BOSTON – An expected theme of the second round matchup between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers is Boston’s depleted defense. With Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden all out of the lineup for at least Game 1, the Bruins turned to three rookie defensemen to fill the void.
With injury statuses up in the air, Bruins fans feared the worst, as New York brings a physical game to the ice. Lessening the blow for the Bruins and their fans is rookie defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who put in a more than impressive effort in Monday’s miracle comeback, logging over 24 minutes of ice time.
But it’ll take more than Bartkowski to solidify Boston’s back end, as rookie defenseman Torey Krug made his NHL playoff debut on Thursday, while Dougie Hamilton played his fourth NHL postseason game.
With both Bartkowski and Krug being undersized, it is crucial for them to use their speed and passing ability to keep the puck away from the bigger, more physical Rangers forwards. Offensive possession can only pay dividends for these inexperienced blueliners, and that’s what the Bruins are focusing on.
Coach Claude Julien believes a similar system to the one used in Providence should help both Bartkowski and Krug adjust to NHL playoff play.
“That’s important because coaches have their own styles and the one thing you don’t want to do is make them change where they’re comfortable and force them to do something,” Julien said. “Sometimes that happens in the minors. A coach coaches a certain way, in the NHL they coach a different way. There’s a transition there and you have to adapt, but we’re fortunate that both Bruce [Cassidy] and I seem to have the same approach and same philosophies, so it makes the transitions for our players a lot easier.”
The rookies made an immediate impact in Thursday night’s overtime victory, as quick legs and accurate breakout passes improved Boston’s transition game, leading to more scoring chances and offensive opportunities. Countless times the young defensemen used their feet and sticks to get themselves out of trouble and move the puck up ice.
Krug, who was a power play force playing down in Providence, tied the game up for Boston in the third period when the team needed it the most.
“I had a lot of time to take a shot,” said Krug, who, rather than rushing himself, showed patience on the play, delaying a couple seconds before blasting a slap shot through Henrik Lundqvist.
At times the team still spent too much time in its own zone, which could potentially be a recipe for disaster against a team like the Rangers, but it’s tough to criticize Thursday night’s outcome.
The rookies stepped up to the challenge in an impressive series opener for the trio, drawing rave reviews from their coach.
“I thought they played really well. They deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled themselves, all three of them,” Julien said. “It was Torey’s first game, obviously. Not only did he score a big goal, but he just moved that puck so well. A lot of times, he played against their third line, which is a pretty heavy line. I thought he handled them extremely well. Bart continues to get better and better. He certainly takes the ice that’s given to him, he moves the puck up quickly. Those kinds of things have been really good.”
While the rookie defensemen certainly differ from the hard-nosed style you typically see from guys like Ference and Seidenberg, they were arguably just as effective with their speed and transitional play.
What was a big talking point leading up to Thursday night’s game turned out to be a critical factor in the Game 1 victory.
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