Sunday, March 9, 2014
BOSTON - The kids are alright.
WHO: Bruins at New York Rangers
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
SERIES: Bruins lead, 2-0
The Bruins have a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal series with the Rangers. After surviving a long, crazy seven-game set with the Maple Leafs, Boston has come out and taken early control of the series after two wins at home.
They've done it without three of the defensemen who played regular shifts in late-season and first-round games.
Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ferrence, and Wade Redden haven't taken the ice in this series yet.
They've been replaced by Dougie Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski, and Torey Krug. Most experts thought that would be a real concern coming into a series against an experienced Rangers team.
Turns out it hasn't been a problem at all. The young trio of D-men have injected some life into the Bruins. They've ensured the Bruins wouldn't suffer any letdown after the emotion of the seven-game mini-drama with Toronto.
It didn't take long for the kids to make their impact on the team. In Game 7 of the series with the Leafs, Matt Bartkowski scored Boston's first goal. Torey Krug followed suit with the first game of Game 1 against the Rangers. He did it again to lead off Game 2.
Not bad for a 5- foot- 9 defenseman who was never drafted. And who probably never thought he would be in the mix when these Original 6 teams lined up to start the series.
Krug and Bartkowski were instrumental in the Providence Bruins' first-round win in the AHL playoffs vs. the Hershey Bears. Both were in playoff game shape when they got the call from the big club.
Bartkowski has played more than 20 minutes in each of the two games in this series so far. At 24 years old, he knows this is a great chance to make a name for himself in the NHL.
He was just along for the ride when the Bruins won the Cup two years ago, because he never got in a game.
And it wasn't that long ago Bartkowski was playing youth hockey in the Pittsburgh area with a couple of Jaromir Jagr posters on his bedroom walls. Now he's one of Jagr's teammates, hoping to share a Cup with the future Hall of Famer.
Hamilton is a different story. He's a first-round pick with a pedigree, a 19-year old targeted for greatness.
We just didn't think we'd see him now. With a healthy roster, Claude Julien would undoubtedly be going with more experience on the blue line.
Instead, it's been young legs pushing the play at a Rangers team that suddenly looks old and behind the play. And it's pretty clear the Bruins know how important the young defensive trio has been.
"They're really good skaters, and really skilled," said goalie Tuukka Rask of the three defensemen. "They seem to make the right play and also helping us offensively."
Things could be different for the youngsters beginning Tuesday. It will be a far more hostile crowd at Madison Square Garden as the Bruins play the first road game of the series. Krug and Bartkowski will play their first road playoff games ever. We'll see if they remain as poised.
With the injured defensemen getting closer to a return, there will be tough decisions for Claude Julien to make. So far, his decisions have paid off.
"One of the first things that Coach Julien said to me when I got here was, 'Don't be scared to make mistakes,"' Krug told NESN. "And I think that goes a long way when you're out there on the ice. You're not thinking too much. You're just playing hockey."
If the kids keep playing like this, the Bruins could be playing hockey deep into the playoffs.
Tom Caron is the studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on the New England Sports Network. His column appears in the Press Herald on Tuesdays.