BostonBruins.com - In late March, as the trade deadline was looming, Matt Bartkowski thought he would be on his way to Calgary, with rumors swirling that he would be involved in Boston's trade for Jarome Iginla.
On May 13, during Game Seven against the Toronto Maple Leafs and arguably the most pressurized game of his career, he scored his first NHL goal in only his second playoff game - as a Boston Bruin.
When the Iginla trade fell through, it left the defenseman in what could have been a tense situation for a few days. But, understanding the business side of the NHL, and being the easy-going 24-year-old that he is, Bartkowksi took it in stride.
"They like my play, they want me here, it's just part of the game," he had been told by the Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli.
"It's a pretty cool feeling to know that I have the potential, at least they think I have the potential, to be a pretty good player in the future."
The future didn't take all that long.
His first NHL goal, and first playoff goal, put the Bruins on the board first against the Leafs and got the crowd at TD Garden to erupt. What happened in the next 40 minutes wasn't all too exciting for the Bruins - and their fans - but at the end of the night, following the three-goal third period historic comeback and overtime win, Bartkowski got to enjoy the ability to help Boston into the second round.
"Any way you split it, it's playoff hockey," said Bartkowski, unphased by his quick transition from the AHL postseason to NHL. "So it wasn't too difficult of a transition, just had to make sure I played hard."
Before joining the Bruins, the blueliner had just finished helping Boston's American Hockey League affiliate, the Providence Bruins, overcome an 0-2 deficit in their first-round series against the Hershey Bears to win three straight and advance to the second round. He assisted on five goals in the series.
"Bartkowski had put in a lot of work prior to Game Seven, as he was playing at a very high level in Providence and in all key situations," said Bruins Assistant Manager Don Sweeney. "Matt deserves full credit for responding to the challenge and trusting his abilities to execute, regardless of the pressure and his inexperience in the NHL playoffs."
"He earned the trust of the coaches by skating with authority, making strong decisions and playing well."
An injured Boston back end was without veterans Andrew Ference and Wade Redden, and in Game Seven, along with Dennis Seidenberg, who was injured early in the game. It was up to Bartkowski, and the young Dougie Hamilton, to step up - and step up big.
The defenseman who played 11 games this season with Boston, and 56 with Providence, played a career-high 24:51 during the Game Seven win. He was poised with the puck, evidenced by the patience he showed on his goal, and he made the smart plays.
"You have to find a way to give credit to those two young guys on the back end—Hamilton and obviously Bartkowski," Coach Julien said following Game Seven. "Bartkowski was moving the puck and carrying it so well tonight, and he scored a big goal for us."
"You talk about people coming in, well we were minus three real good veterans in our back end, so that’s half your core, and those guys come in and do a heck of a job."
Ever since Bartkowski had his first in-season recall of 2013 on March 22, the blueliner has looked more and more comfortable with each game he has played.
He was reassigned to Providence on April 26 for their playoff run and to get in game-time, and it certainly paid off, as the defenseman looked more than ready for his first-ever Game Seven against the Leafs. In his playoff debut on May 10, the D-man only played 6:40, as the B's trailed for most of the game.
"I've been playing playoff hockey down there. It's not NHL, but it's still playoff hockey," the blueliner had said, on feeling confident heading into his first NHL postseason game.
"Still the same mentality, the same style of play. And I played against Toronto in the regular season. I'll be all right."
Similar to Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk, Bartkowski exudes a calm, cool, collected attitude off the ice, and that translated onto the ice for one of the biggest games (or at least most memorable) of his career.
It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, really, how poised the blueliner was in Game Seven. He may not have played a playoff game in 2011, when the Bruins went on to win Lord Stanley, but he was along for the ride as a 'Black Ace' and saw the drive and dedication and sacrifice that went into that run. He also hoisted the Stanley Cup.
With the Bruins' back end on the mend, Bartkowski could have a significant hand in the playoff push this time around, and he has no doubt in his ability to help his team.
"All in all, it's the same playoff hockey everywhere. It's just different speed, size, and pace," said the defenseman.
"Now I know how to play and I know that I can play my game at this level."