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Boston Bruins: The Return of Matt Bartkowski.


Nov 18, 2014; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug (47) is surrounded by center Chris Kelly (23), center Carl Soderberg (34) and defenseman Matt Bartkowski (43) after scoring a goal during the second period against the St. Louis Blues at TD Banknorth Garden. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

During the season, defenseman Matt Bartkowski has been the most polarizing player on the Boston Bruins roster. He was either loved by a portion of the fan base or openly reviled. Bartkowski (at one point dubbed ‘Bad Luck Bart’) had a tendency to make bad mental errors at the worst possible time. Those errors led to critical points in last season’s disappointing playoff run.

At the beginning of the season, we got to see some of the better parts of Bartkowski’s game. Then the injuries began taking its toll through the Bruins blueliners. Younger defensemen like Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton were asked to shoulder a greater share of the responsibility. As October dragged on, the Boston Bruins found themselves playing .500 hockey, due to costly mistakes made by a very green group of defensemen.

Bartkowski was one of the players making those big mistakes. As Hamilton’s numbers quickly soared into the twenty five minute mark, Bartkowski found his shrinking. He played only 12:26 against the Maple Leafs and 8:56 against the Minnesota Wild. His limited play (while still error prone) forced Julien to give the younger kids even more time on the ice, and the B’s got hammered for it.  Julien (partly out of exasperation, and partly out of necessity) relegated him to the land of the healthy scratch after the Bruins loss to the Wild.

“His play just wasn’t up to par and certainly wasn’t a good asset for us so we sat him out. But we still worked with him and he kept a good attitude and kept working at things during practice.”

Claude Julien

on Matt Bartkowski

Julien knew that Bartkowski is capable of being a NHL level player. He earned eighteen assists for Boston last season filling in for Dennis Seidenberg. It was the little things that always seem to get him in hot water with the fans and the coaching staff.  Bartkowski chose to take out those little things one practice at a time. Sometimes the simple drills form the foundation of confidence, even for a NHL level player. Bartkowski got back to the A-B-C’s of hockey and was able to improve.

Julien took him out of ninth level limbo last Saturday and gave him a shot at redemption against the Carolina Hurricanes. Bartkowski didn’t disappoint. He played a strong game, and spent 17:37 on the ice in the Bruins 2-1 win. He played like he played during the regular season last year. His skating was better. He was a half-step quicker on the puck. Most importantly, the mental mistakes had been cut by a factor of three. He was playing to his strengths and the fans who follow the B’s on social media saw the difference in his play.

A lot of credit has to go out to the Boston Bruins bench boss, Claude Julien. He could have easily put in Kevan Miller, a defensemen known for his willingness to fight, and lay serious hits on other players. A lot of people like Miller’s game, and Miller played with less unforced errors. Julien chose to give Miller one more night on the ninth level and took a bit of a gamble on playing Bartkowski.

“Tonight Miller was available, but I didn’t feel that in my mind Bartkowski deserved to sit out,” said Julien on his decision postgame. “That’s not the message I want to send as a coach. If you deserve to play, you play.  I thought he was pretty good against Carolina, and no doubt he was even better tonight. That was a strong performance on his part. It was encouraging to see Bart get back to how we know he can be.”

Bartkowski played his best game of the 2014-15 season so far last night. He played three zone hockey that was nearly Patrice Bergeron clean. It was simple, straight forward, blue collar hockey, and it got results.  Bartkowski found himself taking on some of the best scorers in hockey, and he was stopping them. He did a phenomenal job holding off Alexander Steen in the first period. Not only did he stop the breakaway, he did it without drawing a penalty. Bartkowski later dove across the ice to stop a scoring chance from Blues’ scoring specialist, Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fans noticed. Claude Julien noticed. Most importantly, his brother Bruins noticed. “He played a great game today,” said Tuukka Rask (who earned his first shutout of the season) about Bartkowski’s play. “He was in there battling hard, making good plays, strong passes and then those couple of plays. It was kind of a desperate play when he dove and slapped the puck away. It means he’s on his game and the past couple of games he’s been great for us.”

It looks like Bad Luck Bart has left the TD Garden and Matt Bartkowski is ready to play some hockey.