The NHL playoffs generally aren’t the time you want to see what your rookies are made of, but that’s the difficult situation the Bruins find themselves in these days with three veteran defensemen (Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden) all out with various injuries. If the scintillating 3-2 overtime win by the B’s against the Rangers Thursday night is any indication, the young trio of Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski look ready for the spotlight and pressure. Krug had a power-play goal, Hamilton added an assist on it and Bartkowski played 26:42 (3rd most for Bruins defensemen).
“This is one of those things that you dream about as a kid,” said Krug who talked about watching Game 7 vs. Toronto on TV with his Providence Bruins teammates. “The coaching staff showed confidence in us and they stressed to me to just play my game and focus on what I do best.”
Krug’s first NHL playoff game was particularly memorable since he tied it at two 2:55 into the third period. Brad Marchand (who netted the overtime winner) had the second assist on Krug’s shot from the point that beat Rangers All-World goaltender Henrik Lundqvist (46 saves).
This is not to say that there won’t be bumps along the way for these three players. Bartkowski was on the ice for both goals by New York but he still drew praise from Bruins head coach Claude Julien for moving the puck quickly. Therein lies the main difference between Krug, Hamilton and Bartkowski vs. Seidenberg, Ference and Redden: young legs and speed. All season Boston found it very difficult to break out of its own end with the puck. The young guys should help in that troublesome area which can make a huge difference against an aggressive forechecking team like the Rangers.
Julien smartly spread out his youngsters since Hamilton came in with three games of NHL playoff experience and Bartkowski had just two. Zdeno Chara skated with Hamilton, Johnny Boychuk was with Bartkowski and Adam McQuaid was with Krug.
“They all played really well (the young guys), they deserve a lot of credit,” noted Julien. “They certainly don’t lack confidence.”
The Providence Bruins (Boston’s minor league affiliate) are in the AHL’s Eastern Conference semifinals, up 3-0 in their series against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. It says something about that team and the coaching staff down there that Bartkowski and Krug can make this leap seemingly without much of a learning curve.
The Bruins obviously want their three more experienced defensemen to return at some point in the postseason but Game 1s outcome vs. New York and the individual performances of Krug, Bartkowski and Hamilton should give Boston’s older players some faith in their newest team members. They didn’t look out of place at all which is exactly what you hope for at this stage.
“Those guys stepped up,” said Marchand. “That’s what you need to do in this situation.”
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate