In each of the last two postseasons, Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg have skated together as the Bruins’ shutdown duo.
Based on their coupling in Thursday’s 2-0 blanking of the Lightning before 17,565 at TD Garden, it’s a good bet the strongmen will be back together again when the playoffs begin next week.
Chara and Seidenberg, asked to shut down Tampa Bay’s flammable line of Teddy Purcell, Steven Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis, fulfilled their obligations. Neither St. Louis nor Stamkos, the top two scorers in the NHL entering the night, recorded a point.
Chara, Seidenberg, and Tuukka Rask, three of the Bruins’ four most important players (Patrice Bergeron being the other), played a big part in keeping the explosive duo off the scoresheet. The one time Stamkos slipped free for a bona fide chance, Rask (30 saves) pushed to his left and flashed his glove at 12:20 of the second period.
“You could see that we feel comfortable with each other,” said Seidenberg. “We keep it simple. We talk to each other. We communicate well out there. It resulted in us shutting them down, for the most part. We gave up that one odd-man rush, but for the most part we kept them to the outside and kept them to not as many chances as they would have liked.”
For the first 45 games of the regular season, Chara and Seidenberg had played together only for stretches. The coaching staff’s concern about pairing Chara and Seidenberg is how top-heavy the six-man rotation of defensemen becomes.
But if the Bruins’ first-round opponent has a fearsome No. 1 line — the Islanders, for example, roll out Matt Moulson, John Tavares, and Brad Boyes — deploying Chara and Seidenberg together might be the best option.
“It’s pretty hard to contain that line because they’re so good,” coach Claude Julien said of Tampa’s top trio. “Two of those guys are in the top scoring in the league. You know they’re going to get some chances. You want to minimize it. Whenever there was a bit of a breakdown, Tuukka made some big saves. They’re a pair that’s done a good job in the past in the playoffs. They hadn’t played together this year. It was about giving them a feel and 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.”
Aside from the Chara-Seidenberg pair, the Bruins rolled out a lineup that could resemble their Game 1 formation. Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk were the second pair. Wade Redden and Adam McQuaid skated on the No. 3 pairing.
Rask was a significant factor in the Bruins’ much-needed shutout. He was at his sharpest in the second period, when he made back-to-back kickouts on Alex Killorn, on top of his glove save on Stamkos.
“It’s probably up there,” said Rask of his performance compared with other starts. “Every time you get a shutout, you didn’t make a mistake, so I guess it was a mistake-free game. I was able to make a couple of saves in the second when it was a 1-0 game, so I’ve got to be satisfied with that.”
But the Bruins were steady in front of Rask. In Tuesday’s 5-2 loss to Philadelphia, they repeatedly coughed up pucks in center ice and struggled with their defensive-zone coverage. They were crisper defensively, which in turn led to scoring chances.
“We’re a checking team that scores, not the other way around,” Seidenberg said. “When you play hard, it creates turnovers and creates chances offensively from plays in our zone. We have to play that way in order to be successful against the skilled teams.”
The Bruins started the sequence on the winning goal deep in their zone. Chara skated the puck out from behind Rask and hit Tyler Seguin, the strong-side wing, with a crisp first pass. Seguin connected with Brad Marchand flying up the ice on the weak side.
The defensemen joined the rush to support the attack. When Marchand slashed through the slot and pulled up, Seidenberg was open at the right point. With Bergeron setting a screen on Anders Lindback (22 saves), Seidenberg slipped a slap shot into the net at 4:22 to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
Later in the second, Shawn Thornton made a strong play by keeping the puck in the Tampa zone. Thornton pushed the puck down the wall to Gregory Campbell, who spotted Daniel Paille open on the other side. Paille hammered a one-timer past Lindback at 13:31 to give the Bruins a 2-0 advantage.
It was the type of grinding win the Bruins needed. Rask was perfect. Chara and Seidenberg were thorough.
Milan Lucic (fight, four hits) submitted his trademark thundering style instead of the passive, one-step-late game he’s played too often. The Bruins kept pace with the Canadiens, who beat Winnipeg on the road, 4-2.
“Overall, I thought we played hard,” Julien said. “I thought we moved the puck quickly. When there was a breakdown, Tuukka was there to make the big saves. I was pretty happy with the game. If we keep playing that way, we’ll only get better.”