BOSTON â Last spring, with the Bruins desperate to get back into their opening-round playoff series with Montreal after dropping the first two games at home, Claude Julien put his top two defensemen together.
The combination of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg quickly became the most dominant shutdown pairing in the league and played a key role in Bostonâs run to the Cup.
Things havenât gotten quite as desperate for the Bruins, but itâs come close. Boston had dropped a season-high four games in a row and fell out of first place in the Northeast Division for the first time since November. Now they were facing a red-hot Flyers team and its top line of Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell and Jaromir Jagr, which came into Saturdayâs game with a combined 77 goals and 191 points.
So Julien reunited Chara and Seidenberg, and fed the Flyersâ top line a steady diet of that pair. The result was no points from the Flyersâ high-flying trio and the end of the Bruinsâ losing streak with a 3-2 shootout victory.
"I think we read off each other pretty well," Seidenberg said. "We pressured the guys as soon as they tried to do something and I think for the most part we kept them in check."
Seidenberg played 28:15, his most ice time in nine games, and chipped in three shots, three hits and a blocked shot. Chara played 28:41, his most ice time in 25 games since he played 31:45 in Boston's last game against Philadelphia back on Jan. 22.
"We played together the whole playoffs last year and so we're used to each other," said Chara, who was a plus-1 with three shots and a hit. "Just like with anybody else, we're just used to each other. That's the way this group is. It's been working for us as long as I've been here. But, you know, we try to keep the pairings against certain guys and it worked well."
Julien isn't ready to commit to making the reunion a permanent arrangement. That will depend on the opposition and who is in the lineup for the Bruins, but the Bruins can take comfort in knowing the option is still there, and still as effective, when they do need to use it.
"Everybody likes that pairing because of what they did last year in the playoffs, but as I said at the beginning of the year, it's a long year, and maybe eventually, youâll see that combination, but we had other things we had to do first and foremost," Julien said. "For now, that is a pairing. Whether it disappears for a while and comes back, that'll depend on the teams we're playing against, it depends on who's in the lineup, and what players they're playing, who they are, etc.
"Those are decisions you make almost on a game-to-game basis," Julien added. "But at the same time, you're not going to hide the fact that you like that pairing, especially if both of them are at their best. They've probably become one of the best pairs in the league."
The play of Chara and Seidenberg together was a huge boost last year in the postseason and again on Saturday, but what makes using them together is getting reliable play from the rest of the defense. Andrew Ference and Johnny Boychuk formed an effective second pairing in the playoffs, and they too were reunited on Saturday, while Adam McQuaid teamed with newcomer Greg Zanon, a more physical player who adds a different element to that third pairing than McQuaid had with Tomas Kaberle last year.
"Well, itâs important, and I think last year, you saw the same thing, Ference and Boychuk were a good pair," Julien said of the play of the other defensemen. "Youâve got Johnny, when heâs on his game, he's a real physical player. And Andrewâs going to battle. He plays like he's twice his size. Then youâve got a guy like McQuaid on the third pair whoâs also a real physical, tough individual, and right now, tonight, Greg Zanon, who is a good shot blocker, whoâs a gritty player, who goes in and battles hard. You know, youâve got to have guys, when itâs time to play against other lines, thatâll wear them down, and I think weâve got some of those guys that can do that."