year due to a laundry list of ailments, including a fractured hand, cartilage damage to his larynx and his current lower-body injury. Joining Miller on Thursday night — captain Zdeno Chara, missing his first playoff matchup since back in 2011 against Montreal.

And yet, despite the absences in the D corps, Boston once again did not relinquish a single inch against the ‘Canes in their own building.

“I think relentless is what we always talk about,” Matt Grzelcyk said. “It’s kind of written on the boards, whatever it takes to get the job done.”

By the time the dust had settled on a 4-0 Bruins victory, Carolina had only managed to generate three high-danger scoring chances against Tuukka Rask — who closed out another series with a shutout performance.

In Chara’s absence, Boston’s top defensive pairing featured a pair of skaters with an average age of 23 in McAvoy and Grzelcyk. Together, the Hurricanes only managed to land three shots on goal during the 8:04 of 5v5 TOI in which the BU products were out together on a shift.

John Moore — playing in his first game since April 23 — logged 1:32 of shorthanded TOI on a penalty kill that ended the four-game sweep by negating the last 13 power plays for Carolina. Connor Clifton, largely viewed as a depth option down in Providence going into the 2018-19 campaign, has excelled in place of Miller — averaging 13:20 of ice time over 12 playoff matchups.

“Next man up,” David Backes said. “You’ve got Zee that was out, you’ve got Wags that was out, back in Boston. Kevan Miller that’s out — and those guys have shown how much it hurts to win and sacrifice themselves. Whoever is up next needs to fill that role admirably ... Next guy into the lineup, we’re taking them under our wing like the brothers we are and getting the job done.”

Seventy days after McAvoy stood outside of his locker on that chilly March night, the 21-year-old defenseman hasn’t changed his tone at all when it comes to a Bruins team on the cusp of another title. The sight of Chara, fully dressed with skates and all in the handshake line, should say it all about this group.

“It’s not easy out there. But man, is it fun. … I’ve got to count my blessings, and I always do,” he said. “I couldn’t be more fortunate to be a Boston Bruin.”

The road isn’t going to get any easier for the Bruins against either the Blues or Sharks. But at this point, this team isn’t dwelling too much on what awaits them in the fourth and final round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“We’re concentrated on the Boston Bruins winning a Stanley Cup,” Backes said. “With this group of brothers we’ve created here, we’re all in for our team, and whoever the opponent is, we’re gonna face them head on.”

Belief is what drives the 2018-19 Bruins, and their confidence isn’t wavering anytime soon. They believe that they’re just getting started. They believe they’re the favorites against whichever club the Western Conference throws at them. They believe that they’re one of the best Bruins teams assembled in the franchise’s 95- year history.

And they can etch those claims into finality with four more wins this spring.