NEW YORK -- For any team, missing three veteran defensemen in the first three games of a playoff series would provide a sizeable disadvantage. But the Boston Bruins, who have been without Dennis Seidenberg, Wade Redden and Andrew Ference for their entire Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the New York Rangers, barely have skipped a beat.
With three rookie defensemen plugged into a lineup that has delivered a commanding 3-0 series lead against the Rangers entering Game 4 Thursday at Madison Square Garden (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, TSN, RDS), Boston's defense hasn't just gotten by.
"They got better," Seidenberg said with a chuckle. "It's nice to have that depth on [defense]. To have guys step up and play the way they have, it takes a little pressure off you coming back. They've been playing really well. You couldn't ask for more."
Two of the defensemen who have plugged those big holes on defense, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski, came directly from the Providence Bruins, the team's American Hockey League affiliate. And the poise and calmness the pair has demonstrated, along with 19-year-old Dougie Hamilton, speaks volumes about the organizational depth of a team that is among the best in the League.
"Our organization always likes to have big depth. Not just in here with us, but even in our farm team in Providence," Bruins forward David Krejci said. "You can see we have a few guys from Providence who played there all year, Bartkowski and Krug. They have been a big part of this team in the playoffs. It's good to know when a few guys are down, it's not just up to a few guys to step up. Anyone can do the job on this team."
Considering how the pair had played in Providence, their recent performance shouldn't be a surprise. Krug was fourth among AHL defensemen this season with 45 points in 63 games, while Bartkowski was second among Providence defensemen with 24 points in 56 games. Together, they led a P-Bruins team that boasted the best record in the AHL this season. Even without their two best defensemen, the team entered Wednesday locked in a Game 7 matchup against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, with the winner earning a spot in the conference finals against the Syracuse Crunch.
"When I first came into the locker room, I felt very comfortable. The more you contribute to the team, the more you feel like part of the team," said Krug, who lauded the efforts of the Bruins' veterans to integrate the younger players into their system. "The big thing is just talking. The more you talk, the easier the game is. Communication is the biggest thing."
It's easy to be impressed with the Bruins' young defensemen now that the team enjoys a stranglehold in its second-round series. But entering Game 1 against a Rangers team known for its aggressive forecheck and ability to wear down the opposing defense, there was some uncertainty about how the young players would stack up.
"I was surprised in Game 1 against the Rangers how the new guys from Providence did. They did really well," said Krejci, who noted how properly integrating AHL call-ups has been imperative to Boston's success. "We just try to make them feel comfortable. The coaches want them to play the same game as they play down in Providence. They're great guys. We just try to make them feel welcome, make them feel comfortable, and try to make them feel like part of the team."
The new additions didn't just maintain Boston's defense. They changed it, maybe even enhanced it. Particularly Krug and Bartkowski, who added some of the slick skating they demonstrated in Providence to a blue line not necessarily known for that particular set of skills.
"When you watch them during the season, they're taking the body, they're physical guys, teams are a little intimidated to come in and play against them," Krug said of the Bruins' blue-line corps. "Now we have a little bit of a different look. We have a couple of skaters in the lineup who can move the puck up the ice. It's an interesting dynamic."
All of which could make for some interesting decisions once the veterans get healthy. But no matter how long those older players remain out, the organization has all the confidence in the world in their Providence prospects.
"We've had a few guys come up, and every time they did they've worked really hard and fit right in," Seidenberg said. "It's nice to have that depth in the organization."