With Andrew Ference suspended for one game after elbowing Mikhail Grabovski during their 4-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 1, Claude Julien has some decisions to make with the Bruins defense.
The first decision for the Bruins coach is who replaces Ference in the lineup. The two healthy scratches for Game 1 on the Boston blue line were Dougie Hamilton and Aaron Johnson, so presumably it will be between those two.
Hamilton, this year’s recipient of the “7th Player Award” is still young but is quicker and has more offensive upside than Johnson. That logic alone should get Dougie back into the lineup for the first time since April 24th against the Florida Panthers.
But there’s a reason for concern if Hamilton is inserted as the team’s sixth defenseman for Game 2. Outside of his youth, Dougie’s presence could force Julien to make some adjustments to the Bruins blue-line, and that includes potentially breaking up the duo of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.
While one can make the argument of keeping Chara and Seidenberg together – even with Hamilton in the lineup – it could very well be a risky move for Julien. In this instance, the pairing of Wade Redden and Adam McQuaid would still be intact, but having Dougie paired with Johnny Boychuk is risky. Boychuk and Hamilton aren’t very good weak side defenders so pairing them with either Chara or Seidenberg is a little more effective. Both have skated with Chara and Seidenberg during the course of the regular season and both can keep their game plans simple.
It’s obvious that Johnson’s skills does not compare to Hamilton’s. But if it means keeping Chara and Seidenberg in place then you’ll likely see the 30-year-old in his first playoff game and paired with McQuaid on the third unit. Redden, who tallied a goal and an assist in Game 1, will likely bump up to play with Boychuk on the second pairing.
It’s a dilemma all coaches are faced with, and Julien has encountered similar situations in the past. After dropping the first two games against the Montreal Canadiens two years ago, Julien paired Chara and Seidenberg for the rest of their Stanley Cup run. But after 31 games together during the playoffs, the duo might need to split, albeit temporarily
Make no mistake, the Leafs are going to play with desperation as they try to avoid an 0-2 hole before the series shifts back to Toronto. The Bruins, who only allowed 21 shots on goal in Game 1, hope to get a similar effort from the blue-line – even without Ference – in Game 2 Saturday night.
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