Relegated to the TD Garden press box for the first two games of the Bruins’ best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Rangers, the injured Dennis Seidenberg came to appreciate the perspective he gained from his ninth-floor perch.
But that, in no way, is to suggest that Seidenberg embraced his bird’s-eye view of the game.
“You hate watching games,’’ said the veteran defenseman, who was lost for the first four games of the Rangers series after a lower-body injury on his first shift in Game 7 of the quarterfinal series vs. the Maple Leafs.
After sustaining that injury, Seidenberg attempted to get back out on the ice, but he lasted only six seconds before he retreated to the bench. He logged a grand total of only 37 seconds in the clinching 5-4 overtime victory over the Leafs.
“You hate not being a part of it,’’ said Seidenberg, who returned to the lineup and recorded 23:37 of ice time in Saturday’s 3-1 victory that closed out the Rangers in five games and propelled the fourth-seeded Bruins to the Eastern Conference finals against the top-seeded Penguins.
“You try to do everything to get back as quick as possible and be ready once you’re called upon,’’ Seidenberg said Saturday night, surrounded by media in the dressing room. “It was a good feeling to be back and trying to help the team. But again, being out is the worst part.’’
Was the worst part having to sit and watch?
“Oh, yeah,’’ Seidenberg said. “When you’re sitting in the press box, you’re the best player ever, right? You see everything. The game is so simple. There are open guys everywhere. But once you hit the ice, it’s a lot different.’’
Seidenberg, who needed only a few shifts before getting reacquainted with the feverish intensity of the playoffs, was given a sobering reminder of that difference when he engaged Chris Kreider in a puck race a little more than a minute into the second period.
Kreider knocked Seidenberg off his skates, causing him to slide into the boards, his back absorbing the impact.
“It’s the playoffs, so you expect to get hit,’’ Seidenberg said. “I didn’t expect to get laid out like I did. But he’s a big guy, a thick kid, and I just lost balance and I paid for it, I guess. But I felt fine. That’s what it’s all about at this time — playing hard and fighting through stuff.’’
The Garden crowd of 17,565 held its collective breath as Seidenberg was slow to get back on his skates.
“Well it was everything, falling on my back, hitting the boards, losing my breath,’’ Seidenberg said about why he was slow to get up. “It sort of takes a couple of seconds to get back, but you shake it off and keep going.’’
It was the scariest moment of Game 5, but it proved Seidenberg was indeed back. He was back on the top defensive pairing with captain Zdeno Chara. And more important, he was back to his old reliable self, recording two shots and three hits in 29 shifts.
“It was a solid game,’’ Seidenberg said. “Nothing flashy.’’
“He’s been around for a while and he’s been in this situation before, so it was huge to get him back,’’ said Matt Bartkowski, one of the Bruins’ trio of young defensemen who stepped up when the team started the series without injured veterans Wade Redden (undisclosed injury), Andrew Ference (lower body), and Seidenberg.
“He was able to log a lot of minutes and play in every situation, so it was huge to get him back,’’ Bartkowski added of Seidenberg, who was a plus-1 for the game. “He’s just an all-around great player.’’
Seidenberg’s return resulted in the healthy scratch of Dougie Hamilton, who was trying to cover Kreider when he scored at 7:03 of overtime in Thursday’s 4-3 Boston loss in Game 4 in New York. It also reunited, perhaps, the league’s top defensive pairing.
“Everything’s so easy when you’re back there with Z,’’ Seidenberg said. “It just felt good to be back.’’
Coach Claude Julien indicated he had given strong consideration to bringing back Seidenberg for Game 4.
“We made sure that when he came back he was ready to come back,’’ Julien said Saturday night. “It was a close call, to be honest with you, in Game 4. It really was a close call. We almost had him back and we chose to wait one more game. But he was ready to go.”
“What he does is he just adds stability to our back line,’’ Julien added. “Every year in the playoffs, he’s been one of our best defensemen. He really rises to those occasions. We were happy to have him in this game because we knew how tough it was going to be.’’
Seidenberg knows another formidable challenge looms in the conference finals against the Penguins, who swept the three regular-season meetings against the Bruins.
Pittsburgh is led by an explosive group of players that includes Sidney Crosby, who is tied with teammate Pascal Dupuis for the most playoff goals this season with seven; James Neal, whose hat trick in the clinching 6-2 win over Ottawa gave him six postseason goals; and Evgeni Malkin (4-12—16) and Kris Letang (3-13—16), who rank second behind the Bruins’ David Krejci (5-12—17) among playoff scoring leaders.
Seidenberg said there was never a time he felt his spot on the team was threatened by the three young defensemen. Secure in his abilities, he applauded the successes of the defensive understudies. And they appreciate Seidenberg.
“Oh, yeah, he was unbelievable,’’ said Torey Krug, the 22-year-old wunderkind from Livonia, Mich., who emerged as a Bruins cult hero by scoring his first four playoff goals of his career against none other than New York netminder Henrik Lundqvist.
“You look at the way he plays; he’s doing everything, sacrificing himself. He’s a team-first guy and he was patting my back all the time when I was doing well.’’
But it was evident to Seidenberg’s teammates that it gnawed at him to be out for the first four games of the conference semifinals.
“All you want to do is contribute to the team,’’ Krug said. “When you’re sitting up there in the press box, it’s not a good feeling watching your team, especially when you lose a game the way we did in Game 4. So, he was definitely itching to get back out on the ice and we’re glad to have him.’’