BROSSARD, Quebec -- With both Matt Bartkowski and Andrej Meszaros struggling at the left-side second defenseman position over the first three games of the Bruins' second-round playoff series with the Montreal Canadiens, general manager Peter Chiarelli faced multiple questions about the situation on Wednesday.
With Dennis Seidenberg skating once again during team non-contact drills during an optional practice at the Bell Sports Complex, the natural first question was whether the German defenseman has been ruled out for the second-round series against Montreal. He told the Boston Globe that he “felt ready to play”, but asn’t been cleared for contact while being protected from his own competitive bent at this point.
Chiarelli said things hadn’t changed with the injured defenseman’s status as of yet.
“I’m not commenting on it," he said. "I haven’t last series or this series, so I don’t what status report is being referred to. He is skating as you can see, so that’s about all I can say.”
It’s rare to see a player return more quickly than five months when it comes to the ACL/MCL surgery from early January, and Seidenberg’s best-case-scenario timetable still would seem to have him back for the Stanley Cup Final in early June. It doesn’t appear there’s any urgency to rush a rehabbing player back in the lineup if he still hasn’t been cleared for contact.
That’s a good thing for the Bruins in the long term, given that Seidenberg is signed for four more years after this one.
What hasn’t been good has been the play of Bartkowski and Meszaros in three playoff games against the speedy, dangerous Canadiens.
Bartkowski took a couple of tough penalties that led to goals in Game 1, including a bear hug on fourth-liner Dale Weise that resulted in a power play game-winner. Meszaros was okay in the Game 2 aside from taking an ill-advised penalty retaliating against Tomas Plekanec that also led to a goal.
But the Slovakian defenseman looked slow and behind the play in Game 3 at the Bell Centre, and made some crucial mental mistakes that can’t happen in Claude Julien’s system.
He twice let Habs players get behind him for rushes to the net: the Rene Bourque rush in the first period down the left wing ended up being harmless, but Meszaros and Johnny Boychuk were caught unaware on Weise’s breakaway goal in the second period off a Mike Weaver blocked shot.
The difference in skating speed between the two players would lead many to assume Bartkowski would go back in, given his ability to recover from a broken play. Chiarelli came short of giving Meszaros a vote of confidence, but sounded like he wanted the veteran to remain among the top six.
“It’s a lineup decision," he said. "These guys have been good for us. Bartkowski has been good for us all year. He had to come in when Seidenberg got hurt. He had to find his game and fit in, and I think he’s done that. He got sick, and he got of synch a little bit.
“We acquired Meszaros in a trade. I didn’t mind his game [on Tuesday night]. Everyone can make a mistake here or there, but he made a play on the [Jarome] Iginla goal. My confidence level [in them] is irrelevant.”
As the cracks appear in the games of both Bartkowski and Meszaros, the cries for a Seidenberg insertion into the lineup grow louder with each leisurely morning skate that he takes part in. Both Bartkowski and Meszaros are playing, of course, because Seidenberg blew out his right knee in late December.
Maybe he’ll surprise everyone and somehow come to the rescue for a Bruins team that could clearly use him against the Canadiens, or maybe he’ll never get an opportunity to suit up in these playoffs.
The people that really hold the answers to these questions aren’t talking, so Meszaros and Bartkowski will compete with the ghost of Seidenberg until the German defenseman actually makes his lineup return.