- Matt Bartkowski
has had a whirlwind of a week in the Black & Gold.
Amidst of all of the outside trade talk, the defenseman has kept his calm approach, and the easy-going 24-year-old earned himself a spot back in the lineup Sunday in Buffalo for his third game with Boston since being recalled on March 22 and his 12th career NHL game.
A strong puck-handler and skater, Bartkowski's heads-up pass in the third period helped get the Bruins on the board first, breaking the scoreless 50-plus minutes of hockey against the Sabres. Not a bad way to record his first-ever NHL point.
After Milan Lucic used his power in the corner, he kept control skating through the slot and slipped the puck to Bartkowski at the left point, who quickly found the seam to Nathan Horton between the hash marks. Ryan Miller couldn't control the rebound on No. 18's backhander, and David Krejci whacked away at the loose puck to give the Bruins the 1-0 lead, in the eventual 2-0 shutout.
"Just kind of a monkey off the back I guess," said Bartkowski from the visiting team locker room, on getting the first NHL point. "I mean, we won the game, so it's always nice when you can contribute in that way."
His teammates were excited for his contribution as well - with Bartkowski surrounded by media after the win, a few B's disrupted the start of the interview by calling out "Oh, Yeah!" and "Matt Bart-kow-ski" as they passed through the locker room.
"We were throwing pucks at the net, and getting second and third opportunities - a lot of good traffic form the forwards," he said on the Bruins sticking to their game plan in the lead-up to the goal. "I guess I kind of backed off and protected the house and Horty got open, so it was good."
After the first period, the B's defensemen had six of their 10 shots, and Andrew Ference was spearheading the effort with three of his own. Through two periods of action, the blueline had 12 of 22 shots, two of those coming off Bartkowski's stick. But the net-front presence wasn't necessarily there for the B's in full effect until the final 20 minutes, when they scored the two goals as a result of net-drive and bodies in front of Miller.
"Yeah, there's nothing wrong with the D leading the shots," Bartkowski quipped with a smile. "Just need traffic in front and hop on the rebounds, like you said, and we did that and it kind of opened up some lanes for us."
Bartkowski logged 11:05 in ice time Sunday night, which may be his lowest total in the three games with Boston (15:34 on 3/25, 13:05 on 3/23, both games against Toronto) but that was more a product of the scoreless, tight defensive game, with Dennis Seidenberg ending the night at 28:00 in ice time as a result.
The call-up has been getting into the groove since his first game this season against Toronto, filling in on Boston's back end for Johnny Boychuk initially (who missed three games with a lower-body injury) and now for Adam McQuaid (still out 2-3 weeks with a shoulder strain).
"He's definitely more assertive, more confident since the last time - not this year, but the other years that we've had him," said Coach Julien, referring to Bartkowski's development over the years with Boston and Providence. "And he skates the puck up the ice when he has to, and he's really developed into a pretty good defenseman."
"He used that versatility there," Coach added, on the Krejci's eventual game-winner he helped set up. "We wanted to have a good look at him and he's a good player. And we want to make sure that if he's going to play that well, we give him a chance to play, not just to watch [from the press box]."
Bartkowski has been finding a rhythm in Providence this season - coming off a 2011-12 season that ended short due to injury - and starting to translate that at the NHL level. In Providence, he was often playing 20-25 minutes a night, against the opposition's top players, and was the most veteran D-man on the roster.
In December, when the NHL was still amidst a lockout, P-Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy talked about getting Bartkowski into the Boston mindset, where he can use his skating ability to start the rush and push the pace up ice.
"Matt is definitely still a prospect, but I don’t want him to wake up one day and just be a guy that you know, Boston can just use in a pinch," explained Cassidy back on December 26. "We want to convince him that you’re going to be the 'next guy.'
"So he’s taken on that mindset and that challenge."
Now that he has the opportunity up with the big club, Bartkowski is trying to take full advantage.
"I always hope to play," he said following the win over Buffalo, when asked about Coach giving the back end a different look Sunday, adding him in (and putting Aaron Johnson as the healthy scratch) after the loss to Philadelphia on Saturday. "So I don't necessarily think about that in that sense but shaking things up always helps and getting different looks from different guys."