BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins entered their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers riddled with injuries to key players. Facing a big, physical team such as the Rangers, Boston faced some challenges.
With three veteran defensemen -- Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden -- sidelined for Game 1 on Thursday night at TD Garden, Bruins coach Claude Julien needed reinforcements. The Bruins leaned on youth, and those prospects played a major role in helping Boston to a 3-2 overtime victory over the Rangers in the opener of the best-of-seven series.
Brad Marchand netted the game-winning goal at 15:40 of overtime, but the trio of Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton played important minutes and contributed in all aspects of the game. When the Bruins needed them the most, all three played well and chipped in to the victory.
"Those young guys back there don't lack confidence," Julien said. "That's been really important for us."
It had to be a little nerve-wracking for Julien and the Bruins to think they would be without their veteran blueliners and had to rely on three rookies. The team's faith proved crucial, and the rookie threesome responded exactly the way the Bruins hoped they would.
It had been nearly 30 years since the Bruins had three rookie defensemen in their lineup for a Stanley Cup playoff game. In 1985, John Blum, Frank Simonetti and Mats Thelin were in the lineup against the Montreal Canadiens. Boston's blue-line veterans at the time were Ray Bourque, Mike O'Connell and Mike Milbury. That rookie trio had a combined total of 191 regular-season games of experience, while this season's group had played in a total of just 65 games.
"They played really well," Julien said. "They deserve a lot of credit for the way they handled themselves -- all three of them."
It was evident, both on and off the ice, that the veteran Bruins players fed off the youthful spark Thursday night. As Julien said after Wednesday's practice, sometimes a team can rely too much on experience as opposed to youth.
"Our players are excited to make sure that those guys fit in and do a good job," Julien said. "I know a lot of times it certainly gives your team that certain boost that is something that you probably don't have when you don't have those young guys coming in."
It was more of a turbo boost for the Bruins.
"Any time you have young players put in a role like this, it's not easy, but they handled it pretty good and they tried to play a simple game and it's working," said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who logged a total of 38:02 of ice time. "I'm sure it's going to be more challenging, but we've got to help them out as much as we can."
As much as all three rookies understand the organization's systems, Krug, Bartkowski and Hamilton simply relied on their talent and played fundamentally sound games.
"You've got to let them play the way they naturally like to play," Chara said. "It's something that's never easy for any player to come in and all of sudden be put in a spot like this."
Krug, 22, who was called up from Providence of the AHL on Tuesday, scored his first NHL goal, a power-play tally at 2:55 of the third period to tie the game at 2-all. He showed patience with the puck and released a sniper-like wrister that beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"It was amazing," Krug said. "I've said before that my main goal is to come here and try to help the team win, and I was fortunate enough to do that."
It certainly didn't take long for Krug to fit in.
"I'm very comfortable with the group of guys in here," he said. "I'm comfortable in a sense that they were giving me the puck all night and they weren't nervous in that regard, so it was very exciting out there.
"Honestly, there wasn't too much nerves. These guys in here are an unbelievable group of guys, the confidence that the coaching staff showed in me and the other guys showed it. I felt comfortable out there."
Krug was smooth on the ice and wasn't a liability defensively. Bartkowski, who now has a total of three games of playoff experience, played liked a veteran and logged a total of 26:42 of ice time. He was physical and played the body against the Rangers' Rick Nash without hesitation. Hamilton, playing his fourth playoff game, assisted on Krug's goal. He also played like a veteran and was solid on the blue line.
"This is Torey's first [playoff] game, and not only did he score a big goal, he just moved that puck so well," Julien said. "A lot of times, he played against their third line, which is a pretty heavy line, and he handled them extremely well.
"Bart continues to get better and better. He certainly takes the ice that's given to him and moves the puck up quickly.
"We've seen Dougie with us all year, and they all did a great job, but also our veterans that were back there with them. You saw the beating Johnny Boychuk took tonight and the amount of time [Chara] played. We had a really good effort from those young guys, and our D-corps was good tonight. I thought our whole team was, for that matter."
The entire Bruins team did play well. If there were any doubts Boston could carry its momentum over from its historic come-from-behind victory in Game 7 of the quarterfinals against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins put them to rest in Game 1 against the Rangers.
And it was the youth that set them free.
"They did incredible tonight," Marchand said. "We were really depending on those guys to step up and play big minutes, and they all did a great job tonight. We're very happy with them."