Depleted and already without three of their top defensemen, Johnny Boychuk went off to the bench suffering from an unknown ailment less than 45 seconds into Game 1 of the Bruins’ second round Stanley Cup playoff series with the New York Rangers.
It was the last thing the Bruins needed, another lost body.
Lucky for the Bruins, Boychuk returned, proving his toughness again (and once more after receiving punishment by the Rangers’ Taylor Pyatt against the boards). But the team was especially lucky because its young core of defensemen — Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, and Torey Krug — who were called up this season and in the middle of the playoffs, helped solidify the team’s back end to ease the loss of its veterans.
It was, as Bartkowski put it, a “bonus” that they provided some offensive juice.
Krug fired home a third period power-play goal to tie the game 2-2, spurring the Bruins along to overtime where they dropped the Rangers on a Brad Marchand goal, 3-2. All just a day after the rookie was called up from Providence to make his NHL playoff debut.
“For his first goal, he couldn’t have asked for better timing,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Again, it just shows how good a player he is. Those young guys back there don’t lack confidence.”
Krug logged 23 shifts and 16:41 of ice time. Bartkowski had 37 shifts, paired with captain Zdeno Chara. He had 26:42 minutes of ice time. It was only his third playoff game.
“The more minutes I play, the more shifts I get, the more confidence,” said Bartkowski. “And just play on instinct.”
Bartkowski’s teammate, and former Providence lineman, stole the show with his goal, tying the game. But the team’s third rookie defenseman, Hamilton, was the one who set Krug up for the score, allowing him to get enough time and space to fire off a clean shot.
“Dougie made a great play getting the puck over to me,” Krug said. “I had a lot of time to get my shot through to the net. I was fortunate enough to get a screen on the goalie and it went in.”
The trio’s contribution was very much needed, especially coming into the series against New York where goals are going to be hard to come by.
“They were one of the better D’s today,” said Tuukka Rask. “They can skate really fast, move the puck good. They were solid in our own end too. So it’s good to see that they have that confidence to play the way they played in the NHL playoffs.”
Said Marchand: “They played incredible. They’re all playing big minutes. Obviously it’s a whole new situation for them, the playoffs. They handled it very well.”
With uncertainty surrounding Dennis Seidenberg (leg), Andrew Ference (lower body), and Wade Redden (undisclosed), it’s comforting for the team to know it can turn to these younger players and lean on them, at least for a short while.
“They deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled themselves,” Julien said. “All three of them. It was [Krug’s] first game, obviously. Not only did he score a big goal, but he just moved that puck so well. … I thought we had a real good effort obviously from those young guys, but our D corps was good tonight. I thought our whole team was, for that matter.”