BOSTON, MA – The Bruins have a bit of a trend going. In two straight games, they have gotten stellar play from young, call-up defensemen. And both times, one of those 'young guns' delivered his first career NHL goal.
On Thursday night, it was call-up Torey Krug's turn to score his first-ever NHL goal, in his first-ever NHL playoff game.
Just four days prior, in Game Seven of the B’s first round series against Toronto, Matt Bartkowski, playing in just his second career playoff game, tallied Boston’s first goal of the game - and the first NHL goal of his career - just over five minutes into the first period from the left faceoff circle.
Bartkowski was called up from the AHL affiliate Providence Bruins and stepped into a depleted defense corps, that saw Andrew Ference and Wade Redden sidelined. Just 37 seconds into that game, Dennis Seidenberg was done for the night with an injury of his own.
With three key injuries on the back end, the B’s were in need of yet another replacement. On Tuesday, Krug was recalled from the P-Bruins and was inserted into the lineup for Game 1 of Boston’s second round series against the New York Rangers on Thursday night, when it was determined the vets still couldn't go.
Krug looked right at home in his first career playoff game. And when the Bruins were trailing 2-1 after a potential back-breaking goal just 14 seconds into the third period, it was the 22-year-old, on the power play, driving one from the left faceoff circle 2:41 to erase the Rangers' early score.
“It was amazing,” he said, of getting the goal to tie it up. “I’ve said before that my main goal is to come in here and try to help the team win, and I was fortunate enough to do that.”
The 22-year-old played almost 17 minutes, including 1:52 on the man advantage, and registered three shots on goal in the Bruins 3-2 overtime win. His ability lies in his skating, and the B's let him loose.
“It was huge, there’s no doubt,” said B’s Head Coach Claude Julien of Krug’s goal. “Like I said, for his first goal he couldn’t have asked for better timing. Again, it just shows how good a player he is. Those young guys back there don’t lack confidence. That’s been really important for us.
"Not only did he score a big goal, but he just moved that puck so well."
“Torey’s come in to his first game, and although he played a couple games with us last year and was a call-up this year, he certainly did a great job of coming into this situation and just going out there and playing the way he normally does. We asked him to do that and that’s exactly what he did.”
Krug took advantage of the opportunity he was given on the power play. The goal was scored in a similar spot to Bartkowski’s tally in Game Seven against Toronto. Krug took a patient pass from Dougie Hamilton, who had draw the defenders to him, opening up a lane for Krug to walk in from the blueline and let go a slap shot from the top of the left circle, with the puck squirting past Henrik Lundqvist to tie the game.
“I think the key to every power play is to get pucks to the net, and that’s one of the strengths of my game,” said Krug. “I was just working as hard as I can to open up that shot lane and it really wasn’t that hard to. I had a lot of time and space, and Dougie made a great play.”
The Bruins have been benefiting from stellar play out of their trio of young defensemen. Krug, Bartkowski, and Hamilton have provided stability to the B’s over the last two games, with the three minute-logging veterans out of the lineup.
“I thought they played really well,” said Julien of the rookies. “They deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled themselves, all three of them."
“A lot of times, [Torey] played against their third line which is a pretty heavy line. I thought he handled them extremely well."
With three 'rookie' defensemen in the lineup, it marked the first time that the Bruins had a trio of the kind since 1985, when Frank Simonetti, John Blum and Mats Thelin played against the Montreal Canadiens.
At that time, Ray Bourque had been one of the steady vets on the back end. This time around, it was Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid pulling their weight, while showing confidence in the young additions.
“I thought we had a real good effort, obviously from those young guys, but our D corps was good tonight. I thought our whole team was, for that matter.”
Krug said he didn’t feel any nerves in his first taste of the Stanley Cup playoffs; the transition from postseason hockey in Providence, along with the similar system the two affiliates employ, made it easy to adapt.
He also had a very communicative back end helping him make the simple plays breaking the puck out and quickly up ice, one of his strengths.
His goaltender, Tuukka Rask, also lent a hand.
"I was just sitting over there right after the game and I was thinking to myself how easy it is to play when your goalie is talking to you like that," said Krug, of Rask's communication from between the pipes. Krug's stall in the locker room has Bartkowski on his right side, with Anton Khudobin and Rask on his left.
"Every time I got the puck he’s yelling something over my shoulder and I knew where to go with it."
And it wasn't only Rask helping him feel comfortable on the ice.
“Right when I first got here, I got that feeling,” said Krug, noting how he felt right at home upon arriving to Boston. “I’m very comfortable with the group of guys in here. I’m comfortable in a sense that they were giving me the puck all night and they weren’t nervous in that regard, so it was very exciting to get out there.
“These guys in here are an unbelievable group of guys, the confidence that the coaching staff showed in me and the other guys showed it. I felt very comfortable out there.”