BOSTON - Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy announced Thursday morning that defenseman Steven Kampfer will dress in place of the suspended Charlie McAvoy in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Kampfer was one of two main candidates to fill McAvoy’s roster spot along with fellow Boston blueliner John Moore.
"Staying sharp is hard, especially in playoff time, the intensity bumps up," said Cassidy of Kampfer. "To counter that part, I think he knows the value of being ready opposed to a game in January. The stakes are just so much higher, he's a veteran guy, so he gets it and wants to be part of it."
Kampfer has appeared in just one postseason game this spring, debuting in Game 3 of the first round against Toronto. In that contest, Kampfer recorded no points in 11:06 in time on ice.
Despite filling in for McAvoy on the Bruins' blue line, Kampfer will likely not take all of McAvoy's usual minutes. Cassidy noted that Kampfer will likely fill in for McAvoy on the power play, while rookie Connor Clifton will see an increase in full-strength playing time.
Kampfer will likely be paired with defenseman Matt Grzelcyk.
Fourth line forward Noel Acciari will remain sidelined for Thursday’s contest with an upper-body injury. Walpole native Chris Wagner will play in Acciari's stead, as he did when Acciari was initially scratched before Game 6 of Boston's second-round contest with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Cassidy mentioned on Thursday morning that Acciari remains day-to-day, with Game 2 on Sunday afternoon as the next target date for a potential return. Saturday's practice will allow the staff to better evaluate the forward’s recovery progress, the head coach added.
Even though the Bruins are without one of their top defensemen in McAvoy, the Boston blue line is ready to take on a formidable offense in Game One.
The team was without the defenseman for 28 games this season, with McAvoy appearing in 54 of the Bruins' 82 regular season contests.
"It's no secret he's a workhorse for us, plays a lot of situations," said defenseman Torey Krug of McAvoy. "But, we've shown time and time again it doesn't matter who's in the lineup, or who's out…we're a capable team."
In 13 games this postseason, McAvoy has six points on a goal and five assists.
While McAvoy will have five days off between games, the Bruins head into Game One with just two days of rest coming off their series with Columbus.
Much like their second-round series with the Blue Jackets, Boston enters the contest fresh off a long series win while their opponent has had extended time off. Carolina swept their second-round opponent, the New York Islanders, finishing their series on May 3.
That limited time off could be an advantage to the Bruins, who parlayed momentum gained from a Game Seven win over Toronto into a Game One overtime win against Columbus in the second round.
Boston will hope to repeat the feat against Carolina, who has not played in nearly a week.
"It's nice to get right back into the swing of things," said Cassidy. "Hopefully that's an edge for us because they haven't played."
While the Hurricanes are the lowest seed the Bruins will face at this point in the playoffs, nobody on the squad is taking Carolina lightly.
Finishing fourth in the Metropolitan Division, the Hurricanes entered the postseason as the first wildcard team in the Eastern Conference. They battled the defending champion Washington Capitals to a Game Seven, where they won in overtime, before sweeping the Islanders out of the playoffs.
"It's a good combination of speed and size and grit," Krug said of the Hurricanes. "They're a deep team, they work extremely hard […] it'll be a tough series for us. We're ready for a long battle, and it starts tonight."
Leading the way this season for Carolina have been forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. Aho paced the Hurricanes with 30 goals and 83 points, while Teravainen added 21 goals to his team-high 55 assists. Both players have not missed a game all season.
Defenseman Jacob Slavin is currently the leader in points this postseason for Carolina, tallying 11 points, all of which are assists. He and former Bruin Dougie Hamilton have been formidable members of the Carolina blue line.
"A team that's certainly come a long way in the last 12 months from not making the playoffs to a team that's taking care of business so far," said forward David Backes of what he sees from the Hurricanes. "They play hard, they play fast […] we need to be ready for a very tough opponent."
Justin Williams, the captain of the Hurricanes, brings an extensive postseason resume to an otherwise young Carolina team appearing in their first postseason since 2009. Williams is 8-1 in career Game Sevens.
Jordan Staal presents another difficult challenge for the Bruins. Head coach Rod Brind'Amour will likely try and match up Staal, his best defensive-minded forward, against Boston's best offensive lines in the series.
"He's a big body, and he plays the game up and down the ice pretty well," said center David Krejci. "He's good on faceoffs, drawing is big. So, it'll be tough to play against him, but I think we're ready for it."
Just four wins away from a berth in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Bruins feel they are ready to bring their game to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Game One is slated for an 8 p.m. puck drop on Thursday night in Boston.
"It's a big situation for our team. It's a big game," Krug said. "People say just because it's Game One you have a lot of other games to redeem yourself, but it’s a stepping stone. It sets the tone for the series."
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