GAME 7: BRUINS 5, LEAFS 4
BOSTON -- If anybody had been told Dennis Seidenberg would suffer a leg injury in the first minute of Game 7 that would take him out for the rest of the tilt, they would have properly guessed that the Bruins were done for.
Seidenberg did indeed suffer some kind of lower body issue that knocked him out for the rest of Monday night’s game after just two shifts and 37 seconds, but somehow Bruins defensemen cobbled it together and helped stabilize things so that they could pull off a 5-4 overtime victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It was the first time an NHL team has overcome a three-goal deficit in Game 7 of a playoff series, and it was made possible when young defensemen like Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton stepped up into the void. It was also obviously produced by the 35 minutes of yeoman’s work from Zdeno Chara and the 28:30 of ice time for defenseman Johnny Boychuk.
But both Bartkowski and Hamilton proved their playoff mettle when the Bruins needed them most with Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden all out of commission. Bartkowski used his speed and shot to score the game’s first goal, and finished with 24:31 of battle-hardened ice time while finishing with three shots thanks to his fresh legs.
Hamilton finished with 21:08 of ice time, and went from a shaky opening few shifts to a 19-year-old defenseman that was gaining in confidence and precision as the game moved along.
There was certainly a trial-by-fire quality to the performance from the young Bruins defensemen, but that is what the playoffs are all about.
“I think we kind of got into a little bit of a rotation, but definitely in the first period nobody knew who was going and if [Seidenberg] was coming back or not,” said Hamilton. “So . . . stay aware on the bench and stay ready because you didn’t know when you were going to get called.
“When you’re down 4-1, you start thinking about the season being over and the emotions from that. All the excitement now, it’s a pretty cool feeling. I just skated around after the game with the fans, and I don’t think they sat down during overtime. So I’m just pretty happy.”
The Bruins were going to need depth among their defensemen corps if they were to survive in the Stanley Cup playoffs, and they showed just that in Monday night’s Game 7 triumph.
“You have to find a way to give credit to those two young guys on the back end — Hamilton and obviously Bartkowski," coach Claude Julien said. "Bartkowski was moving the puck and carrying it so well tonight, and he scored a big goal for us. I saw Dougie Hamilton get more and more comfortable as the game went on as far as carrying the puck and making plays.
“You talk about people coming in, well we were minus three real good veterans in our back end, so that’s half your core. Those guys come in and do a heck of a job. They deserve a lot of credit, but we’re so used to a guy like Zdeno doing it night after night. Sometimes we don’t give him the credit he deserves. If it’s not for Zdeno — the way he played tonight — we’re not sitting here going to the next round.”
It was fitting that Bartkowski fired home his first career goal in the Game 7 win over the Maple Leafs, and opened up the scoring both teams because it was in Game 7, playing big minutes and making plays, that Bartkowski firmly established himself as a player the Bruins can rely on from this point forward.