Tim Thomas rightfully took home all the hardware after his historic postseason performance. Brad Marchand earned a cult following and Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci finally earned a bit of the recognition they've long deserved.
But there were a couple of less heralded guys who also played vital roles in Boston's championship run. And without the stellar play of the likes of Dennis Seidenberg and Andrew Ference on the blue line, the Bruins probably wouldn't be enjoying their days with the Cup this summer.
The single most important tactical move Claude Julien made during the course of the playoffs was shuffling his defense pairs after Boston dropped the first two games to Montreal at home in the opening round. Julien moved Seidenberg up to the top pairing with Zdeno Chara, with Ference joining Johnny Boychuk on the second pair and Tomas Kaberle and Adam McQuaid making up the final duo.
Chara and Seidenberg clicked immediately, and formed the most dominant shutdown pair in the league for the remainder of the playoffs. They frustrated some of the Eastern Conference's top scorers through the first three rounds, then made Vancouver's Daniel and Henrik Sedin almost complete non-factors in the Cup Final.
Chara's size, skill and strength had a lot to do with that, but Seidenberg's role can't be understated. Seidenberg averaged 27:37 of ice time in the playoffs, just two second less than Chara's team-leading 27:39 and more than four minutes over his regular-season average. He never appeared to wear down though, sharing the scoring lead among Boston defensemen with 1-10-11 totals to go with a league-leading 74 blocked shots and 57 hits.
Chara gave Seidenberg the ultimate compliment during the playoffs when he noted, "To be paired up with him just gives me more confidence."
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli went even further in his praise after the Cup win.
"He's very strong, he's like a bull on the boards with the puck," Chiarelli said of Seidenberg. "We got him for shutdown capabilities and we got him to play with Zee [Chara]. We wanted to spread the wealth and that was what we did throughout the year. But you talk about critical junctures in this playoff run and when we decided to pair him up and give him considerable minutes with Zee after Game 2 [of the Montreal series], you could see him just take off. He had a very good year, but you could see him take off with confidence. And I mean, he had a terrific, terrific playoff."
As good as Chara and Seidenberg were together, that move wouldn't have worked if the Bruins couldn't rely on their other pairs, and Ference stepped up his play to stabilize the second pairing.
There were plenty of questions raised when Chiarelli gave Ference a three-year extension at a $2.25 million cap hit last season as the veteran defenseman was in the midst of yet another injured-plagued campaign. But Ference stayed healthy for most of the season and earned every bit of that contract with his playoff performance.
After coming into the playoffs with just three career postseason goals, and none in a decade, Ference put up 4-6-10 totals in this run. He delivered one of the biggest goals of the year in Game 4 in Montreal, with his ensuing "unintentional bird" to the Bell Centre crowd serving as one of the key emotional rallying points for the Bruins. He was a plus-10 and added 40 blocked shots and 32 hits while averaging 20:36. He was also one of the key leaders in the locker room, whose influence was shown by the tradition of awarding a vintage Bruins warm-up jacket to the player of the night after each victory.
Ference introduced that ritual after finding the jacket on eBay late in the regular season.
"He's been, steady is the perfect word to describe Andy," Chiarelli said during the playoffs. "And whoever is his partner, he manages to steady them also. He's poised and he's really competitive. He doesn't put up huge numbers, but I think if you look at his plus/minuses and you look at the important minutes he plays, they're not always huge minutes but they're important minutes. And he's got experience. He's been good throughout the regular season and he's been really good in the playoffs."
Now the question is whether Seidenberg and Ference can maintain that level of play when the Bruins open their title defense this fall. Keeping Chara and Seidenberg together in the regular season would be a tremendous weapon, and should be an option for Julien as long as Ference stays healthy and keeps the second pair solid.
While Chara and Seidenberg logged huge minutes in the playoffs and that kind of workload would probably be too much even for them over a full 82-game slate, the Bruins shouldn't have to rely on them playing quite so much this year. Joe Corvo, who averaged 24:46 with Carolina last season, has been added to the mix to replace Kaberle and McQuaid is ready to take on a bigger role after a solid first full season in the NHL last year.
With that tandem rounding out the top six, the Bruins could have the best of both worlds by keeping Chara and Seidenberg together and still having a more balanced workload to keep everyone rested for the postseason. But being able to do that will depend on Ference, who missed 89 games in three seasons before last year, staying healthy and Seidenberg at least coming close to maintaining the level of play he displayed in a postseason performance for the ages.
NESN.com Bruins beat writer Douglas Flynn will be answering one question facing the Bruins this offseason each day until Aug. 8.
Friday, July 22: How much will the chemistry of having almost the entire roster back from last season help the Bruins?
Sunday, July 24: Has David Krejci proven himself as a No. 1 center in the NHL?
Powered by WordPress.com VIP