Seguin will get his chance
Bruins bump Kelly up to Bergeron center spot
WILMINGTON — It is not entirely accurate to say that Tyler Seguin has never dressed for an NHL playoff game. For all seven Bruins-Canadiens first-round games and the four that followed against Philadelphia, the Boston coaching staff instructed Seguin to pull on his gear for pregame warm-ups.
“I needed him to get the experience of seeing how guys are getting ready for playoff games,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “He was in the dressing room before it started. I think those are things that hopefully will have allowed him to grow and get even better. Those things were done purposefully. Now it’s his opportunity to step in there and show that he’s going to be a contributor to our hockey club.’’
Whenever Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals will be — Thursday or Saturday are the likely dates — Seguin will play for real. With Patrice Bergeron unavailable because of a concussion, Seguin will get his first taste of NHL playoff action.
“You can’t assume not playing,’’ Seguin said after yesterday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “But if a guy’s going to get hurt, I wanted to do the best I could to get a shot.’’
Yesterday, Seguin was the right wing on the No. 3 line. Michael Ryder was the left wing, while Rich Peverley was at center.
Chris Kelly, formerly the left wing on the third line, centered the No. 2 line between Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi. The defensive-minded Kelly plays a style closest to Bergeron’s two-way game. The No. 2 line is sure to see regular shifts against Tampa Bay’s top-six attack, whether it’s the first line of Ryan Malone, Steven Stamkos, and Martin St. Louis, or the second line of Simon Gagne, Vincent Lecavalier, and Teddy Purcell.
“It’s something we think can be a good fit,’’ Julien said of slotting Kelly between Marchand and Recchi. “He’s had some pretty good numbers in the playoffs. But he’s also very reliable at the other end of the ice as well. It’s a starting point.’’
Nobody knows when Bergeron will return. This is the third time he has suffered a concussion since Oct. 27, 2007. Bergeron’s latest concussion is the mildest of the three. Unlike after his first two, he skated off the TD Garden ice on his own.
Through 11 playoff games, Bergeron was the team’s leading scorer (2-10—12). He won 64.2 percent of his faceoffs, the second-best clip of any draw man in the playoffs (Washington’s Boyd Gordon won 68.8 percent of his drops). Bergeron averaged 19:02 of ice time per game, second-most among team forwards behind David Krejci (20:45). Bergeron averaged 1:42 of shorthanded ice time per game and 2:18 on the power play.
Bergeron, the team’s leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, touched the game in virtually every area.
“Everything,’’ Kelly answered when asked what the team will miss with Bergeron out. “Obviously you can’t replace Bergy. He does every little thing that maybe goes unnoticed by a lot of people. But not by us. He does all the big things too that you guys notice as well. You can’t replace him. He’s irreplaceable. Hopefully he’s good to go.’’
The 30-year-old Kelly, who had four goals and three assists through the first two rounds, now will have an opportunity to assume more responsibilities. Kelly won only 44.8 percent of his faceoffs in the playoffs. He will not skate on the power play. But Kelly’s experience and hockey sense, the bosses figure, will allow him to adapt to centering Marchand and Recchi.
“What he’s produced offensively, point-wise and goals and all that stuff, has certainly been refreshing for us,’’ Julien said. “We know he was a good, solid, two-way player. We maybe didn’t expect as much offensively as we’ve seen so far. So that’s been great.’’
By placing Seguin with Peverley and Ryder, Julien is hoping to re-create an offensive-minded third line like Krejci, Ryder, and Blake Wheeler turned out to be two years ago. The new third line will not be as responsible defensively without Kelly. But Julien will be sure to pick his spots — Peverley and friends will see shifts against Tampa’s bottom six — and deploy a strong defensive pairing when the skilled forwards are on the ice.
The question is how Seguin will adjust to postseason intensity. He wilted during the stretch run when his skills failed to compensate for his sagging battle level.
“Watching the playoffs, I guess it really does make you hungry. You hope he’s hungry enough that he steps in there and showcases what he can,’’ Julien said. “He’s a good player. He has improved from Day 1 to now.
“Right now, it’s crunch time. It’s about winning. As I mentioned to him, it’s not so much about being patient and seeing things. It’s more about results right now. It’s going to be important that he tries and gets us some results. Results for him would certainly be competing really hard in all areas and utilizing his skill assets to create some scoring chances and some goals.’’