BOSTON — It’s difficult for a secondary assist to earn a spot in history.
But if the Bruins go on to greater glory in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, Adam McQuaid’s assist on Nathan Horton’s Game 7 overtime game-winner Wednesday will be one of the key plays of the entire run.
It took tons of courage for the rookie to pinch in and keep the puck alive in the Montreal zone in sudden-death overtime of a deciding postseason game.
“At the time, I was just trying to focus and play it like any other shift,” said McQuaid after the Bruins practiced at TD Garden today in preparation for Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with Philadelphia. “You’ve got to be careful in overtime to not give up any odd-man rushes. But I felt like I could get to the puck. Looking back, if it had gone the other way, gone by me or something, I wouldn’t have been too happy. But things worked out for me.”
McQuaid’s pinch, as you can see, had him below the right faceoff dot for a solid nine seconds battling for the puck before Milan Lucic turned and dished it to Horton.
McQuaid admits those nine seconds felt a lot longer.
“If I’m down there, I usually try to get back out as quick as I can,” he said after the game. “I don’t usually spend too much time down there. It did feel like it was a little long. But the puck was there, so I was just trying to battle for it.”
While moving into the attack isn’t McQuaid’s usual style, he has mixed it into his repertoire as his rookie season evolved. He managed to finish the regular season with three goals and 15 points because he was able to complement his solid shot from the point with strong decision-making on the pinch. He finished the Montreal series with two assists and a plus-3 rating.
Once regarded strictly as a stay-at-home defenseman, McQuaid has shown there’s an offensive bent to his game.
“Throughout the season, you’ve seen him get better and better and we encourage our Ds to jump in there when they can,” said head coach Claude Julien. “And I talked to our players about playing to win the game and we can’t be on our heels, and that’s kind of what he did. He anticipated something that he thought he could do.
“At the same time I think our Ds have felt very confident that our forwards are covering them up. That’s kind of what happened on that play. He went in and obviously we had [Lucic] behind and we had [Horton] behind as well. And that kind of gave him that opportunity. It’s nice to see that kind of guy grow and get more confident and get better and that’s what he’s done. And you’re right in saying that, because last year he wouldn’t have done that.”
Last year at this time, McQuaid was just holding a place in Boston’s lineup against Philadelphia until Mark Stuart came back. And then McQuaid got hurt in Game 3 and didn’t play again. Even that brief taste of postseason play, however, might’ve given McQuaid the confidence he needs to keep making those types of game-turning plays.
“I think last year’s experiences helped me this year, not only in the playoffs but in the regular season,” McQuaid said. “And then getting more experience being up here this year. I remember the second round was even more intense than the first round, so I’ll at least be prepared for that.”
The Flyers will have to be prepared for a more active McQuaid as well.