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Matt Bartkowski Regaining Confidence After Early Struggles

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

BostonBruins.com - Matt Bartkowski had been awaiting his chance to get back into the Bruins' lineup.

When he did get in, he knew he would be a more confident player.

"Yeah, I'll be myself," he anticipated. "Mentally, I'm where I need to be, whereas before, I was just lacking confidence."

After seven games as a healthy scratch, and the Black and Gold coming off back-to-back 6-1 and 5-1 road losses, he was awarded that chance on Saturday afternoon. The Bruins came away with a 2-1 win over the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden.

Zach Trotman was the healthy scratch. Bartkowski was paired with Torey Krug most of the game. He was a plus-1 with four shots on goal in 17:37 of ice time.

"I think I did alright, for how much time I sat out," Bartkowski said after the win, and after 17 days between games. "I was moving, didn’t really give them too much, a few chances but other than that, it went pretty well."

Bartkowski used one of his best assets - his skating - to push the pace. That led to one turnover in the first period, when he skated the puck up ice but didn't get it through to the forwards in the neutral zone. It led to a 2-on-1 rush, and Tuukka Rask turned aside Jeff Skinner's bid.

The defenseman didn't unravel, though. He regrouped.

"He played good, he was solid," said Rask. "One turnover maybe, but other than that, solid. You know, when he plays with his strengths he’s good. It's good when he gets more comfortable and gets the nerves out of the way and [Saturday] was a good example of that. He played a good game."

"You know, I think he was physical today, he moved the puck, and he did OK," Head Coach Claude Julien offered postgame.

He was then asked how Bartkowski handled his time out of the lineup.

"You’re going to have to ask him - those are questions I can’t answer for a player," said Julien. "All I said before was that he had a good attitude, he worked hard. So the rest of it - how he handled it himself – probably he could answer it for you."

"Just worked hard in practice, worked hard on the bike, in the weight room," said Bartkowski.

But that's always easier said than done, waiting for an opportunity.

The defenseman's most recent game in the lineup had come back on October 28, when the Bruins suffered a three-goal third period collapse in a 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Bartkowski was on the ice for the tying goal, as well as the Wild's first tally of the night.

It was amidst a stretch of four games back in the lineup after sitting for three games. In those four games, the Bruins suffered losses to the Wild and Islanders. Like against Minnesota, Bartkowski was on the ice for two of the Isles' three goals in their 3-2 victory.

He had also been a healthy scratch for three games to start the season, before getting into his first game against Colorado. He was on the ice as the Avs scored the first goal of the night and then scored with less than a second on the clock to take the 2-1 win.

While the Bruins preach playing as a five-man unit, it seemed like every time Bartkowski hit the ice, he was playing timid and chances were ending up in the back of the net.

"The hardest way to play is the way I’m playing right now, is playing not to make mistakes," Bartkowski said back on October 29, the day after the Wild game. "Once I figure out that - once I put a good shift out there where I just go out and play, the confidence is just going to be there."

"It doesn’t have to get better, but it’s time that I need to make it better. So this is what I’m trying to get at it. It’s literally as simple as just going out there and playing hockey, playing the game."

Bartkowski finished that game on the bench, watching from the sidelines.

"It's painful. You want to be a part of the effort, you want to play a role. And I know this time, we have to two D out, I should be playing a bigger role, and my game isn’t warranting it," he said.

The blueliner was struggling. He needed to find his game and his confidence.

It hadn't helped that his struggles occurred during the team's early season rollercoaster.

"I was struggling, It's the worst thing that could happen, because you're not doing well, and then it affects the team that's struggling already, so it just all kind of snowballs," Bartkowski said. "And you want to play better and you want to help the team. You don't want to be a hindrance, you want to be good."

"We just know he's good enough when he's on top of his game to be a good player for us," Julien had said. "So he dug himself a hole, and now he's got to dig himself out of it, and it starts in practice."

It had to start in practice for Bartkowski because he wasn't given a chance back in the lineup. Even with injuries to Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Krug, the Bruins inserted Providence call-ups Trotman, Joe Morrow and David Warsofsky on the back end, instead of Bartkowski. By the time Warsofsky became the latest injured Bruin (out with a groin injury), Krug was healed up - though not 100 percent - and ready for game action.

So Bartkowski practiced, and he continued to work, and he began to gain back his confidence.

By the time two weeks had gone by, he was feeling like himself again, and wasn't even entirely sure how he had gotten there.

"I don't know, just stop really sweating the little things and just play the game, that's about it. It's that simple," Bartkowski said.

"Just taking what's given, pretty much making your first option, moving my feet, and that's about it. It's really just that simple, just playing hockey."

By taking on that mindset, he started having fun with the game again. Getting scored on every night isn't exactly a defenseman's idea of a good time.

During an interview with Bartkowski a week before he got back into game action, a few teammates had walked by him in the locker room as he sat in his stall.

"That's it, Bart!" Milan Lucic had shouted. "Hey, good job today!" Bartkowski shouted back. That's a fairly normal exchange between the pair who always fire back at one another and joke in the room.

Krug also made his way by, shouting "Hey, Baht, how are ya!" in his attempted Boston accent.

"Some of those players sometimes - you'll see players drag other people down with their negative attitude and he's certainly not that player," said Julien.

"It's easy to say. It's an easy thing to say right now, but sometimes it's difficult to do," Bartkowski said. "But you can't really - if you started thinking about the wrong things, then it's not going to be good for anyone."

"I try and stay positive. I could walk around miserable all day and bring people down," he scoffed with a laugh. "And bring myself down, or [I could] just make a few jokes, be happy, stay positive. It's just better for everyone."

Bartkowksi wants the pressure. He wants to play in the tough situations. If he stays focused on playing to the best of his ability game in and game out, he could prove himself more serviceable - like he was when Dennis Seidenberg was lost to injury last season.

He could also make it easier on the Bruins while they await the return of injured players, or down the road, if more injuries arise.

Bartkowski once spoke about the "shift at a time" mindset that he needs to take.

"Put something together, do something right each shift, make a hit, make a play, just chip the puck out, whatever it may be," he said.

"If you think of taking all those little things, and putting them together - bam, bam, bam, bam, bam - and just be consistent."

That's something that would benefit both Bartkowski and the Bruins.

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