They have their regulars, the mainstays who have played instrumental roles in staking the club to a 3-1 series lead against the Flyers in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
There are also the players who have spent a significant portion of the season up with the big club, waiting eagerly for the opportunity to play, should they be needed.
Then, there are the extra bodies up from Providence, whose AHL season ended almost a month ago.
But for any of these men, a game day begins the same: Wake up, go to the rink and be ready in case your name is called.
“Initially, you get up with the mindset that you could be playing that night, and then when you show up to the rink, everyone’s there and ready to go,” said Bruins center Trent Whitfield, who saw his first playoff action in Game 4 after not playing since the April 11 regular-season finale. “You go out there, practice hard and do a little extra after with the coaches. Then, they have us get there early before warmups in case maybe someone isn’t feeling well at game time.
"It’s not always easy because you know there’s a bigger chance of you not playing than playing, but there is always that chance you’re going to play. You have to prepare pretty much all day [in case] you could be thrown in.”
To a certain degree, that’s what happened for Whitfield. David Krejci was injured in the first period of Boston’s Game 3 win and will be gone for the remainder of the playoffs with a dislocated wrist.
Soon after, the talk of the Boston airwaves centered on Krejci’s replacement. Would it be Whitfield, a 12th-year pivot with more than 900 professional games under his belt (including 14 in the NHL postseason) or Brad Marchand, a rookie winger with skill and spunk but no top-level playoff experience?
On the morning of Game 4, Whitfield, as anticipated by many, publicly got the nod for a variety of reasons — among them, his finesse in the faceoff circle, his responsible defensive play and ability to kill penalties and his experience. It all made for an easy center-for-center swap.
For Whitfield, or any of the many players put in his position, however, it wasn’t easy. Unlike a midseason callup, he wasn’t coming from a position where he was playing a lot, feeling ready and prepared for game speed. A few weeks worth of practice is beneficial for staying in shape, but even the best scrimmage cannot begin to compare to an NHL playoff game.
Still, easy or not, this is exactly what guys like Whitfield sit in the press box hoping for every night. An injury to a teammate? Of course not. But, an opportunity? Absolutely.
“You’re always up there chomping at the bit,” recalled Whitfield of his time as an observer. “You’re anxious and don’t know when that might happen. You know you’re in the playoffs, games are rough, lots of body contact, guys getting banged up. You never know when somebody might not be able to go that night. It’s unfortunate. You never want to see anybody get hurt, but when you lose a guy like [Krejci], that’s a huge loss for the team. You just want to stay within yourself, and when you get that chance, you want to take advantage of it.”
The question then becomes: What’s it like watching and waiting, hoping for that chance?
“We know what we’re here for and what’s expected of us,” Whitfield said. “We know that we’re only going to get in if something unfortunate happens to one of the other guys. I’ve never been frustrated, but it is mentally draining just simply because you go to the rink knowing you’re not playing, you’re getting skated at the end of practice, and then you sit around all day, sure that you’re not playing, but at the same time, you never know, right?
“You always got to be engaged. You don’t want to just relax and say, ‘OK, I’m not playing so just forget everything.’ You want to stay as sharp as possible.”
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