MONTREAL — If hockey had bullpens, the Bruins would have had Dennis Seidenberg “up and skating’’ midway through Game 3 against the Canadiens Tuesday night.
Seidenberg, recovering from midseason knee surgery, is skating regularly again and looks strong and comfortable during workouts. A heavy skater, his blades sound as if they’re shredding the ice when he tears around during workouts.
“Yes, I’m feeling better,’’ the broad-shouldered defenseman said late Tuesday, following the Bruins’ 4-2 loss to the Canadiens. “I could probably play right now.’’
Stop the Internet (and presses) right there — Seidenberg, the second-most important defenseman in the Boston lineup, says he feels well enough to “probably play’’?
Pain? Not bad, he said.
Soreness or swelling? Not a concern.
Range of motion? Fine.
Does this mean the 32-year-old Seidenberg is good to go?
Not really. We don’t think.
But best to keep an eye on the bullpen.
The remaining issue, noted Seidenberg, is the standard timeline to full recovery. He feels what he feels, which is better and stronger each day, his skating confident and strong. But the doctors, physical therapists, and trainers overseeing his recovery have made it clear to him that the body heals at its own rate. Which isn’t to say how he feels is inconsequential, but it’s not all that counts.
Seidenberg tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee against Ottawa Dec. 27, and had surgery Jan. 7. In general, the timeline given for full recovery from such a procedure is 6-8 months, so he was originally not expected back until training camp for next season.
Whatever timeline he’s been given — and Seidenberg would not say — it was not in synch with May 6. When the experts tell him that flesh, bone, and soft tissue are all one again, fully mended, that’s when he finally gets the green light for full contact and game action.
“That’s [the date] I don’t know yet,’’ he said with a smile. “But each day, better. That’s good.’’
Meanwhile, coach Claude Julien must plan for Seidenberg to not be part of his blue line six-pack in Game 4.
In Games 2 and 3, Julien reinserted veteran Andrej Meszaros, the trade-deadline pickup from the Flyers. Meszaros took over for Matt Bartkowski, the younger and more aggressive blue liner, who was guilty of some defensive mistakes and an untimely penalty in Game 1 of the series. Meszaros was serviceable in the two games, but he is slow and has yet to entirely grasp the defensive game plan and the club’s “battle’’ culture.
If Seidenberg were to return, that would kick both Meszaros and Bartkowski to the sideline, and Julien, if he chose, could pair Zdeno Chara again with Seidenberg. Or, given Dougie Hamilton’s overall improvement during Seidenberg’s absence, Julien might opt for different pairings, perhaps Hamilton with Chara, and Seidenberg left to match with Johnny Boychuk, Kevan Miller, or Torey Krug.
So many defensemen, so many choices. Julien would love to have the problem. For now, it seems his only choice is whether to bring back Bartkowski or stay with Meszaros.
Chara left the action early in Game 3, accidentally hacked on the left hand by Habs winger Michael Bournival. It’s rare for him to leave, so he clearly was hurting. He did return, but for the night, he attempted six shots and landed only one on Canadiens goalie Carey Price. He seemed reluctant to unload on a couple.
If Chara’s hand is hurting —
Keep in mind, however, that the Bruins under general manager Peter Chiarelli tend not to hurry the injured back into action, preferring that they be fully ready, no matter the circumstance. The best example is Patrice Bergeron, his career nearly finished by a severe concussion in October 2007.
Bergeron made an attempt to ready himself for the 2008 playoffs, practicing diligently, but eventually both sides agreed it was prudent for him to shut it down until September. Some six years later, after other concussions, he is among the game’s top performers. It was a smart decision.
Seidenberg is an extremely important piece of the Boston back line, and Chiarelli won’t rush him. If the Bruins lose Game 4 and are cast into elimination mode, that certainly would heighten the urgency to get Seidenberg back into action.
Seidenberg’s role is key here, too. He is not without offensive skills, but his greatest value is his ability to battle for pucks and defend. In other words, strength, and it will take time for him to build back that muscle and durability needed for heavy battle.
Julien would not be looking to put Seidenberg in a puck-handling or shooting role. He would want him in there as a key brick in the defensive wall. With Montreal’s offensive strength built around small, darting forwards, there might not be as much of a physical load to concern Seidenberg, but he could be challenged to keep pace.
All we know for the moment is that Seidenberg is much better. His body tells him so. His inner voice makes him think he “could probably play.’’ Now it’s up to the rest of the voices to have their say.