By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON It seems only fitting that Dennis Seidenberg struck the early tone in Bostons most important game of the season.
It was the German defenseman who waited for the golden opportunity early in the first period and delivered a crunching hit to Marty St. Louis that knocked the Tampa Bay Lightning speedster off his skates. The Tampa spark plug was okay after collecting himself and getting back into the play, but the big body shot wasnt forgotten by an offensive player that finished with a single shot on net.
Seidenberg sent a message this wasnt going to be St. Louis night or any other Lightnings night for that matter and it showed Tampa Bays skill players that the Boston shutdown defensemen corps of Seidenberg and Zdeno Chara werent headed anywhere except in their faces.
To start a game you always want to set a tone and start getting involved as physically as you can, said Seidenberg. I saw an opportunity to step up and get involved and I took it. I dont do it often, but when you get a chance to finish a guy off you really want to take it . . . especially in the playoffs.
After all Seidenberg and Chara are the most biggest workhorses left in the Stanley Cup playoffs as they sit third (28:22) and fourth (28:17) respectively among players in the postseason so theyre not going anywhere expect back over the boards for more ice time against the other teams top units. Seidenberg is actually the first player to eclipse 500 minutes of ice time during this seasons Stanley Cup playoffs as the Bs defenseman is sitting at 510:48 of ice time in 18 games thus far.
Seidenberg had a game-high eight blocked shots in the deciding game and logged the most ice time of anybody on either roster in the game that decided the Eastern Conference Championship and came up with a Herculean performance that cinches his role as the most underrated performer during the Bruins potential run to the Stanley Cup.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was still raving about Seidenbergs signature performance in Game 7, and the pairing with Chara that has locked the Bruins defense into place since Game 3 against the Montreal Canadiens.
Since the move to unite Seidenberg and Chara the Bruins are 12-4 in the playoffs, and theyve been unstoppable when focused on the task of smothering the other teams best offensive players. Its the exact kind of punishing, physical, strangulating defense that the Bruins hope with silence the Sedin Twins and Ryan Kesler once the Canucks get things going next week.
I think he had the best game Ive seen him play, marveled Chiarelli on Saturday afternoon when breaking down a defining 60 minutes for the entire team. He was a horse last night. Then you couple him with Zee and youve got a tremendous shutdown pair. The fact that he can play -- and this is common for European players that they play the off side -- to be a shutdown guy, to make the plays on the wall with his backhand in the offensive zone and the defensive zonethats a terrific accomplishment.
Hes just so strong and he makes the right play. Strong on the puck, I dont know how often youve seen him lose a puck battle this series. Obviously weve had a couple of funky games. But he actually, he had a couple games like that with Carolina, and then last year he kind of fell through the cracks a little bit. But hes confident now. Hes a strong, strong player. Hes thick and he can log those minutes -- like those twenty-five plus minutes -- and recover very quickly. Hes a very valuable piece of the puzzle.
Seidenberg is cruising along now with a goal and seven assists along with a plus-8 in 18 games for the Bruins in the postseason, but thats only because Claude Julien made the ultimate adjustment during the Montreal series. Julien is oft-painted as a hockey coach that's loathe to make changes until its too late, but that was an example of the Bs coach making a solid choice with his team down 0-2 to the Habs.
Julien slapped together the defensemen in a pairing when Seidenberg was minus-4 after the first two losses to Montreal, and the rest has been history for the Bruins. Hes only had two minus playoff games in the ensuing 16 games during the Bs playoff run, and hes given Julien a defensive weapon he can deploy against offensive explosive players on the other side of the ice.
Seidenberg and Chara define shutdown defensemen pairing, and caused St. Louis, Steve Stamkos and Co. to all go missing in the decisive Game Seven win over the Lightning.
It was a conscious effort on the part of the coaching staff and the management group to get Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg those heavier minutes, to really put them in to a strong shut down role, said Chiarelli. If you go back we made that change after game two. And really, theyve blossomed and allowed the other D to settle more comfortably into their roles.
Seidenberg will need to keep up those heavy minutes for at least a few more weeks as there is one more defensive mountain to climb for the defenseman and the rest of his Bs teammates.