With all due respect to the once famous “Sheriff” from Winnipeg, Shane Hnidy was a major drop-off for the Bruins by the time he returned to the team to add depth to the defense corps for the 2011 run to the Stanley Cup championship.
The Bruins knew Hnidy was on his last legs and that’s why he was limited to just nine minutes of ice time over the three games he was needed to fill in.
Luckily Boston only needed Hnidy for those three games. This season, the Bruins have needed, and might require for the foreseeable future, more help on their back end because of injuries to Andrew Ference, Wade Redden and, most vitally, Dennis Seidenberg. And it’s only the start of the second round, which opens with Game 1 against the New York Rangers Thursday at TD Garden.
Over the Peter Chiarelli years, the general manager has often boasted about his organizational depth. However, too often injuries on the back end forced the likes of Steve Montador or Greg Zanon into a major role. Or the Bruins had insert a player like Hnidy in a very limited role that forced the regulars to add on excess minutes. As we saw in Game 7 against Toronto, this time around Chiarelli might have actually provided his club with legitimate depth.
In nearly 25 minutes of ice time, Matt Bartkowski was a marvel in the dramatic series-clinching win against Toronto Monday. He scored his first NHL playoff goal, was aggressive with the puck on the rush and breakout, and was in the right position defensively most of the night. Bartkowski, who logged just 6:40 of ice time in Game 5 against Toronto, said that the minutes were no problem to handle because he’d been logging a lot of ice time for Providence. And the pace wasn’t too hard to pick up because he’d been playing in the postseason for the P-Bruins before his recall.
“We were playing playoff hockey down there, so any way you split it it’s still playoff hockey. It’s just a different … So it wasn’t too difficult a transition, I had to just make sure I played hard,” Bartkowski said after practice at TD Garden Wednesday.
Because of collective bargaining rules, Dougie Hamilton was denied some valuable development time in the American Hockey League. He was a regular in the NHL until the last couple weeks of the season, when Bruins coach Claude Julien rested the 19-year-old in order to get a look at some other players. Hamilton exceeded 20 minutes of ice time in the overtime victory. He had his ups and downs over the course of the night, but finished with an even rating.
It was Hamilton’s third game played in the series, but the first where he was asked to skate more than 13 minutes.
“I think I knew more of what to expect,” Hamilton said about Game 7. “I think in the other two I hadn’t played in a while and I never played a playoff game. So just to get that out of the way and to know what to expect from playoff hockey, I tried to get my feet moving again and the game was just a little more physical than we had.”
Now Torey Krug, just recalled from Providence, might find himself joining his fellow rookies in the lineup. Like Bartkowski, Krug had been playing playoff hockey with the P-Bruins. However, this season he only played in two NHL games. Although the adjustment might be a little more difficult for him, he excited for the opportunity and knows exactly how he’s going to approach his NHL playoff debut if it comes.
“I think the biggest thing is in the big pressure games is to not treat it any differently,” Krug said. “If you treat it differently, you psych yourself out and you’re not going to play your game. So I think it’s just another game where you’ve got to be a professional. You see guys in here like [Patrice] Bergeron and [Zdeno] Chara that treat every game the same way, no matter how big the stakes. So it’s just another opportunity to be a professional and show what you’re all about.”
The person who’s benefiting the most from all this depth is Julien, who really can’t afford to pile on too many minutes on his veterans Chara, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid if he wants them to be upright by the end of the Rangers series and beyond. The bench boss appreciates the wealth he has on his bench.
“A couple of things: guys that we’re bringing up have had at least a year of experience from the Providence side of it. Hamilton is a guy that’s been with us all year, but right now we’ve seen Bartkowski with us for years,” Julien said. “You look at Krug, he’s played some games with us last year before going there all year this year. But Providence has got a really good team. To us, we’re fortunate that the depth of defense there was extremely good. After watching them this year in the first half of the season and then looking at their team, I said it before, I said to Peter, I said there’s probably four or five guys that could easily come up to our team and help us out on the back end. That’s how I felt watching those guys and now’s an opportunity for those guys to come up and show that they can do that.”
Well, the Bruins are hoping they don’t have to test Julien’s theory about four or five guys being able to contribute. Nonetheless, they’ve come a long way from the days of over-the-hill veterans trying to fill jobs best suited for upstarts like the rookies they’re throwing into the fire in these playoffs.