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Welcome mat put out for him

Bartkowski gets first NHL action

Mark Recchi (28) scores against Marc-Andre Fleury, part of the Bruins’ third-period explosion. Mark Recchi (28) scores against Marc-Andre Fleury, part of the Bruins’ third-period explosion. (Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / January 11, 2011

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PITTSBURGH — When Matt Bartkowski was growing up in Mount Lebanon, Pa., about 15 minutes away from the Igloo, some guy named Mark Recchi was lighting up the scoresheet for the Penguins. Last night, one of the stars of Bartkowski’s childhood — Recchi is 20 years older than the defenseman — was one of his Bruins teammates.

Enough to make your head spin, no?

“First game in your hometown,’’ said Bartkowski, “is awesome.’’

The 22-year-old with the Pittsburgh accent, promoted on emergency recall Sunday, made his NHL debut last night in front of family and friends at Consol Energy Center. After getting the call from assistant general manager Don Sweeney, Bartkowski flew to Pittsburgh, had dinner, and tried to settle in before the biggest game of his career. In his hometown, no less.

“I thought he did well,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “After the first period, we talked about him. It’s his first real NHL game in his hometown, of all places. There’s a lot of pressure. I thought he handled himself well. A couple times, he carried the puck up the ice when he had the space to do that. I think we were pleased with his game tonight.’’

Bartkowski, paired mostly with Andrew Ference, skated 12 shifts for 9:53 of ice time. Bartkowski appeared more comfortable as the game progressed.

“Little bit at first,’’ said Bartkowski when asked about any nerves. “I thought by the third, I settled in pretty good. It’s my first game, so obviously I’m not going to play like I wanted. Little bit of jitters.’’

Bartkowski starred at Mount Lebanon High School. His No. 12 was retired by the school in December 2008. He played at Ohio State for two years before turning pro after his sophomore season. The Bruins signed Bartkowski to a two-year, $1.7 million entry-level contract April 29.

Bartkowski was recalled because Adam McQuaid was unavailable because of an undisclosed injury. According to Julien, McQuaid was injured during Saturday’s 3-2 overtime loss to Montreal. He didn’t practice Sunday and didn’t participate in an optional morning skate yesterday. McQuaid worked out on a stationary bike yesterday instead. Julien termed McQuaid as day-to-day.

Bartkowski, acquired from Florida at last year’s trade deadline as part of the Dennis Seidenberg deal, has four goals and eight assists in 34 games for Providence. The first-year pro is a left-shot, two-way defenseman who projects in the Jordan Leopold mold — a solid, top-four NHL blue liner with offensive potential and some bite to his game. Bartkowski accompanied the team to Prague for the season-opening games against Phoenix.

“He’s another one of those young defensemen who, I’ve been told, continues to make great progress,’’ Julien said. “We liked him enough in camp to have to make that tough decision between bringing him or [Steven] Kampfer to Prague. They were both really well dead-even in our thought process.’’

Bartkowski was the team’s final cut out of training camp, as he was assigned to Providence Oct. 6.

“I was disappointed, but I didn’t really think too much,’’ Bartkowski said. “I didn’t let it get me down. Just work hard when I got sent down and work my way back up. Now I’m here.’’

When Mark Stuart broke his right hand and dislocated his ring finger Dec. 7, it was Kampfer, not Bartkowski, who got the first call. Kampfer has settled into the NHL quickly. He has three goals and one assist in 15 games while averaging 17 minutes of ice time. When Stuart is ready for game action later this month, Kampfer might not necessarily be sent back down.

“It’s good to see that he adjusted so smoothly,’’ Bartkowski said. “We’re pretty good friends, so I was happy to see him play pretty well the last few weeks. We’re kind of similar players, so it’s good to see that he adjusted pretty well. Hopefully I can too.’’

Powerful breakthrough After going scoreless on the power play in five straight games, the Bruins went 2 for 5 on the man-advantage last night. Mark Recchi scored the winning goal on the power play at 19:10 of the third. The goals came after a pair of failed power plays in the first period. The Bruins only put one puck on goal during the four minutes of five-on-four play.

“You hope this will be good for our power play,’’ Julien said of the third-period tallies. “Even after the first period when we did have the power plays, it seemed like our confidence was so low that even when we had opportunities, it’s almost like we didn’t see them. We either overpassed or didn’t shoot. We didn’t make the right decisions. That has a lot to do with confidence. Confidence was low, then you score two goals in the third. Hopefully you can build on that and get the power play going again.’’

Horton day to day Nathan Horton didn’t play for the second straight game because of an undisclosed injury. Horton skated yesterday for the first time since last Friday, when he left practice early. He suffered the injury in the third period of last Thursday’s 3-1 loss to Minnesota. After yesterday’s morning session, Horton remained on the ice for extra skating under the watch of assistant coach Doug Houda. Daniel Paille dressed for the second straight game . . . Milan Lucic has zero goals in the last 11 games. Too often, Lucic has been chasing the game and skating a step behind his opponents. “When he skates well and he’s on top of other teams, that’s when he’s at his best,’’ Julien said . . . Recchi appeared in his 1,612th career game, tying him with Ray Bourque for eighth on the all-time list . . . Sidney Crosby didn’t play because of a concussion . . . Ference led all players with six blocked shots.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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