Critics of Claude Julien and Bruins management won't see it this way, of course, but such is life in the big city, particularly during the conference finals, when emotions run high and the light at the end of the tunnel comes in the form of a glimmering silver cup. We see what we want to see. What matters now is not what the Bruins did with Tyler Seguin this season but rather what they can do, particularly now with Patrice Bergeron on the verge of returning to action.
"Tyler is obviously playing, without a doubt, his best hockey of the season," coach Claude Julien told reporters last night in the wake of a 6-5 victory that evened the Eastern Conference finals between the Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning at a game apiece and featured an electrifying performance by rookie Seguin. "He was extremely good tonight, no doubt about that. One of our best players. He’s been waiting for his opportunity and he made the best of it."
And so, in a vacuum, it is easy to wonder whether the Bruins should have played Seguin earlier, when he might have helped in a grueling seven-game series against the Montreal Canadiens. Never mind that the last time the Bruins had a player so young with so much promise they handled him in similar fashion and got similar results.
You do remember Phil Kessel's first foray into the postseason, don't you? Following Game 1 of a first-round series between the Bruins and Canadiens in April 2008, Julien sat Kessel for three games, during which the Bruins scored a total of three goals. Kessel came back and scored in Game 5 before adding a pair of goals in unforgettable Game 6, the latter an affair that rekindled interest in a Bruins franchise that had all but disappeared from the planet.
Kessel was 20 then, Seguin 19 now. And so instead of condemning the Bruins with a question that is largely irrelevant -- why didn't Seguin play earlier? -- maybe we should be commending them for patiently developing and housing a weapon that could now have enormous value.
Fact: The Bruins didn't need Seguin in the Montreal series anymore than did against the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round. Could they have used him, assuming the level of play would have been what it has been for the first two games? Certainly. But the Bruins defeated both the Canadiens and the Flyers to get where they are now, and it was prior to Game 3 in Montreal that many wondered whether Seguin should play in lieu of someone like, say, Michael Ryder, who promptly scored twice in pivotal Game 4, the second tally coming in overtime.
If you got Seguin in that game instead of Ryder, the Bruins might be dead now.
Instead, what we have here now is a potential story for the ages, assuming things go right. While there is no way of knowing exactly what Seguin will become yet, we certainly know what the expectations are. He was the No. 2 pick in the draft and could just as easily have been No. 1. He is regarded as a potential franchise player. Recent local history is littered with legends-in-the-making during this Golden Age of Boston sports, and we know that early postseason success can serve as the platform for an entire career.
Ask Josh Beckett about this. Or Tom Brady. In 2007, as a rookie, Dustin Pedroia batted a combined .319 with a .917 OPS in the American League Championship Series and World Series. Jon Lester came back from cancer to win the deciding game of the World Series. In the same four games against Colorado in 2007, Jacoby Ellsbury hit .438. The future of Boston sports is now built around men like Seguin, Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski and maybe even Rajon Rondo, the last of whom is perhaps the only potential building block the Celtics possess.
Youth, as well know, has no boundaries. That can be both a blessing and a curse. As dynamic a talent as Seguin is, he scored one goal in his final 20 regular season games. He got pushed around and shied from contact. Whether he could have helped the Bruins on the power play is an entirely legitimate question, and critics of Julien and the Bruins certainly can ask whether there was at least some role for him.
Whatever the case, Seguin is playing here now, in the conference finals, producing at a very high level. And the Bruins are to be criticized for that? Even blamed? No, no, no. Whatever the Bruins are getting from Seguin now is the result of precisely how they handled him, no less a hockey expert than the esteemed Pierre McGuire saying recently that the Bruins rushed Seguin this season by having him in the NHL at all.
And yet last night, with the Bruins season all but on the line, there was Seguin flying all over the ice, tying a club record with four points in one period (the second) in a pulsating one-goal win. Now, he indisputably looks as if he belongs. His legs are fresh. A once innocent face is sporting a playoff beard and a boy is growing before our very eyes.
Prior to last night's game, Bruins president Cam Neely made his weekly appearance on 98.5 The Sports Hub and was asked whether he could envision a scenario in which both Bergeron and Seguin were active at the same time this postseason. Neely deftly dodged the question, but he surely can see that scenario now. Bergeron seems positioned to return tomorrow. The Bruins and Lightning are even. The drama of these Eastern Conference finals is building.
And young Tyler Seguin, long ago labeled as the future of the Bruins, is buzzing around on skates like some kind of secret weapon.
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