BOSTON -- Bruins Director of Player Personnel Scott Bradley walked through the victorious B’s dressing room after Boston had punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals with a Game 5 victory over the New York Rangers, and couldn’t help but express happiness at what he’d just witnessed.
It was a victory for Bruins players, to be sure, after they’d vanquished Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers. It was also a sweetly deserved victory for Claude Julien and the Bruins coaching staff, who out-coached the blustery John Tortorella and Co. after Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle had given them all they could handle in the first round.
But as much as it was a victory for the players and the coaches, the series triumph over the Blueshirts was about team depth, player development, and choosing the correct players to bring into the organizational fold at the right time.
“This one was a big win for the scouts,” said Bradley, with a smile on his face.
The man behind the Bruins drafting Milan Lucic, among others, was talking about the entire scouting staff from top to bottom, but he was also referencing Boston’s head of amateur scouting Scott Fitzgerald.
The Billerica native has been in intensive rehab after being involved in a serious car accident on Rt. 125 in North Andover months ago. He and was one of the key Bruins personnel that bird-dogged players like Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski during their collegiate careers at Michigan State and Ohio State. It had to be a proud moment for “Fitz” watching several of his discoveries step up and contribute in a major way during Boston’s playoff series win over the Rangers.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli explained just how proud he was of his entire staff on Sunday.
"It speaks volumes. I would need a couple of hours to give credit to everybody because that's part of having a successful organization," he said. "From the Bruce Cassidys of the world, whose (Providence) team lost their two best playing during the playoffs, to the Wayne Smiths and Scott Bradleys that pound the pavement as scouts, to our college scouting staff that Donnie Sweeney is heading with Ryan Nadeau, who identified Krug, and to our coaching staff beyond the head coach.
"A lot of credit is due, and I'd like to give credit to everyone I can. To put together the depth we like and want to use, and to manage it at this level and at the minor pro levels is a hard job. It's a testament to those that I work with."
When it was all said and done, the Bruins were able to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three years because they were a deeper team than the New York Rangers, both within their everyday lineup and organizationally -- something they proved when injuries struck during the playoffs.
On the ice, the Broadway Blueshirts couldn’t match Boston’s forward depth and never had an answer for the “Merlot Line” in the five-game series. Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton accounted for 10 points in the five playoff games against New York. Paille and Campbell each kicked in a game-winning goal during the series.
That line forced Tortorella into scratching superstar Brad Richards and scurrying to cobble together his own energy line in the final few games of the series, but by that point the Rangers coaching staff had learned what everyone already knew: Thornton, Campbell and Paille are the best fourth line that the NHL has seen in a long, long time, and they can change the tide within a playoff series.
“In the first round [against Toronto] we had some chances too, but in this round they finally went in,” said Campbell, who potted two goals in Game 5 after finishing the 48-game regular season with four. “[The depth] is a credit to the organization, and the way that we’re built. If you look at the teams left now, it’s a matter of relying on different guys at different times.
“It means not only relying on different guys that are in your lineup, but it also means relying on the guys that aren’t in your lineup every day, but are coming in and working hard every day in case they do play. So when they get their opportunity to play, they’re ready to go. We had Andrew [Ference] go down, Dennis [Seidenberg] go down and Wade [Redden] go down, there was a lot of speculation around as to whether we could handle the Rangers or not. The young came in, didn’t care what anybody said, played with a lot of confidence and didn’t change their games at all. You saw that we had to rely on them time and time again, so a lot of the credit should go to them.”
It went beyond the Bruins simply overwhelming New York with their sheer number of quality forwards, though.
Boston was under siege before the series even began due to the injuries to Ference, Redden and Seidenberg that forced three rookies into the lineup against a big, strong, experienced New York hockey club. But Bartkowski, Krug and Dougie Hamilton excelled as the “Three Baby Bears” when inserted into the B’s defensemen corps, and actually improved the transition game and power play with their young, fresh skating legs and elite offensive skills.
In stepping in for Andrew Ference, Krug became the first NHL defenseman in the post-expansion era to score four goals in his first five career Stanley Cup playoff games, and he captured the imagination of hockey fans all over New Englandin the process. His cannon shot from the point, his aggressive and fearless attitude when carrying the puck up the ice and his feistiness in the defensive zone reveal a blueliner that’s probably here to stay at the NHL level.
“Those kids have stepped in, especially Freddy [Torey Krug], he played unbelievable, not even just the points," Shawn Thornton said. "I’ve said it before, all the little plays he made, carrying the puck, having poise, having patience with it, making the smart plays, and holding the blueline in the offensive zone. He played hard too. He’s not that big of a defenseman, but he plays a lot bigger than he is.”
Yes, Thornton did refer to Krug as “Freddy.” As in Freddy Krueger from Nightmare on Elm Street fame. The young Bruins defenseman isn't quite as physically intimidating as the movie's star at 5-foot-9 and about 180-pounds, but he was scary good against the Rangers.
Compare Krug's insertion into the lineup to what New York tried, losing Anton Stralman after Game 4 at Madison Square Garden and replacing him with 39-year-old Roman Hamrlik. The veteran blueliner hadn’t played in seven weeks, and thoroughly botched the shift that led to Gregory Campbell’s game-winning goal in Game 5. Hamrlik never saw the ice again after the second period nightmare shift, and will probably have to live with that being his last memory as an NHL player at the end of a long, accomplished career.
It's simple: The Bruins had a better team to start the series, and then had better options to choose from when the inevitable attrition because of injury started biting into their depth.
“I’m not a coach that rolls four lines because I want to roll four lines, I roll four lines because I know I’ve got the depth to roll four lines,” said Julien. “If I was coaching a team that didn’t have four lines, then I would no doubt shorten my bench. Peter [Chiarelli] and our organization has allowed us to have the players that gives us the opportunity to go with four lines. They were rewarding us with big goals. There’s no doubt, that line played a big role in this series. We’re moving on and they certainly deserve a lot of credit for that.”
The series victory over the Rangers will pit them against a deeper, better hockey club in the Pittsburgh Penguins juggernaut that’s stomped its way through the second-round like Godzilla taking down Tokyo. But the B’s can take at least another day or two to recognize that they’re doing the right things within their own organization, and everybody from ownership, management, coaches, scouts and all the way down to the players should take a bow for building something that’s sustaining success within the ultra-competitive NHL.
That’s not easy, but the Black and Gold are getting it done.