NEW YORK -- During the Boston Bruins' Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers, there's been a lot of focus on the young defensemen that have made significant contributions for the Bruins.
Rookie blueliners Matt Bartkowski, Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton have earned all the accolades they've received for ably replacing veterans Dennis Seidenberg, Wade Redden and Andrew Ference, who are out with injuries.
Then there's Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who has been logging some serious ice time in the series but is expected to carry a major load in the postseason.
But the biggest contribution from the Bruins' defensive core in the playoffs has come from Johnny Boychuk.
Boychuk registered his fourth goal of the Stanley Cup playoffs Tuesday night at Madison Square Garden, helping Boston to a 2-1 win in Game 3. He possesses one of the hardest slap shots in the league, one that is comparable to Chara's, which easily reaches 110 mph.
"I would love to see those two go head-to-head," said Bruins forward David Krejci, who was injured earlier this season by a Boychuk slap shot. "Obviously Z's been winning [the hardest shot competition at the All-Star game] the last few years, but Johnny never had the chance to go. I'm not saying Johnny's got a bigger shot or harder shot, but Johnny's shot is just so heavy. Z can pick the corners a little better, but Johnny's shot is just heavy. I would love to see those two guys go head-to-head."
Boychuk did not utilize his shooting skill much during the regular season, so at the start of the Stanley Cup playoffs, Bruins coach Claude Julien told him to shoot more and make sure it's on net.
"When he's taking that slap shot, we know he's got a great shot, and I see a guy who's putting a lot behind it, in other words shooting to score," Julien said. "I don't think I saw that all year this year. A lot of times it was a slap shot with maybe half of the strength he could put behind it, but he's shooting to score now. He's been a little unlucky with some of the posts, but he's also been fortunate to score some big goals for us."
In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boychuk scored his first of four goals this postseason. When he netted his fourth in Game 3 against the Rangers on Tuesday night, it was a quick wrist shot from the point that found its way through traffic in front of the net and beat Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
"We used to call him 'Johnny One-Timer' because all he did was tickle the rafters and shoot it as hard as he could," forward Shawn Thornton said. "He's been wristing it a few times now and I hope he's figured it out that getting it through is better than breaking someone's leg."
Following Tuesday's 2-1 win, which gave the Bruins a 3-0 series lead, Boychuk was asked why he's been having so much success scoring goals in the playoffs when he only netted one during the regular season.
"Just hitting the net and guys are getting in front [of the opposing goalie]," Boychuk said. "Sometimes it's just luck and so far I've probably hit four posts. You've just got to keep shooting it and if it's not blocked, good things will happen."
Boychuk has developed into a solid defenseman since becoming a full-time member of Boston's blue line during the 2009-10 season. His hockey sense has improved and he's now playing like a true veteran.
"That's what experience does for anybody," Julien said. "He's no different than anybody else. He's paid his dues in the minors, he's come up and even a couple of years ago we had a lot of confidence in him and he got lots of minutes.
"He continues to grow and maybe he was extremely good defensively a couple of years ago when we won the Cup, but this year he has that extra confidence and has been able to give us some offense as well with his shot and his decision-making in the offensive zone."
Boychuk's presence was felt big time in Game 1 against the Rangers without Seidenberg, Redden or Ference in the lineup. Boychuk did everything right in all aspects of the game and had the bumps and bruises to prove it. He took a physical beating in the game, but didn't miss any time and continued to block shots.
"He's always a tremendous competitor and he gives up his body every game and kills himself going into the boards," Seidenberg said. "He battles really hard and he's been smart defensively. Shooting pucks, he didn't have as much luck during the season but the way he's been shooting the puck in the postseason definitely helps this team a lot. He's been finding ways to get the puck to the net and in the back of the net, so it's been really nice to see."
Boychuk is playing with a lot of confidence and he hasn't been afraid to jump in on the rush or pinch when he has a chance. Because he's been so reliable, the forwards have made it a point to get him the puck on the blue line.
"When you see Johnny trying to shoot the wrist shot you go [to the front of the net], but when you see Johnny trying to shoot a slap shot you kind of step aside," Krejci said. "As long as we know what to expect from our D, how they're going to shoot and if we're all on the same page, everything will be fine."
Boychuk also has helped show Krug, Hamilton and Bartkowski the sacrifices defensemen need to make at this level and at this point of the season.
"He's an outstanding player and he's one of the guys who never stops talking out there," Krug said. "He's always going to be talking to you so you know your options, some of the things you can and can't get away with. He's great."