BOSTON – It certainly wasn’t a perfect defensive effort, but it was a big improvement over Tuesday night, when the Bruins gave up five goals to a last-place Flyers team. The Bruins still allowed 30 shots in Thursday’s 2-0 win over the Lightning, but they did a better job of not allowing extended offensive-zone possessions, and Tuukka Rask made some big saves when they did give up quality chances.
Leading Thursday’s defensive effort were Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg, who were paired together for a full game for the first time this season. Those two have played together in the playoffs each of the last two seasons, forming arguably the best shutdown pairing in the NHL. But coach Claude Julien prefers to keep them separated during the regular season to give the back end a little more balance.
Thursday night provided a perfect opportunity to give Chara and Seidenberg a tune-up game, though. They matched up against Tampa’s Martin St. Louis-Steven Stamkos-Teddy Purcell line, one of the best in the NHL, for most of the night. Chara and Seidenberg did give up one odd-man rush, but for the most part they kept that line’s shots to the outside. Julien said that while they weren’t perfect, it was good to put them together for a game.
“It was about shutting those guys down,” Julien said. “There were a couple of breakdowns even, but it’s pretty hard to contain that line because they’re so good. They’re going to get some chances. You want to minimize it. Whenever there was a breakdown, Tuukka made some big saves.
“But they’re a pair that has done a good job in the past in the playoffs. They hadn’t played together this year, so it’s just about giving them, I guess, a feel, a taste of it again, so if need be, when playoffs come around and depending on who we play, we may have that option as well.”
If Chara and Seidenberg are paired together for the playoffs, that would leave Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk as the Bruins’ second pairing. Both of them have had some struggles this season — Ference in particular — but both have been pretty solid in April.
Ference is a plus-6 for the month while playing more than 20 minutes on most nights. On Thursday, he also provided a spark by dropping the gloves with Benoit Pouliot. Boychuk has an even rating while playing 19-20 minutes most nights. They’ve been dependable top four defensemen in the playoffs in the past, and the Bruins will need them to be that again if they’re going to make a deep run.
That leaves three guys battling for the final two spots. Dougie Hamilton, who was a healthy scratch Thursday, has played 42 of 46 games this season. Despite being inconsistent at times and most recently having a tough game on Tuesday, he has had a pretty good rookie season all things considered. He also provides more offensive pop than just about anyone else on the Boston blue line, as his 16 points this season are second only to Chara.
Julien also has two more veteran options in Wade Redden and Adam McQuaid. McQuaid has plenty of experience in Julien’s system, including 32 playoff games, but he has seemingly plateaued as a third-pairing guy who can give you 14-15 minutes a night. Of course, that’s all he’d be asked to play if he is in the playoff lineup.
Redden was acquired from the Blues at the trade deadline in what seemed like almost a nothing move at the time. He has played well enough to warrant consideration for one of the top six spots, though.
Two things that could work in his favor are that he has 101 games of playoff experience (although none since 2009) and he plays on the left side. If Chara, Seidenberg and Ference are all in the top four, that leaves Redden as the best option to play the left on the third pairing, as neither Hamilton nor McQuaid have played much on their off side.
“He’s been pretty solid,” Julien said of Redden. “You see the odd mistake from him like everyone else, but overall he’s been a pretty solid player. He’s been a smart player making good plays. And he’s a guy that certainly helps on our breakouts, because if the walls are taken away, he’ll find that centerman and he’ll make a good tape-to-tape pass. I think that’s important.”
The Bruins defense still has some work to do in the final two regular-season games. It was encouraging to see Rask play great and bail his defense out a few times on Thursday, but the Bruins would prefer to not have to rely on Rask that much.
Still, Thursday was a good bounce-back after Tuesday’s debacle, and Julien got guys playing with the partner they could potentially be with in the playoffs. Now that the Bruins actually have something to build off, we’ll see if they can.