ST LOUIS – The Bruins defensemen knew they were facing a challenging test against a heavy, physical, talented St. Louis Blues team known for throwing big hits and overflowing with a deep, talented wealth of offensive performers.
That they were doing it without Zdeno Chara, off to attend the Opening Ceremonies at the Olympics, was the biggest story of the game Thursday night at the Scottrade Center. That doesn’t even begin to mention also missing the considerable size/strength of Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid, a trio of absences that really change the makeup of Boston’s defensemen group.
When it was all over, the Bruins lost the game in a 3-2 overtime decision when T.J. Oshie took the puck from Carl Soderberg behind the net, and stuffed it past Tuukka Rask before the B’s goalie had a chance to close off the net. Still, most of the Bruins weren’t speaking in terms of defeat after the game was over given the circumstances.
A Rask save here, or a different bounce there, could have produced a far different outcome.
“I thought we played pretty good, and I thought our D corps without Zee was pretty good,” said Dougie Hamilton. “I thought we all stepped up, and filled that time. It didn’t make it that much harder on us. I just think everyone was playing well.”
The Bruins received 20-plus minutes of ice time from Hamilton, Matt Bartkowski and Torey Krug after rolling out Hamilton and Bartkowski as their starting defensemen pair. It was the latest statement of action, rather than words, that the B’s young defensemen are ready for prime time.
It also makes it a much more believable scenario that the B’s young defensemen could hold up their end of the bargain at the end of the season, just as they did in the playoffs last season.
“It was great to see our team compete the way we did tonight with all our guys missing on the back end,” said coach Claude Julien. “They did a great job back there. The thing that was really impressive to me: with the young D corps, we didn’t spend a lot of time in our own end.
“Our guys did a great job of getting pucks out, and moving it forward. Our forwards were helping out, and that made a big difference in the game. If we hadn’t done that it would have been a lot different.”
Johnny Boychuk clocked in with 19:45 and would have gone over 20 minutes were it not for a double-minor penalty in the second period sticking up for an Oshie seek-and-destroy hit on Krug. The Bruins killed off that penalty, and Boychuk authored the important statement that it wasn’t open season on Boston’s players with the 6-foot-9 captain on his Olympic odyssey.
Clearly, there were times it was noticeable that the Bruins were a little “light” in the size and strength department on the left side of their defense corps. Both David Warsofsky and Kevan Miller struggled a bit as rookies while on ice for a pair of goals against, and Warsofsky was a part of the decisive losing play in OT.
Without Chara, they limited the Blues to 27 shots on net, kept St. Louis from sustained possessions in the offensive zone, and steered most of their shots to perimeter bids that Rask had a good chance to stop. That they did it with guys like Alex Steen, David Backes and Oshie operating with pretty high motors was an impressive performance.
“I thought we played pretty well throughout the game…especially with Zee out,” said Boychuk. “The score didn’t really tell the tale. I thought we should have won. The ‘D’ played extremely well for having our team leader off.”
The numbers don’t lie that the Bruins are clearly a better team with their defensive stopper and captain: the Bruins are now 7-6-4 in the past eight years without Chara in the lineup, and 320-197-62 with him since he signed with the Bruins as a free agent prior to the 2006-07 season.
Still, the bottom line is this: if the Chara-less Bruins were told prior to the game that they’d get to overtime against the Blues with a golden chance to win it, they would take that all day long.
It’s just not something they’d want to do on a regular basis when it comes to arguably the most irreplaceable individual player in the NHL given his size, strength and unique physical skills. The B’s kids are certainly OK, but they’re a heck of a lot bigger, stronger, braver and better with Chara in the fold.