Defensemen are difference-makers

BOSTON -- At the start of this Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, a comparison of the two teams showed a number of similarities in how they play.

If New York had an edge in any one category, it was goaltending -- with reigning Vezina winner Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes. Plus, the Rangers' ability to block shots in front of him presented a challenge for the Bruins.

Boston figured its defensemen would need to produce offensively in order for the Bruins to have success in this series.

Ask and you shall receive.

Defensemen scored two of Boston's goals and recorded five of the Bruins' 15 points in their 5-2 victory in Game 2. The Bruins' backend has produced nine of the team's 24 total points, including four of the eight goals, in the first two games against the Rangers.

Torey Krug, Gregory Campbell, Johnny Boychuk, Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic all scored for the Bruins on Sunday, while goaltender Tuukka Rask made 35 saves.

Boston now has a 2-0 series lead.

Getting this type of offensive production from the blue line has been critical.

With injuries to key members of Boston's blue line, the young guns have made significant contributions. The Bruins' Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Krug were all on the score sheet in Game 2, as well as playing sound defensively. It's impressive, especially given the high intensity of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Coach Claude Julien has shown he has confidence in the young defensemen, and no doubt the coach will have some tough decisions to make once Dennis Seidenberg and Wade Redden are ready to return from injury. Both are skating but weren't ready for Game 2. Hamilton could be the odd man out again since Bartkowski and Krug have played so well.

"They've been amazing," Boychuk said. "They're making a case for themselves to stay in the lineup and that's what you need. You want to stay in the lineup and they've been playing very, very good. They're responsible and even in the D-zone they've been battling hard and doing the right things, and that's what you need."

The veteran members of Boston's defensive unit are thankful for the job done by the young trio.

"It's no secret that they've done an amazing job," McQuaid said. "They're all excellent skaters and they see the ice well. They've stepped in and haven't missed a beat, and we have a lot of confidence in them."

Krug has been all smiles since he was recalled from the Providence Bruins in time for Game 1. He now has two goals in as many games and has helped ignite the Bruins' offense. Bartkowski has been solid in all aspects, too, playing against the Rangers' top lines.

"The one thing you don't want to do is make a young defenseman come in and be afraid to play, so you've got to be willing to live with the consequences," Julien said. "The good part about that is I know they've got some good upside to them.

"It's just a matter of bringing those guys in and say, 'Continue to do the things you do well because that will also give you success at this level.' So it's about giving them confidence in that and we have to trust that they are good enough in those areas that they're going to help us out and so far they're proving us right."

Krug gave Boston a 1-0 lead at 5:28 of the first period. The goal was a result of a strong defensive play by McQuaid, who broke up a potential breakaway by diving and poke-checked the puck away from the Rangers' Brian Boyle. The Bruins gained control and capitalized at the other end of the ice when Krug received a pass from Nathan Horton and beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist with a sniper-like wrist shot.

Krug then showed his poise again on the blue line in the offensive zone and his shot resulted in an assist on Campbell's goal at 2:24 of the second period.

After the game, Krug was asked about his composure and how he keeps from losing his cool.

"Maybe I should, I don't know," Krug said with a smile. "For me, if I do that I'm going to get myself in trouble. I'm just trying to go out there and not fear anything and don't be scared to make mistakes. I was fortunate enough to help the team out again today."

Julien and the Bruins were pleased with their start, but not too happy with how they allowed the Rangers to keep coming back once Boston would gain a lead. In fact, the Bruins struggled in the second period and turned the puck over too many times -- resulting in New York tying the game at 2-2 when Rick Nash scored at 3:20 of the period. When Boston did make those mistakes, fortunately for the Bruins Rask bailed them out with 15 timely saves in the second period.

"Second period, you've got to give Tuukka a lot of credit," Julien said. "The turnovers and giveaways we had in the third period weren't something we do much, but it certainly was something that could have been disastrous tonight. He did a great job, and in the third period we came out a much better team and found a way to score more goals."

With the game knotted at 2, Boychuk scored his second of the postseason at 12:08 of the second period to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead, which Boston would not relinquish. The fact that the Bruins' defensemen are able to find shooting lanes and getting plenty of rubber on Lundqvist has been a big key to this series for Boston, so far.

"It's always a bonus," McQuaid said. "First and foremost, we're obviously trying to be strong defensively, but when you get an opportunity to try to chip in offensively, you try. With that being said, the forwards do a great job of getting it to us and getting in front for tips and screens. It's not just coming from us, there's work being done all over the ice."

"Offense is great to see from our D," Rask said. "They were jumping into the play and being that fourth man up the ice. Defensively, we're communicating and we're making the right plays. We're not puck watching too much. There were some breakdowns in the second period, but those happen and we battle through it and got the win."

The Rangers have been in this situation before. They were down 0-2 to the Washington Capitals in the quarterfinals before coming back and winning that series in seven games.

"We know we can't take them lightly," Marchand said. "We got to make sure we go to New York being very hungry and ready to go out hard."

Julien called the Bruins' Game 2 win a "good game" but "not perfect."

One thing is for sure: The Bruins are a confident group right now as this series shifts to New York.