BOSTON – General manager Peter Chiarelli and the Bruins cannot say they weren’t warned.
Fans can’t claim they had no idea this would happen.
Every year teams struggle to keep their defensemen healthy toward the end of the season and into the playoffs. The ones that have the weapons on hand to fill in the gaps are the ones that march on.
Philadelphia’s surviving without Chris Pronger because they have Nick Boynton to supplement a strong five-man corps. Buffalo has plugged in confident rookie Marc-Andre Gragnani where needed.
The Bruins? They’re Plan B when Zdeno Chara had to leave the lineup was Shane Hnidy, an affable chap with plenty of NHL experience, but with wheels that’ve grinded to a crawl and only three games of action under his belt this season after major shoulder surgery last fall.
Yes, spending to the salary cap just doesn’t buy you what it used to now, does it? To be fair, the Bruins have invested a ton in their goaltenders and their scorers and their pluggers and that’s gone so well … well, you get the point.
The Bruins found out two years ago that they needed more in reserve once Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick went down. They went into last year’s playoffs with not enough to make up for the absences of Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Stuart. So this year they rolled the dice with Hnidy and rookie Steven Kampfer as their emergency defenseman. Fool them once, OK. Fool them, twice. So ahead, fool them again.
Well Kampfer became a lineup casualty himself by suffering a knee injury during an AHL conditioning stint last week. Nonetheless, he had played his way out of the lineup by making the type of decisions with the puck you expect out of a first-year pro defenseman. And his defensive game is not ready for the NHL playoffs.
You can argue that the Bruins, after the trade of Stuart left them a little thin on defense, lacked the competition within the team that has helped them succeed in the past. That could’ve contributed to the drop-off in play of Adam McQuaid and Johnny Boychuk. Even if one of them was really struggling, odds are he wasn’t coming out of the lineup.
That doesn’t matter now. What matters now is that even if Zdeno Chara comes back from his recent bout with an illness and helps the Bruins push their playoff run longer than a couple games, someone else is bound to go down. And it’ll be up to Hnidy to save them again. Heaven forbid the Bruins lose two guys at once, Don Sweeney might have to suit up.
This blog advocated bolstering the back end time and again all season. Often the stories were repudiated by talk of how great everyone was playing and how none of the defensemen could conceivably come out of the lineup if additions were made.
Well, the chickens have come home to roost folks. And by chickens I mean the type that have their heads cut off and run around in their own zone and make passes on the breakout without looking so that they become giveaways and goals against.
The warning signs were posted and the Bruins ignored them. Now they’re on the verge of a crash.