BOSTON - In the sport of hockey, the "next man up" mantra echoes throughout every locker room at various points in an arduous season. When injuries inevitably strike, players are thrust into action - often after sitting for long stretches. These players, their teammates and their coaches all undoubtedly discuss the importance of the "next man up" playing his game and doing what he can to help the team.
Easier said than done.
"Staying sharp is hard," said head coach Bruce Cassidy prior to Game 1 against the Hurricanes. "Especially playoff time, the intensity ramps up…It's a tough spot, but every team gets dealt that hand with certain players throughout the series, and teams that respond the best usually advance."
Enter Steven Kampfer.
A veteran of nine NHL seasons, Kampfer cut his teeth as a rookie with the Stanley Cup winning Bruins team in 2011. The Michigan-native played 38 games that regular season. Kampfer has exceeded that mark only once since (47 games in 2015-16 with the Florida Panthers). He is all too familiar with the role of depth defenseman. Not knowing when his next game may come, his responsibility is to stay sharp, especially in the postseason.
"I think he knows the value of being ready as opposed to a game in the middle of January," said Cassidy. "The stakes are just so much higher. He's a veteran guy, so he gets it, wants to be a part of it, a good thing and a good game. So, I think your focus is more sharp this time of year, so that kind of balances the two things, but it's not easy…The guys that are good pros, you hope they've taken care of themselves; I think Stevie has."
Video: Cassidy standouts in the Game 1 victory
The Bruins depth was tested tremendously this season, with 12 different defenseman seeing game action with the big club. Kampfer appeared in 35 contests, averaging 14:38 TOI and recording 3 goals and 3 assists for 6 points. When Charlie McAvoy was suspended for a high hit to Josh Anderson in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals, it was Kampfer who was tapped to fill in.
On his first shift of the night during Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Hurricanes, Kampfer took a slick backhand feed from Marcus Johansson and rifled a shot past Petr Mrazek to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
"I mean it felt great," said Kampfer following the 5-2 victory. "I couldn't have done it without Marcus here making a great play, so I think a lot of it - like I've talked to David [Backes] before - it's about keeping your mind in the moment and making sure you're ready for your next opportunity."
Video: CAR@BOS, Gm1: Kampfer opens scoring early for Bruins
Kampfer's teammates were thrilled to see the 30-year-old find the back of the net.
"Outstanding, for a player that's been out of the lineup for quite some time," said captain Zdeno Chara. "I've been talking about him a couple days ago, he's always in a positive mindset and he works hard. It's not easy to come into a playoff game, for a guy like that who's been out of the lineup for four or five weeks he did a hell of a job and obviously a big goal for us. He played a strong game."
At one point during the season, the 5-foot-11 blue liner went 79 days between games (Dec. 23 - Mar. 12). Kampfer's most recent appearance prior to the Game 1 win over Carolina was Game 3 of the first-round series versus Toronto on April 15. After long absences, Kampfer noted the importance of making an impact early.
"Your first couple shifts you either want to get a hit or you want to make a play and I was fortunate that was my first shift in the game," said Kampfer. "You know, I got to make a play, so it was nice. But, you know, when it's all said and done, you just want to help the team win and that was the end goal today and we came out in the third and we played really well."
Video: Kampfer and Johansson contribute goals in Game 1
His contributions to the opening victory in the Eastern Conference Final were crucial.
"It was awesome," said Kampfer. "I don't know, it's nice to get a goal, get the lead early. You know, the fans here are awesome, so just I guess to hear the crowd after was awesome. But, you know, you're just trying to jumpstart the team and hopefully it keeps going."
When a depth player is able to step up in a big moment, the impact it has on the entire team is tangible.
"It's good more for the group, I think," said Cassidy of Kampfer breaking through with the goal. "I mean, obviously, the individual is happy, don't get me wrong. But the whole bench-the way our team is constructed and the way those guys want to play for one another. I think it means just as much to the rest of guys to say, 'Hey, this guy hasn't played in a while, he's ready, he's on time, he catches the pass, he's not flustered, he zips it in a good spot,' so it just tells you, preparation and maturity, too, to be able to jump into that spot, not get flustered.
"I think it means just as much, like I said, for the group to know, 'next man up.' I mean the expression around Boston has been here for a while, and we're certainly going into it."