BOSTON, MA – Just 37 seconds into Game 7 against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday night, the Bruins were down to five healthy defensemen. Dennis Seidenberg was injured after taking only two shifts, leaving the B’s defense corps in major trouble.
But the D group that remained stepped up, led by captain Zdeno Chara who logged almost 36 minutes of ice time in the Bruins epic comeback. Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid also helped guide the way, but the most impressive performances may have come from the Bruins two youngest D-men.
Matt Bartkowski, playing in just his second career playoff game, tallied a career-high 24:51 (his next highest time on ice total was 16:36 on April 11 against the New York Islanders) and netted his first-ever NHL goal at 5:39 of the first period, to put the Bruins up, 1-0. Rookie Dougie Hamilton played 21:08 (his second highest minutes total of the season) in only the third playoff game of his young career.
“Sure it was,” said B’s Head Coach Claude Julien, when asked if playing so much in a Game 7 was beneficial for Hamilton and Bartkowski. “I think, again, we went down to five D’s in the first couple of minutes of the game. When you look at the ice time they got – they got quite a bit – and they did a great job. For them, it’s important that they build on that and take the confidence that they had in that game and carry it into the next series.”
The two may be relied heavily upon once again when the Bruins start their Eastern Conference Semifinals series with the New York Rangers Thursday night. The B’s on Wednesday were still without Seidenberg and fellow veteran defensemen Andrew Ference and Wade Redden, who are also sidelined by undisclosed injuries. (Update: the three vets also did not join the team for Thursday's pregame skate prior to Game 1. "They weren’t on the ice this morning, so it doesn’t look good," said Julien.)
Following the team’s practice at TD Garden, Julien did not have any updates on the three vets, who have combined for 274 career playoff games. If all three miss Thursday’s Game 1 against the Rangers, Hamilton and Bartkowski could step in to fill the void. Another young defensemen, Torey Krug,who was recalled from Providence on Wednesday, may also get the call.
“I think it’s just about balancing it,” said Julien on how he handles using his young defensemen and veteran defensemen. “We know Zdeno can take a lot of minutes. He’s got the body, he’s got the frame, he’s got the conditioning to be able to do that. But at the same time, you also have to utilize your players and have some trust in them.
“How much you use them [the young defensemen] obviously depends on how well they’re playing, but it certainly won’t be because we’re making them nervous. We’re going to encourage them to play well and we’re showing confidence that they can do it just like we did the other night. They answered the call and did a great job, so we anticipate them to do the same thing in this series.”
“They play well for us,” added Chara of the young trio. “They’ve been in the system, for obviously a few years, speaking of Torey and Bart; Dougie is playing his first season. But so far, they are doing well. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t get satisfied and keep working hard.”
For many teams, losing the veteran leadership and heavy minutes of the likes of Redden, Ference, and Seidenberg would mean it was time to start booking tee times. But the Bruins are confident in the depth that they have created on the back end, especially after what they saw in Game 7 against Toronto.
“To us, we’re fortunate that the depth of defense there was extremely good,” said Julien of Providence. “After watching them this year in the first half of the season and then looking at their team, I said it before, I said to Peter [Chiarelli], I said there’s probably four or five guys that could easily come up to our team and help us out on the back end.
“That’s how I felt watching those guys and now’s an opportunity for those guys to come up and show that they can do that.”
With Bartkowski having followed the same path from Providence just a few days ago, Krug feels comfortable getting thrust into action, especially because he has someone to bounce questions off of.
“I think one thing that Bart has told me – the coaches have reiterated to me – is to kind of just do what I’ve been doing down in Providence,” said Krug. “You saw the last game, Bart came up and that’s how he’s been playing all year in Providence. It’s important for me to stick to my roots and make sure I’m doing whatever I can to help out the team.”
If he were to find himself in the lineup, Krug is looking forward to the opportunity of playing in the postseason for the first time.
“This is going to amazing,” said the 22-year-old. “It’s what I’ve waited my whole childhood for. You dream about this as a kid, you watch it on TV. To be apart of it, in itself, is amazing. I’m looking forward to doing whatever I can to help the team win.
“That’s what we’re here for. That’s what I want to do.”