BOSTON -- After enjoying good health nearly all season long, the Bruins' defense corps is suddenly reeling.
In the last two games of the regular season, the B's lost Torey Krug to a presumed right knee injury and Brandon Carlo to a suspected concussion. The team is calling them 'lower-body' (Krug) and 'upper-body' (Carlo) injuries and is listing both as day-to-day . . . though it's assumed everyone on the roster will be considered day-to-day regardless of their injury severity until their playoff run is over.
But Krug, who hobbled out of TD Garden Thursday night on crutches wearing a bulky knee brace, appears to be sidelined longer than day-to-day. It might be a more accurante description for Carlo, who was hurt when he was drilled in the corner by Alex Ovechkin on Saturday. At age 20 and with no concussion history to speak of, he might be able to bounce back more quickly given that Boston's first-round playoff series won't start until Wednesday or Thursday.
Even in the best-case scenario, though, the B's will most likely be down at least one top-four defenseman when the playoffs open next week. And that's not at all good, considering how thin they are on defense to begin with.
It was clear watching the last couple of games that either of the Bruins' potential first-round opponent, Ottawa or Washington, will be able to contain a Krug-less Bruins breakout. And the vaunted B's power play is a shadow of itself without their top point man (Krug has six power-play goals and a team-high 25 PP points) creating scoring plays from up top.
"We're not going to be able to replace what he does," said interim coachg Bruce Cassidy. "[Krug] is a special talent: Power play, first-pass breakout and leads us into the transition [game]. He does all those things, so the onus will be on us to make the necessary reads on the breakout. We're going to miss his ability to get us going on offense in a hurry."
Cassidy can talk about all the "necessary reads" in the world, but it's not going to suddenly transform plodding, physical stay-at-home D-men like Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller and Zdeno Chara into sleek puck-movers, and that's what the Bruins are missing right now. So what do they do if Krug is out and any opponent attacks them with a plan that includes forcing Boston's blueliners into mistakes with constant pressure?
Well, the good news is that the highly talented Colin Miller looked good in his return to the lineup Saturday. Miller jumped a play at the Washington blue line and then scored his sixth goal of the season following up at the net on the rebound. It was the highlight of 20:22 of pretty strong work from Miller with four hits, five shot attempts and a couple of blocked shots along with the goal and a plus-1 rating.
If they could count on that from Miller every night during the playoffs, that would cushion the blow of losing Carlo and Krug for a bit.
"Colin always does some good things," said Cassidy. "He has the attributes to play, physical attributes: He's a good skater, he's willing to battle, can shoot, pass. It's just a matter of calming his game down in those other situations when it's time to make reads, defend and, you know, if a puck doesn't cooperate with him. It's just about having the composure to settle it down, get it out of trouble, and live to fight another day.
"Some young players go through that. Then going forward in the playoffs . . . it will be an even bigger stage. So you just have to kind of enjoy the moment . . . be in the moment but not get too caught up in the moment, and I think that will be the test for him."
An even more enticing option continues to be 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy, who both Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney watched in person on Friday night. McAvoy has things to learn defensively and about the overall structure of Boston's system in the D-zone, but he's the only player in the organization who potentially has the goods offensively to replace Krug both 5-on-5 and on the power play. The former BU standout can find the seams in the middle of the ice, kick-start breakouts with clever, poised passing to teammates in stride while under pressure, and is a natural power-play quarterback from the point position. His addition immediately improved the Providence Bruins' special teams.
On its face it's a natural, easy choice for the Bruins to bring McAvoy to Boston now that Carlo and Krug are on the shelf. But that would involve burning the first year of McAvoy's entry-level contract and would cost the team long-term by allowing him to hit free agencuy sooner.
Still, the playoffs are here and the Bruins need help. It's time for Miller and McAvoy -- and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and Anders Bjork, for that matter -- to turn from prospects to honest-to-goodness NHL players.