BOSTON – When the Stanley Cup Finals are over for better or for worse, there will be plenty of questions and answers for both the Bruins and the Blackhawks.
One of the big questions will be “what in the world happened with Tyler Seguin?”
The 21-year-old forward has just a single goal in 18 playoff games after entering this season seemingly poised to go from All-Star performer to elite NHL talent. He was even dropped to the third line for the playoffs.
All of the questions are on hold right now as Seguin continues to develop and mature under the harsh spotlight of NHL superstardom.
Some of the critiques of Seguin's play really need to go by the wayside, specifically the generalized, inaccurate assertions that the right wing doesn’t ever enter into puck battles, or the more ludicrous accusation that he’s afraid of absorbing body contact.
If either of those things were true, Seguin would be averaging a lot less than 16:11 of ice time per game, and he might not even be in the lineup for the Black and Gold.
Clearly the battle level for Seguin during the playoffs has been inconsistent at best, and it’s never going to be his hockey calling card. Effort is really the key for a player like Seguin, who can use his skating legs and active stick to do all the work for him defensively.
Claude Julien is a pretty good authority on how much any of his forwards are actually bringing to the table in any particular hockey game, and he doesn’t have any complaints about Seguin’s effort as of late.
“[Seguin] had a slow start obviously in that Toronto series,” said Julien. “But his game got better. When you see his compete level, how hard he works to get to the puck, hang on to it, stuff like that, it got better. I said that just a few days ago.
"Right now the only thing you're kind of waiting for is the end result. The end result doesn't always have to be a goal because what he did [in Game 2] is just as good as a goal, on that pass to Dan Paille.
“As long as he continues to play the way he has, I thought [Game 2] was an excellent game for him, made some good plays, was there, everywhere around the puck, second-effort was there. That's all you can ask. He's only a 21-year-old kid, and this is his third year. Sometimes patience doesn't mean just for one year, patience means a little more than a year. As long as he's growing and getting better, I'm going to keep supporting him.”
Some nights Seguin will put in the extra effort, and utilize everything in his limited arsenal to win one-on-one battles. Seguin already has more hits (29) in 18 Stanley Cup playoff games than he did in the 48-game regular season (25).
“I’m just trying to work harder every day, and keep pushing for wins in whatever way that I can,” said Seguin.
The increased work ethic has been particularly noticeable in the first two Stanley Cup Finals games against the Blackhawks. He had eight shots on net in Game 1, and earned himself a handful of chances to end things in the overtime sessions. He was paying the price around the net and getting good chances, but he couldn’t put anything past Corey Crawford.
Then Seguin’s work ethic came even more to the forefront in Game 2 when he stepped up after Julien paired him with Chris Kelly and Paille at the start of the second period. Seguin was harassing Patrick Sharp all the way down the boards on one dogged shift, and didn’t relent until the Blackhawks forward coughed up the puck.
That bit of determined puck-hunting eventually led to Kelly’s second-period rebound goal, and sparked the Black and Gold.
Clearly it was a skill play along the boards that allowed Seguin to slide a cross-ice pass to Paille for the overtime game-winner Saturday night.
That’s really what the Bruins need to see more of out of No. 19 with injuries mounting for Boston. The Bruins youngest forward also knows he needs to continue to push himself to be as physical as humanly possible, and he’s been reminded of that every time he thinks of Gregory Campbell or Nathan Horton gutting it out.
“I was actually thinking about the both of them during the game. I got hit in the face with a stick, and it hurt, obviously,” said Seguin. “But I thought about the things that those guys managed to get up and play with, and it makes you more determined. Those guys are doing things that hurt or make them uncomfortable, and it pushes you to do the same thing when you get on the ice.”
If Seguin can continue to perform the way he did in the first two Cup Finals games, then perhaps some of those lingering questions will become a little less pressing.
A couple of well-timed goals what's left of the series from No. 19 would also go a long way toward people forgetting about whether or not the young forward is leading the Bruins into battle every time he hops over the boards.