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When Bruins fans speak years from now of the 2011 Stanley Cup, they will tell stories of a champion team of veterans. Their voices will rise in pitch when they speak of 34-year-old Zdeno Chara, who anchored a defense that neutralized the supposedly unstoppable Canucks offense. They will giggle as they mention how Mark Recchi at 43 still scored twice as many points as players almost half his age. A dramatic pause will follow the name Tim Thomas, the 37-year-old goalie who put the team on his shoulders and simply refused to lose.
All these names deserve the reverence that will follow them for the rest of their lives. Still, there are two rookies who left their own indelible marks on this playoff run: Tyler Seguin and Brad Marchand.
Seguin contributed very little in the Stanley Cup finals, notching just one assist and averaging just over seven minutes of ice time in six games. Seguin was far more important to the Bruins during the Eastern Conference finals, scoring three goals and assisting on three more in Games 1 and 2. He averaged closer to 12 minutes per game against the Lightning, including an electrifying stretch in the second period of Game 2 in which he scored four points, which tied a team postseason record.
Seguin, just 19, sometimes played with the speed and energy of youth. At other times he looked awkward, unbalanced, and out of control. Claude Julien never seemed sure how best to use Seguin, how to get him playoff minutes without risking his team’s effectiveness.
Seguin’s situation is a classic “chicken or egg:” did Seguin’s inconsistent play lead to reduced minutes, or did reducing his minutes keep Seguin from playing with consistency? We may never know.
Seguin showed tremendous potential all season, but in his rookie year he never quite turned it into production on the ice. With just 22 regular-season points, he was not nominated for the Calder Memorial Trophy (the NHL’s Rookie of the Year).
However, Seguin’s potential cannot be overlooked. When in control, Seguin was often the fastest skater on the ice. That made him extremely dangerous on 2-on-1′s and breakaways. His speed can neutralize offenses as quick Vancouver’s and force teams built around neutral-zone control (such as Tampa Bay) to rethink their strategies. He is not afraid to shoot (11 goals), but he is also happy to pass if someone else has a better shot (11 assists).
Not every rookie soars out of the gate. Seguin did not have the greatest first year possible, but neither was he a liability to the team. His place with the Bruins still seems nebulous, but as he develops consistency he will no doubt find his way to a permanent spot on one of Boston’s lines.
Whereas Seguin did not do enough to earn a fixed spot on any line, Marchand did nothing to suggest he doesn’t deserve his spot on the second line:
Marchand was simply a postseason force, and he may have single-handedly turned the tide of the series in Game 3.
The Bruins were up 2-0 midway through the second when the Canucks were awarded a power play. Having already scored a power play goal in Game 2, Vancouver had to be feeling confident that they could score and make it a one-goal game with 30 minutes left. One minute later, Marchand stole the puck near center-ice, bounced it off the boards at the Vancouver blue line, then sped through three Canucks before scoring a short-handed goal.
Vancouver’s power play was ranked No. 1 in the NHL, and Marchand broke their spirits by cramming it back down their throats. When he was done doing that, he tried to cram his hand down there, too.
Marchand brought nearly as much speed as Seguin did, but he balanced that speed with a high hockey IQ, always knowing where to position himself to score or where his teammates were to pass.
With both Seguin and Marchand so young, Bruins fans should see a bright future for the team.
Marchand is already where he needs to be to stay in the NHL. Seguin still needs to get there, but someday he will. When that day comes, other teams will need to stop blinking.
If they blink, they might miss the Bruins flying by.