Unlikely sources always emerge in the postseason. For the Bruins, that’s been just about everyone, with 19 goal scorers contributing in the playoffs through Sunday’s Game 2.
Perhaps one of the more unlikely stars though has been Connor Clifton.
Forced into bigger roles due to injuries or suspensions, the 24-year-old has held his own in his first 10 career playoff games, and first 29 NHL games overall. He was rewarded in Game 2 with a goal, the first of his career, to put the Bruins ahead 3-0 en route to a 6-2 win.
Game 3 is tonight in Raleigh, N.C.
His style of play might be spirited, but his poise has left him prepared for this moment.
“I think just keeping an open mind, taking everything in,” he said. “It’s my first year playing in the NHL, and I didn’t know too much of what to expect. I’m still taking everything in. I don’t even know what my expectations were.”
Clifton was up on the play when he scored his goal, much deeper than a young, inexperienced defenseman might feel comfortable with in most circumstances.
But Clifton hasn’t backed down from much since he made his NHL debut back in November, and played 19 regular-season games over two different stints.
He’s left an imprint on each game he’s played, and the room has taken notice.
“We call it Cliffy Hockey,” said Torey Krug. “He just goes out there and plays like no one else. He thrives off instinct. The offensive part of it, he sees a chance and grabs the puck and goes and he’s not scared to hold onto it. He’s been a great addition to this group.”
While plenty of Clifton’s game can be written off as a high-motor type style, and extremely aggressive, he hasn’t found himself in too much trouble. He’s gotten back on defense and has avoided getting burned for the most part.
The coaching staff has confidence to let him loose, but even that came from development over time where he’s established the type of game he plays can work.
“We have confidence in Connor,” said head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He’s not shying away from the moment. ... That’s all we saw in him, when we first saw him at development camp, I thought he was a winger more than a defenseman at first, he was up and down the ice. That’s great, you’ve got an assertive guy, it’s better to coach back than push a guy ahead to do that.”
Clifton hasn’t even been in every playoff game, and John Moore is apparently healthy enough to play.
It’s telling that Clifton has not only stayed in the lineup, but has seen his role increase all year.
Whatever they ask him to do, he’s ready.
“The same mentality you have throughout the year is next man up,” said Clifton. “You want to help the team, and so you’re going to do your job and practice like it’s a game, be ready for the call.”