Claude Julien refuses to confirm it, as is his habit in the playoffs, but the Boston Bruins will throw a new look at the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 2 of their NHL playoff series Saturday night.
Judging by the last two days of practice, the Bruins head coach juggled his defence pairings after losing Andrew Ference to a one-game suspension for his head shot on Leafs centre Mikhail Grabovski in Game 1. And the new lineup shows the Bruins may think checking Leaf winger Phil Kessel is not as onerous a task as expected.
While Zdeno Chara will once again be on the ice every time Kessel puts in an appearance, he will not be playing with his usual partner, Dennis Seidenberg. Chara and Seidenberg have long been Boston’s shutdown pair but they were split up in practice on Friday and remained apart in Saturday’s game-day skate. That could mean Julien figures Chara doesn’t need any extra help smothering Kessel, since the Leaf forward once again was a no-show in the Bruins’ 4-1 win in the series opener.
Chara was playing with Adam McQuaid while Seidenberg went with Johnny Boychuk on the second pairing. The third pair will be veteran Wade Redden with rookie Dougie Hamilton, who appears set to replace Ference.
Julien has shuffled his pairings from time-to-time during the regular season but tends to stick with the customary pairings in big games and the playoffs.
Not that Julien would admit to anything. He belongs to that peculiar breed of coaches who think lineup changes should remain state secrets up to the opening faceoff no matter how obvious they are.
“Well, I mean we still have to make the decision between him and [Matt] Bartkowski for tonight,” Julien said after Saturday’s game-day skate.
That means Bartkowski may have to be spirited back to Boston from Hershey, Pa., some time Saturday afternoon, since he was reportedly on the team bus for the Providence Bruins. They were headed for an American Hockey League playoff game Saturday night against the Hershey Bears.
It also means someone on the coaching staff has been lying to Hamilton, who certainly appeared under the impression he will be playing Saturday night. It will be the rookie’s first NHL playoff game.
“I think if you haven’t played for a while it’s pretty exciting to get back out there,” Hamilton, 19, said.
Hamilton grew up as a Leafs fan in Toronto but claims he has not received any flak from his friends and family back home about playing for the Bruins. But he did admit to seeing a lot of chatter about the series on Facebook.
“I think it’s pretty funny,” he said. “I go on Facebook and [there is] stuff [by] friends from Toronto. You laugh at that a little bit, all the hype from Toronto. It’s cool to be part of that.”
Hamilton also claims no one from back home has given him a hard time about playing with Redden, a former Ottawa Senator who had a prominent role in those Maple Leafs-Senators playoff battles a decade ago.
Hamilton’s first NHL season was a success, as he played 42 games and showed his offensive promise with 16 points. But he saw enough from the press box in Game 1 to know the playoffs demand much more from a player.
What struck him, Hamilton said, was “the speed, the physical [play]. Everyone is so much better and smarter. You have to be prepared every shift. You can’t really take any shift off or you’ll be scored on.”