Turns out, the kids are all right. In fact, way more than just all right.
The Bruins entered Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs Thursday night with a healthy portion of their backline bused in from a nearby Rhode Island blue line incubator, only to see cherubic faces play like leathery vets in Boston’s 3-2 win over the Rangers at the Garden.
Torey Krug, called up from AHL Providence in the hours immediately following Monday’s thrilling win over the Maple Leafs, played in his first postseason game and ripped home his first postseason goal. His slapper at 2:55 of the third period pulled the Bruins even, 2-2, and set the stage for Brad Marchand’s winner with 15:40 gone in overtime.
Dougie Hamilton, the 19-year-old stud turned scratch this season, made the key relay to Krug, dishing over from his spot at right defense for Krug to carry the puck into the left wing circle. Krug, signed out of Michigan State just over a year ago, is only 22. Together, their average age is younger than many veteran backlines in Hockey East.
And Matt Bartkowski, nearly traded away weeks ago in the failed deal for Jarome Iginla, moved the puck with ease and proficiency, clocking a beefy 26:42 in ice time. At one point, he lost his stick at center ice and decked the much bigger Rick Nash, the Blueshirt superstar, much to the enjoyment of the sellout crowd of 17,565.
All in all, a night to remember for the Wee Three D. The night’s story line easily could have been their collective failures, the cold-water immersion into the intensity of playoff hockey. Instead, they almost made anxious Bruins fans forget that the likes of Andrew Ference, Dennis Seidenberg, and Wade Redden were hors de combat.
“I thought they played really well,’’ said Boston coach Claude Julien, who lost Seidenberg after two shifts in Game 7 vs. the Maple Leafs on Monday. “I give them a lot of credit, all three of them.’’
Krug’s goal, on one of his three shots, had him all but walking into the left wing circle with Boston on the power play. Hamilton dished left, Krug carried cleanly toward the dot, and unloaded with a shot that zipped by Henrik Lundqvist’s left elbow. Krug was confident, quick, and delivered cleanly, something the Bruins have rarely seen from their point men this season on the man-advantage.
“Dougie made a great play to draw his man toward him,’’ said Krug, a highly sought free agent when he signed with Boston last spring. “He put it over to me and I had a lot of time to shoot the puck. The key to every power play is to get shots. Really, it wasn’t that hard. I had a lot of time and space.’’
Bartkowski was going to end the season in Calgary red, getting his career in gear with the Flames after Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli agreed to ship him west in the Iginla deal. But when the Iginla essentially forced the Flames to renege, Bartkowski stayed put, and began to contribute late in the Toronto series when Ference was hobbled by a foot injury.
Paired most of the time with Johnny Boychuk vs. the Rangers, Bartkowski’s game was nearly flawless. He landed three hits, put one shot on net, and though he committed a couple of giveaways (the Bruins were charged with four, compared with 17 for the Rangers), his game continued to show improvement.
“He continues to get better and better,’’ said Julien. “He certainly takes the ice that’s given to him. He moves the puck up quickly. Those kinds of things have been really good. We’ve seen Dougie with us all year. I thought they did a great job, but also our veterans were back there with them.’’
“The more minutes I play, the more confident I get,’’ said Bartkowski. “I play more on instinct. My last game [vs. Toronto], I was given more responsibility out there, and I think I carried that momentum into today. What we do here is very similar to Providence. There’s a lot emphasis down there on defense, and it’s the same here. You know your job. You know your role. You don’t get out of the system very much.’’
Goalie Tuukka Rask stood as the guy who most could have paid the price for freshmen foibles. But from his 24-square-foot perspective, Rask was impressed by how all three young blue liners fit seamlessly into the game plan. Hamilton played first pairing with captain Zdeno Chara, while Krug paired with rugged Adam McQuaid.
“They were awesome, they skated really well,’’ said Rask. “They really stepped up big time. I think overall we started really good, and there were no weak moments, so that helped. Going in, to be honest, I didn’t want to think about [their inexperience] too much. They’re great young defensemen. I knew that.’’
The stake in the ground back on the blue line, though, was Chara. The Trencin Tower of Power rolled up an incredible 38:02 of ice time, just over half of the 75:40 the game covered. Every other shift, No. 33 was on the ice. All of which made it considerably easy for three young guys still learning the tools and tricks of the trade.
“Any time you have young players put in a role like this, it’s not easy,’’ said Big Z. “But they handled it pretty good. They tried to play a simple game and it’s working.’’
Working. Better than anyone could have imagined. And that no doubt includes the Rangers. What stood to be perhaps Boston’s greatest weakness showed signs of being a strength. Just another surprise in what is turning out to be a surprise postseason.
Ice time for Bruins’ defensemen
The Bruins’ defense corps was down three veteran players because of injuries, forcing heavy minutes on the Boston blue line. (* regular season):
|Defenseman||Avg. ice time*||Game 1 vs. Rangers|
NOTES: Game 1 vs. Rangers went 15:40 into overtime; Bartkowski played 11 games in the regular season; Krug played one game in the regular season.