Don’t overlook Hunwick’s improvement

Hunwick

WILMINGTON, Mass. – The turnaround of Dennis Wideman’s season has had such a car-accident-like effect on everyone’s attention, the coinciding improvement in his defense partner Matt Hunwick’s play has flown a bit under the radar.

And that’s just how the second-year blueliner likes it.

Sure he notched an assist and drove the net to aid Dennis Wideman’s game-tying goal in the first period of Monday’s Game 3, but Hunwick is just as satisfied that he logged 21 minutes and 23 seconds more of ice time and kept things tight in the Boston end and helped kill off three Buffalo power plays.

“I actually feel really calm on the ice; I feel good,” he said after practice today at Ristuccia Arena. “I don’t necessarily need people talking about me. That’s probably the best thing, when you go out and you play 20 minutes and you play mistake-free hockey, you know you’re not going to get mentioned and that’s something for a defenseman that you try to play every night.”

It wasn’t too long ago that Hunwick was a third-pair player the Bruins had to protect against dangerous situations. Not only that, his offensive numbers sagged despite more opportunity in his sophomore year. After a 27-point rookie campaign, he dropped to just 14 points in 2009-10 in 76 games (23 more than last year).

He had logged just a shade more than 12 minutes in two straight games before the injury bug ran roughshod over the team’s back end in Toronto April 3. Mark Stuart had to leave the team because of his infected finger and Dennis Seidenberg left the game with a sliced left wrist.

He finished with 27:36 of ice time that night in an overtime victory and has averaged around 24 minutes per game since. His plus/minus was even until a plus-2 in Game 3.

“I think we’ve seen that quite often in this game where guys are forced into situations and when they’re forced into it, they understand the responsibility that goes with it, they perform well,” Julien said about that April 3 turning point. “I think it was one of those times where, even as a coaching staff, you say ‘Wow, we’re going to need those guys.’ Dennis Wideman was one of those guys, and Hunwick – two guys that we knew could be better for us and they responded in a positive manner. They have been better for us and that’s made a big difference.”

Hunwick is at his best when he’s confident enough in his defensive ability to let loose and use his outstanding skating to join the attack and punish opponents with an odd-man rush. That’s just what he did Monday, when he gave up the puck quick in the neutral zone and then made a bee line for the Sabres’ net.

“I think 4-on-4 you can always get up in the rush,” said Hunwick. “If you’re the second guy you have to go and try to create as much as possible. I didn’t know that Wides was the third guy, but at this time of year I think you need to step up and try to make plays when possible. And Dennis felt like he could get up in the rush and he made a great shot.”

Hunwick and Wideman have suddenly made a great second pair at both ends of the rink. They couldn’t have picked a better time of the season for that.

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