BOSTON — When you broach the subject of the upcoming playoffs with Brandon Carlo, you probably should have a piece of wood nearby to knock, for his sake.

For two years, the young Boston Bruins defenseman has been on the cusp of making his playoff debut, only to have those dreams shattered by a late-season injury. In his rookie season, he played all 82 regular-season games, only to be concussed in the final game by an Alex Ovechkin hit. Last season, he played 76 games before suffering a gruesome, season-ending ankle injury with five games remaining.

But with a playoff spot already clinched, Carlo – perhaps with all fingers and toes crossed this time – is looking forward to the postseason once again. And with his best season yet as a pro almost under his belt, the 6-foot-5 Carlo very well could represent the biggest difference in this year’s Bruins model from the one that got bounced in the second round last year. With no Bruins defenseman skating more than Charlie McAvoy’s leading 22:11, Carlo (20:58, plus-18) is right behind Zdeno Chara (21:06, plus-21) in average ice time and plus/minus. He has become a reliable defensive force.

Carlo’s rookie season was full of promise. He even contributed more offensively (6 goals, 10 assists) than expected. But in his second season, he was moved off the top pair with Chara and skated primarily with Torey Krug, his current partner. It did not go as well. Not only did it seem like he made more mistakes, he allowed those he made to eat away at him.

But this year, not only is Carlo physically stronger than he was when he first got into the league – a natural progression – he’s mentally sturdier. Part of that he owes to his Christian faith, on which he’s been focusing more this year. It’s helped him put the game in perspective, he said. And part of it has just been getting experience under his belt.

“Once I got more of my mental game under me throughout this year, I started taking strides forward,” Carlo said. “When I make a mistake, I don’t really think about it anymore. I brush it off and move on to the next play. That’s a big thing the coaches have talked to me about, the staff as well at the end of last season. Just learning from that experience has been really big for me. And watching other players in the league do it as well. The Erik Karlssons, the Drew Doughtys, when they make a mistake, it doesn’t faze them. You can tell. With that, I feel like it’s been a very big progression for me this year.”

And no, he doesn’t put himself in that class of player. While his strong skating ability, plus the tease of his first year of production, might have confused him a bit on who he might be as an NHL player going into last season, he seems pretty confident about who he is and will be going forward.

“You don’t want to get outside of your identity, and it’s been working for me,” Carlo said. “I’m doing as well as I could have ever dreamed in the NHL. I know I’m not the guy who gets a lot of points or who’s going to be the face of the franchise, but I’m fine with that. I’m fine being the guy behind the scenes and working as hard as I can each day.”

Not that his eyes still don’t get big every now and then. It happened Monday at Tampa Bay when, with the Bruins holding a 4-2 lead in the third period, he decided to turn a 3-on-2 into a 4-on-2. His shot went over the net, the Lightning quickly went on transition, and the game suddenly was 4-3. It unraveled from there, as Tampa Bay added two more goals for a 5-4 win.

But if Carlo’s season continues on its current arc, it will be a valuable lesson learned.

“I had my skating legs under me, so I was just joining the play and I felt like I had the speed and opportunity to do that,” said Carlo, who already had scored a goal earlier in the game, just his second of the year. “But with (the Lightning), they didn’t mind trading chances, and at that point I probably should have been a little more conservative.”

Carlo also hopes he got a taste of what the playoffs will be like in that Tampa game. Having not played in the postseason yet, he wasn’t able to say if it felt like a playoff game. But it certainly didn’t feel like just another regular-season game.

“I felt like the energy in the building was up there in caliber of what it will be like,” Carlo said. “I thought that right before the game even started, right when we came out. The building just erupted. I thought, ‘This is probably what it’s going to be like to play in the playoffs. It’s exciting. I like that energy.”

ISLANDERS: Yarmouth native Oliver Wahlstrom agreed to a three-year contract that will begin next season, according to

Wahlstrom, 18, is leaving Boston College after playing one season for the Eagles. The Islanders’ first-round pick in last year’s draft is likely to finish this season with Bridgeport of the American Hockey League on an amateur tryout contract.


CAPITALS 3, HURRICANES 2: Nic Dowd scored on a deflection with 4:56 remaining, and Washington clinched a playoff berth with a victory at Carolina.

Brett Connolly and Jakub Vrana also scored and Braden Holtby made 24 saves to help the reigning Stanley Cup champions reach the 100-point mark for the fifth straight year and wrap up their 11th spot in the playoffs in 12 seasons.

BLUE JACKETS 6, CANADIENS 2: Oliver Bjorkstrand scored twice, Sergei Bobrovsky made 28 saves and Columbus beat visiting Montreal to move into an Eastern Division wild-card spot.

The Blue Jackets are tied with Montreal for the second wild card with five games remaining but hold the tiebreaker. Carolina, which lost to Washington on Thursday, is one point ahead in the first slot.

David Savard, Artemi Panarin, Riley Nash and Brandon Dubinsky also scored for Columbus.

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