MONTREAL — As expected, Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski was nervous for his season debut March 25 against the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
Two days later, at TD Garden against the same team, Bartkowski’s nerves went away.
“That second game, I thought I played pretty well,” Bartkowski said. “I think it was that game, that second game against Toronto, where I just realized, ‘Hey, I can play. I might as well play my game and play it well, because I can stick around.’ ”
On Saturday at the Bell Centre, Bartkowski proved how unstable life can be as a young NHL defenseman. In the first period, Bartkowski’s turnover led to Montreal’s opening goal.
Bartkowski, under heavy forechecking heat from Lars Eller, threw the puck up the left-side boards. P.K. Subban picked off the clearing attempt. Bartkowski scrambled back to try and cover up, but, seconds later, Alex Galchenyuk’s fling at the cage bounced off Bartkowski’s leg and into the net.
In his previous games, Bartkowski hadn’t let such errors bring down his game. Bartkowski had been playing with confidence, a commodity that had been fleeting.
Bartkowski acknowledged that in previous NHL promotions, the way he processed the game might have fallen short.
“I thought I was ready,” Bartkowski said of his first two pro seasons. “But I don’t know if I was quite there mentally, I guess. Still a little immature as a player. I just came up this year and I knew I was ready. I thought I was ready. I was a lot more comfortable, a lot more ready to play.”
There was at least one other NHL organization confident in Bartkowski. On March 27, the Calgary Flames agreed to acquire Bartkowski, Alexander Khokhlachev, and a 2013 first-round pick for Jarome Iginla. Bartkowski, who had been in uniform for the two previous games, was a healthy scratch that night against Montreal. Later that night, the trade was scotched. Iginla went to Pittsburgh instead of Boston. General manager Peter Chiarelli had to explain to Bartkowski that despite the ill-fated deal, the defenseman was still in the Bruins’ plans.
Then when Wednesday’s trade deadline passed, Bartkowski was still a Bruin.
“I was pretty relieved,” Bartkowski said. “I signed here because I wanted to be here. It was really relieving when it didn’t go through. Not like there was really any pressure because I couldn’t control it. But just not having to think about anything other than hockey is great.”
Bartkowski could go back on the trade market. Deals always go through around the draft, which will take place June 30.
But Bartkowski’s steadier play may make him too valuable for the Bruins to deal. Andrew Ference will be an unrestricted free agent at season’s end, and the Bruins may not be able to afford extending the veteran.
Dennis Seidenberg is scheduled to reach the open market after 2013-14. He is in the third season of a cap-friendly four-year, $13 million contract. The 31-year-old Seidenberg will be seeking a raise and a long-term deal.
On March 26, Bartkowski signed a one-year, $650,000 extension. If he can be a second- or third-pairing defenseman, he will be a value player for the Bruins.
Monday for Kelly?
Chris Kelly (broken left tibia) sat out his 14th straight game. Kelly participated in Saturday’s morning skate, then stayed on the ice for extra work with Wade Redden and Anton Khudobin. Kelly could return on Monday against Carolina at the Garden.
“It’s a fine line between pushing and being reckless,” Kelly said. “It’s feeling better every day. I’ll skate again tomorrow and see how it feels on Monday.”
When the injury took place on March 11, Kelly initially thought it would keep him out longer. He took several minutes to get to his skates after colliding with former teammate Chris Neil. But the fracture did not require a cast or surgery, which accelerated Kelly’s return.
“When I was lying on the ice, I thought, ‘I could be in trouble here,’ ” Kelly recalled. “It could have been much worse. I’m happy that I get the opportunity to play at some point this year.”
Emelin KO’d by Lucic
Hard-hitting Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin didn’t return after suffering an undisclosed injury at 10:54 of the first. Emelin tried to throw a big check on Milan Lucic, who saw Emelin coming and countered with a thundering wallop. “I had my head down to make sure I had the puck,” said Lucic. “Guys were yelling on the bench to get my head up. I just braced myself for the hit.” . . . David Krejci crunched Brendan Gallagher in the first, which brought Francis Bouillon calling. Andrew Ference intercepted Bouillon. Both shed their gloves, but no punches were thrown. Ference and Bouillon were called for roughing . . . Carl Soderberg’s Linkoping club was eliminated from the Swedish Elite League playoffs on Friday. Soderberg had expressed interest in joining the Bruins once Linkoping’s season ended . . . Redden, Jordan Caron, and Aaron Johnson were the healthy scratches . . . Patrice Bergeron (concussion) missed his second straight game.