Hamilton, Bartkowski hold down blue line

BOSTON -- Two young guns, two kids with promising upsides, defensemen with their best years ahead, and both found themselves digging back to their days of lower-level hockey to try to find a viable comparison to what had just transpired in the Bruins' wild Game 7 win at TD Garden.

Try as they might, neither could find one.

"Being down like that in the third period, overcoming a mountain like that, was awesome," said Matt Bartkowski, who was given the go right after warmups and gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead before they had to claw back for a 5-4 overtime win over the Maple Leafs. "I was thinking, I played first round in the minors, our Game 4 we had to win and we were down 4-3 with four minutes to go and we scored two goals in two minutes. But this tops that by far. That's the only thing I thought about."

Rookie Dougie Hamilton, playing in his third playoff hockey game, recalled his appearance with Team Canada in last December's World Junior Championships, rallying from a big deficit before eventually losing.

"To be honest, I kind of thought we were done," Hamilton admitted. "But for me, just looking back at past experience, I think we came back from a four-goal lead -- I think back to juniors too, we didn't complete it, but that's how I felt."

It's been a trial by fire for the young defensemen, who were thrown a heavy workload with Andrew Ference and Wade Redden out, and Dennis Seidenberg leaving the game after just two shifts and 37 total seconds of ice time. But both were up for it, demonstrating remarkable maturity in spite of their inexperience.

Bartkowski's goal, his first career playoff goal, was testament to that. Just more than five minutes into the game, Bartkowski was gift-wrapped a golden opportunity when Cody Franson got a bit too fancy, blindly backhanding a puck between his legs off the wall, right to Bartkowski.

Some youngsters might have quick-triggered given the window of opportunity. Bartkowski held on to the puck and waited a brief moment, just long enough for David Krejci to swoop in front of goalie James Reimer and flash a quick screen as Bartkowski unloaded from the high slot. The puck beat Reimer short side, over his right shoulder, for the 1-0 lead.

"I saw I had a little bit of time," Bartkowski said. "That was an unbelievable screen right there [from Krejci]. That made the goal."

With the Bruins down to five defensemen, Bartkowski logged 24:51 of ice time on 35 shifts, registering three shots and a hit, and finishing even in the plus-minus column. Hamilton, the Bruins' first-round draft pick (ninth overall) in 2011, was just as serviceable, logging 21:08 of time on 28 shifts with two shots, two hits and an even finish for the plus-minus category.

“[Seidenberg] plays a ton of minutes and for a guy like him to go down, it’s a big blow to our team, but you’ve got to give it to our defensemen,” forward Brad Marchand said. “They stepped up tonight and played unbelievable. Bart and Dougie coming in, a couple of young guys, and playing the minutes they did, then [Zdeno Chara] and Johnny [Boychuk] back there, and [Adam McQuaid], they did an incredible job tonight.”

Add Seidenberg to the list of defensemen whose status is up in the air, joining Game 7 absences Ference and Redden. This doesn't figure to be the last we'll see of Hamilton and Bartkowski.

Good to know they can be relied upon in the crunch.

"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, we were minus three real good veterans in our back end, so that's half your core, and those guys come in and do a heck of a job."