Nick Goss

Bruins need Charlie McAvoy to play drastically better to beat Panthers

McAvoy's performance in the playoffs has been underwhelming so far.

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Charlie McAvoy has been one of the NHL's top 10 defensemen for the last couple years, but he hasn't played anywhere near that level for the Boston Bruins in the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs so far.

And if the Bruins are going to eliminate the Panthers and reach the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2019, they need their No. 1 defenseman to play like a $9.5 million player almost every game.

McAvoy is a workhorse for the Bruins. He plays in all situations and leads the team with 25:40 of ice time per game (3:23 more than any teammate), which also ranks No. 6 among all players in the 2024 playoffs. The Bruins rely on McAvoy to make a hugely positive impact in all three zones, but we have yet to see him do that on a consistent basis over the last couple weeks.

In fact, the Bruins have largely been outplayed during McAvoy's 191:29 of even-strength minutes through nine playoff games.

McAvoy was less than stellar, to say the least, during the Bruins' 6-1 loss in Game 2 of their second-round series versus the Panthers on Wednesday night.

He played 13:52 at 5-on-5, and the Panthers had a 16-4 edge in shot attempts, a 6-2 edge in shots on net, a 7-1 advantage in scoring chances and a 2-1 goal differential in those minutes. The opponent is not supposed to dominate to that level when your best defenseman is on the ice.

McAvoy wasn't able to clear the puck along the boards in the defensive zone before the Panthers' second goal. He lost his stick in the process, which made it difficult to stop Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov from scoring the goal in front of the net.

Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman wasn't able to locate the puck on the Panthers' third goal with 0.3 seconds remaining in the second period because McAvoy (and Brad Marchand) screened him. If McAvoy is going to occupy that ice right in front of his goalie, he needs to block the shot.

The Bruins were sloppy to begin the third period, too. The Panthers' first shot of the frame came off a McAvoy turnover. He flipped the puck to the middle of the ice and Anton Lundell intercepted it, skated toward Swayman and fired a shot. It didn't result in a goal, but the Panthers did increase their lead to 4-1 not long after that sequence.

McAvoy turned the puck over three times in Game 2. He has been credited with 16 giveaways through nine playoff games, which is five more than any other player in the league after Wednesday's action.

Puck-handling is usually a strength of McAvoy's skill set. He's a smooth skater and a gifted playmaker. He ignites the transition up ice with a good first pass out of his own zone. But for whatever reason, he hasn't looked very confident with the puck on his stick in this postseason, and it's hurting the Bruins.

McAvoy also had some rough moments in the Bruins' first-round series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. He did a poor job defending Auston Matthews on the Leafs star's winning goal in the third period of Game 2.

He also had some shaky moments with the puck in that series, including a turnover in the first period of Game 7 that could have resulted in a Leafs goal. It was one of three giveaways for McAvoy in Game 7.

It's not just McAvoy's defense and puck handling that have been underwhelming in the playoffs. He's not creating much offense, either. The Bruins need more scoring from their blue line, especially when you consider the lackluster production from their top-six forwards over the last five games.

McAvoy hasn't scored a playoff goal since Game 1 of the Bruins' second-round series versus the New York Islanders in 2021. That's a 27-game postseason goal drought. The 26-year-old defenseman hasn't tallied a single point in the last five games, and only one of his four points (all assists) in the 2024 playoffs has come at 5-on-5.

The Bruins haven't scored a power-play goal since Game 4 of the first round. They are 0-for-9 with the man advantage over the last five games. McAvoy has played 9:15 on the power play during that span, and the Bruins have tallied just two shots and three scoring chances in those minutes. If the Bruins power play is going to be a weapon again, McAvoy is one of the players who must lead the charge in reviving it.

McAvoy is a franchise pillar, and it's important not to let recency bias cloud our view of his immense talent. But he's also had some really bad moments in this playoff run, and overall he hasn't lived up to expectations. Maybe he's battling an injury, but if he's healthy enough to be in the lineup, he needs to play a lot better.

The Bruins should be confident that McAvoy will play better going forward. But it needs to happen fast, or this series could start to slip away from them.

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