Torey Krug was an emergency call-up early last week, the Bruins in the midst of a continuing multiple-car pileup in their defensive zone. Wade Redden was out. Andrew Ference was on crutches. Dennis Seidenberg, often paired with Zdeno Chara on the No. 1 shutdown pair, joined the brotherhood of the hobbled.
Thoughts of a second Stanley Cup in three seasons? Unreeling faster than the spools of medical tape in the trainer’s room.
All of which led to the hurry-up call to Torey Krug in AHL Providence Tuesday. By Wednesday, the 22-year-old blue liner was on the ice for practice. A day later, he was in the lineup to face the Rangers to start Round 2 of the playoffs. Now he’s a two-game playoff veteran with a pair of goals and a smile almost as infectious as his game.
Krug is short of stature but big of game, and right now his full immersion into Stanley Cup play is bordering on the magical.
“Yeah, I think so,’’ he said, asked if all felt magical to him late Sunday afternoon after his goal and assist helped the Bruins to a 5-2 thumping of the Rangers for a 2-0 series lead. “Every time I come out . . . every time before the anthem I look around and it’s like, ‘I’m here’ . . . then I’ve got to get focused and play.’’
He is not playing a lot, only 12:56 of ice time Sunday across 21 shifts. But things happen when he’s out there. The play moves. The puck comes to him. It’s like the old days when another small defenseman, Greg Hawgood, took the ice. Hawgie Hockey has been reborn on Causeway Street.
Like Hawgood, the 5-foot-9-inch Krug played a fair amount of forward as a kid, in part because he was constantly told he didn’t have the height or size to play defense, especially if the day came he ever wanted to be a college blue liner.
“It was always, ‘OK, we’ll get a 6-foot-2 guy to play defense,’ ’’ recalled Krug, who heard much the same when he arrived at Michigan State in the autumn of 2009. “Even there I kept hearing that I wouldn’t play a lot — I was going to be a fifth or sixth defenseman.’’
He departed three years later after turning into one of the CCHA’s most dynamic offensive performers, delivering those points from the back line. He collected 12 goals and 34 points his junior year and was among the country’s most sought-after free agents when he signed with the Bruins just over a year ago. The kid who was never able to get Boston College interested enough to have him play at The Heights finally had his shot at the Hub of Hockey.
“I had a few conversations with Jerry York,’’ said Krug, recalling his talks with the BC head coach. “But then Michigan State blew everyone away with their offer.’’
Krug spent this season in Providence, the Boston varsity content with the six defensemen on duty. Come the trade deadline, Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli added Redden as veteran experience. With Aaron Johnson already here, the likes of Matt Bartkowski and Krug were vying for the 8-9 slots on the organizational depth chart.
Until, of course, the depth chart began to crumble under the weight of injuries. Redden, Ference, and Seidenberg gave way to Krug, Bartkowski, and a comeback tour for Dougie Hamilton, the prized No. 1 draft pick who faltered after his initial promising debut.
“Bart’s pretty happy you guys are calling him a kid,’’ said Krug.
Bartkowski, ex- of Ohio State, is a grizzled 24 years old. Hamilton, who looks like he could be the lead in a high school play, won’t turn 20 until next month. The Wee Three D have an average age of less than 22. It’s enough for the likes of Redden (35), Ference (34), and Seidenberg (31) to hustle out first thing Monday morning, find an attorney, and file a class-action suit for age discrimination.
“They’ve played awesome,’’ said veteran blue liner Johnny Boychuk, who banged in a goal of his own in Game 2 after repeatedly hitting posts in Game 1. “They haven’t played on their heels. They haven’t at all looked like they’re in awe. They’re focused in and playing with confidence.’’
In his first game Thursday, Krug took a Hamilton pass into the left circle and ripped a shot past Henrik Lundqvist. With only 5:28 gone Sunday, he fished a Nathan Horton pass out of his feet and wristed in the 1-0 lead from near the same spot. The Bruins wouldn’t trail the rest of the day.
“In this league, there is no such thing as a bad pass,’’ said Krug, dismissing the suggestion that Horton’s relay was anything but on the tape. “You’re going to get a good pass, and then it’s up to you to handle it. We work on that stuff all the time.’’
Krug looked like a soccer star on Gregory Campbell’s goal that delivered a 2-1 lead at 2:24 of the second. He cleverly moved the puck with his feet above the left circle, then wristed a shot toward net that banged off one of Dan Girardi’s skates. Campbell went all John Bucyk-like, roofing a backhander under the crossbar to regain the lead.
Clearly, it was a move he learned on the soccer fields of Michigan?
“No,’’ said Krug. “I never played.’’
Bartkowski, with a meaty 20:52 in ice time, also chipped in with an assist. Hamilton, paired with Chara, played 15:10. As some of the veterans return, coach Claude Julien will have decisions to make. But it’s going to be nearly impossible to yank Krug or Bartkowski from the lineup. Right now, it looks like Seidenberg, if ready, would sub in for Hamilton, and the likes of Ference and Redden will have to wait their turns.
What appeared a glaring weakness for the Bruins is now, suddenly, magically, even amazingly, a strength.
“We’ve told them, ‘Continue to do the things you do well,’ ’’ said Julien, asked his advice to his blue-line kiddie korps. “And, ‘Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.’ ’’
Advice taken. No mistake made. And it only seems to get better.Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.