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Seven questions with ... Dennis Wideman

by John McGourty
Boston Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman had been a minus player in the American Hockey League and his first three NHL seasons, but this season he finished sixth in the NHL with a plus-32 rating and finished second among the team's defensemen with 49 points. He played a key role in the team's ascension to the top of the Eastern Conference.

Here are our seven questions with Dennis Wideman:

1. Why are the Bruins solid contenders to compete for the Stanley Cup?

Wideman: "We have good depth up front and we have a bunch of guys who can score. We have really good role players in Shawn Thornton, Stephane Yelle, Byron Bitz and Chuck Kobasew. We have a lot of guys who are effective at playing both ways and who can also score. We have one of, if not the best, goalies in the NHL in Tim Thomas and a good backup in Manny Fernandez. As good as our depth is up front, we have pretty good depth on the defense, too."

2. The Bruins were eighth in the Eastern Conference last season; this season, Boston led the East from start to finish. Why are the Bruins better this season?

Wideman: "We are a year older and more experienced at playing together. Young guys like Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic, especially, are a year older and more experienced. David Krejci broke out and had a great year. We got big contributions from guys that, going into the season, we didn't know what they'd be able to give, guys like rookie Blake Wheeler and Michael Ryder, who came back and had a great year after struggling last year in Montreal. We didn't have Patrice Bergeron last year, so that was a like a big free-agent signing. We have a lot of guys that we didn't have last year who had big years. The additions of Mark Recchi and Steve Montador at the trading deadline made us a better team."

3. You faced the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs last season and lost in seven games. They were the Eastern Conference and Northeast Division champions but you extended them to seven games with big wins in Games 5 and 6. What did you learn from that experience?

Wideman: "It was a big confidence booster for us. A lot of us hadn't played in many Stanley Cup Playoff games -- or any at all. To get a taste of it in Montreal, the loudest building to play in, and playing against a team that had beaten us in something like 13 or 14 games in a row, to give them the series we gave them, to take it to seven games, that was a big wakeup call to us.

"If we play the way we can, we can play with any team in the League. We never expected this success this season. We were hoping to move from mid-pack into maybe the top five or six teams. We didn't expect to be sitting atop the conference. We weren't even picked to make the playoffs by many experts. Our expectations were above those of other people, but we weren't thinking we'd be in this spot."

4. Tim Thomas led the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage this season. Manny Fernandez was second until he struggled in February and March but he also has excellent numbers. How important has the goaltending been to your success?

Wideman: "Tim Thomas has been playing great for us. A big part of his success is his competitiveness. Not many goalies compete as hard as he does on every shot. He never gives up on pucks or plays. He obviously helped us get here. With his style of play, he needs that competitiveness to go back and forth across his crease. He moves very well for a big man and his lateral movement is second to none in the NHL."

5. The Bruins have had excellent plus-minus numbers across the lineup all season and finished with six players among the NHL's top 25. Why did you have so many players so high up in the plus-minus ratings?

Wideman: "Our five-on-five play is the best in the NHL and that's a huge factor. It also reflects how much emphasis we put on our defensive game. We were better through the first half and then hit a bit of a lull in January and February. For most of the season we weren't giving up much while scoring a lot. We keep people outside, limit their chances and then go down and create offense. We're not an overly defensive team, but we place a lot of emphasis on doing the job in our own zone and then we push the envelope offensively.

"A lot of coaches now want defensemen to follow the play up ice and jump into the play. When you do that, you automatically have a tight gap between your forwards and your defense. That limits the opponent's speed in transition. If you follow slow and don't jump in, they get a turnover at their blue line, see you behind your red line, and that gives them the opportunity to build up speed and produce even-strength rushes."

6. You were acquired in a controversial trade that sent scorer Brad Boyes to St. Louis. You struggled early and the trade was questioned. Now you're near the top of the NHL's plus-minus list while being a huge offensive presence. Can you comment on your own personal satisfaction regarding the team's success and your own success?

Wideman: "I guess it was a controversial trade for management, but everything worked out well for both teams. At that time St. Louis had a lot of defensemen and needed scoring. Boston lacked offensive defensemen. Boyes has played extremely well for St. Louis; I got a little better than I was when I first got here.

"I think GM Peter Chiarelli was ready to jump off a bridge after my first 25 games here. It took a group effort by the coaches, Claude Julien, Craig Ramsay, Doug Houda and Geoff Ward, working with me and talking to me a lot. Those guys were on me a lot last year, but defense is a tough position to learn in the NHL. Defensemen take longer to develop than forwards. It comes with playing more and longer. It's not often that the top defensemen are 22 or 23 years old. It's when you get closer to 30 that you start to figure it out. It comes with confidence, doing the reps, learning from mistakes and watching guys who have been doing it for a long time and how they react to situations.

"I can learn from an older veteran like Aaron Ward, who does things very well. I watch Zdeno Chara's work ethic and how he handles himself at every game and practice. He holds us accountable every day."

7. When did you start dreaming of the Stanley Cup, and what would it mean to you to win it?

Wideman: "Whenever you're playing road hockey or mini-hockey as a kid, you're playing for the Stanley Cup. I can't remember the first time I dreamed about winning it, but every kid in Canada dreams about winning the Stanley Cup. So I'd guess maybe I was 3 or 4 years old.

"I have no idea what it would feel like to win the Stanley Cup and be handed the trophy. Everyone I've asked who has won it has told me it's a feeling you can't describe."

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