NEW YORK — A year ago, Dougie Hamilton was the odd man out in the playoffs.
Dennis Seidenberg was the right-side man on the No. 1 pairing. Johnny Boychuk was on the second duo. Adam McQuaid was the third-pairing right-shot defenseman.
A year later, Hamilton has the inside line on replacing Seidenberg as Zdeno Chara’s right-hand man.
In the Bruins’ 6-3 victory over the Rangers Sunday night, Hamilton was on Chara’s right side on the No. 1 pairing. Unless the Bruins make a significant upgrade on defense before Wednesday’s trade deadline, Hamilton, who had a goal and two assists for his first career 3-point game Sunday, will remain in that position for the opening round.
“He’s been good,” said coach Claude Julien. “He’s been steady. He’s moved the puck well. He’s got good vision. He’s got good size, good reach. This is a player that with time will get stronger. He’s a big body. He’ll get stronger. He’ll probably be more impactful than he is right now. But his game has been really good. I think he’s handled it well.”
A Chara-Boychuk duo would be the club’s stoutest shutdown tandem. Late in games, if the Bruins are protecting a lead, Chara and Boychuk could be playoff partners. But the Bruins are wary of placing the two defensemen together full time. It would make for a top-heavy defense. Two- and three-line opponents would exploit the Bruins’ second and third pairs.
So the task likely will fall to the 20-year-old Hamilton. He was just a rookie last year. He’ll be asked to do man’s work this season.
“It’s a fun challenge every night,” Hamilton said of playing top forwards. “It’s a different game than playing against third and fourth lines. It’s a challenge. That’s what you want when you’re playing. I think I’ve gotten more used to playing against those lines now. I just have to continue playing them hard.”
On Sunday against the Rangers, Chara and Hamilton played against the No. 1 line of Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan, and Rick Nash. None of the three scored.
A day earlier, they stared down Washington’s top unit of Brooks Laich, Nicklas Backstrom, and Alex Ovechkin. Washington’s first line didn’t score at full strength. Ovechkin’s two goals were on the power play. Hamilton logged 18:41 of ice time.
Against the Capitals, Hamilton made his biggest contribution offensively. He is the point man on the No. 2 unit. Hamilton made the play that led to Patrice Bergeron’s power-play goal.
Midway through the second period, Hamilton faked a slap shot from the point and carried the puck down the right side. He spotted Bergeron opening up for a one-timer in the middle. Hamilton sent a crisp against-the-grain pass to Bergeron. The center pounded a one-timer past Braden Holtby for the Bruins’ first goal.
Twice, however, Hamilton missed the net and shot off the glass — a dangerous situation when the puck rims out the other way and the defenseman is caught up the ice.
“He has to learn when you get those opportunities, you can’t shoot the puck over the net,” Julien said. “Then it becomes an issue when the puck comes around.”
Because of the firepower of his opponents, Hamilton has to be careful about balancing offense and defense. In tight situations against No. 1 lines, Hamilton must be cautious if he doesn’t want gunners blowing into his zone.
“It’s about finding times, depending on the score of the game, and just having to read plays,” Hamilton said.
“I think it’s really trying to focus on defense first, then whatever happens from there.”
McQuaid call soon
The Bruins will make a decision on Adam McQuaid (groin/hip) shortly. They will decide whether McQuaid will continue his rehab or be shut down temporarily to promote more healing.
McQuaid hasn’t played since Jan. 19, when he aggravated the injury. He skated twice before the Olympic break. McQuaid practiced with his teammates after the break, but the Bruins took him off the ice last Thursday and Friday because of his condition.
McQuaid underwent testing last Friday. The Bruins are awaiting results.
“There’s going to be an answer soon,” Julien said. “We’ve got to make a decision on whether to go forward or hold him back.”
If McQuaid returns, he would contend with Kevan Miller as the right-shot defenseman on the No. 3 pairing. McQuaid has played in only 30 games.
Limited role for Krug
Defenseman Torey Krug played only 12:50 against the Rangers. It was the second-lowest amount he’s played all season. Part of the reason was that the Bruins had zero power plays. But the coaching staff was also cautious about deploying Krug defensively against the Rangers, who attacks with size and speed. In the second, Krug couldn’t seal off Ryan Callahan at center ice. Callahan then found Brad Richards for the Rangers’ second goal.