BOSTON — What are we to make of Bruins defenseman Dennis Wideman’s contribution to his team’s success over the last few weeks, including Monday night’s Game 3 victory over Buffalo in the Eastern Conference quarterfinals?
Do we call it a revitalization, renaissance, resurrection or comeback? Well, how about a revolution? A revolution is defined as “a fundamental change in power or organizational structures that takes place in a relatively short period of time.”
Well, it wasn’t all that long ago that Wideman was practically booed off his own home ice at TD Garden and was the epitome of a disappointing regular season for a Bruins team that started out as Cup-contenders and had to fight down to the wire to make the playoffs. Suddenly he’s playing with the type of pizzazz and confidence that’s bumped him back up the depth chart from third-pair mess-up to Boston’s No. 2 defender, where he was ensconced just last spring.
“When he decides to put his mind to it, and is determined, that’s what you get out of him,” said head coach Claude Julien about Wideman after the blueliner notched a goal and an assist in a 2-1 win that gave Boston a 2-1 series lead in games heading into Wednesday night’s Game 4.
Wideman’s goal was a momentum-turner, as it tied the game when it beat Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller with 4:43 remaining in the first period. Wideman joined the rush as the third man after Matt Hunwick dished off to Vladimir Sobotka and the center fed a pass to the trailing Wideman with Hunwick driving to the net. The one-timer lit the lamp in the blink of an eye.
Even if he hadn’t scored, Wideman’s decision to make a played proved that his confidence is starting to climb the charts.
“If (Sobotka) wasn’t giving it to me, I was probably back far enough where I could have gotten back but I just closed my eyes and shot,” Wideman said.
He then admitted not just confidence, but fortune is turning in his favor.
“Yeah, it probably would’ve bounced off my stick (two months ago) or I would have hit the organist on that one,” he said.
The tale of Wideman’s woes has been told and retold all year, as he went from being a 50-point, plus-32 player last season to a 30-point, minus-14 player this season. Oddly, the first year of his four-year contract extension was much better than his second year has been. Throughout the winter and early spring, he lamented his inability to make smarter players and stay motivate but he never stopped working in practices and never ducked the verbal darts thrown his way.
Things just about hit rock bottom late in the season, when the home crowd began to boo him like an opponent every time he touched the puck. Those jeers started to turn to cheers when he scored a goal in a dramatic win April 8 during the Bruins’ drive to earn a playoff berth.
“Obviously it feels good to play well. Some of it was a little harsh at time, but you don’t have that if you’re playing your best,” he explained tonight. “And I went through a tough start of the year. But you’ve just got to pout the behind you. It’s playoffs. We’ve got to win now.”
“I think it affects my game,” he continued, “because I play a game that I need to play confidence, I need to hold onto the puck and I need to make plays.”
In the season’s final few games, with a playoff spot on the line, Wideman’s play began to resemble what it was last season when he was actually mentioned in the same breath as the Norris Trophy. His decisions became better, his mistakes less glaring and he began to join the attack – a must for the Bruins and their league-worst offense.
After he scored, after the goal was announced over the Garden PA and after the announcement was repeated, there was obviously extra emphasis in the crowd’s response to Wideman’s name. While Wideman accepted the dissent from his would-be fans, many – including Mike Milbury – criticized the negativity of the Garden crowd. The response to Wideman’s heroics seemed to show not only that the fans appreciated the big goal but also wanted to encourage Wideman to keep on trucking and help the Bruins make this a lengthy playoff run.
“It feels really good to turn things around. I knew it was going to happen, I just didn’t know when,” he said. “I was working at it, working at it and then finally things started to come more natural and things started to go better for me. And the team’s been playing better, the team’s making it easier.”
The Garden seat-dwellers have made a difference too.
“The crowd’s been great. It’s great to have them cheering again.”
If this revolution is successful, Wideman will provide them with plenty to cheer about and do it for another month or two.