|Matt Bartkowski on going home to Pittsburgh: ‘Everyone’s calling in their favors’ for tickets||05.29.13 at 5:45 pm ET|
WILMINGTON — Going home again has its drawbacks. Just ask Matt Bartkowski.
The Bruins’ 24-year-old defenseman is headed back to where it all began for him and he couldn’t be more excited. But the homecoming for the native of nearby Mt. Lebanon, Pa., does have some obligations to fill.
“The last few years it’s been close [to] playing Pittsburgh in the playoffs and now it’s finally happening,” he said after practice on Wednesday. “I’m stoked up, pumped up and ready to go, and I’m sure the rest of these guys are. Everybody’s calling in their favors, this and that and all that crap. It just pumps us up and we’re ready to go.”
The homecoming was made possible the moment the Bruins beat the Rangers in Game 5 on Saturday, less than 24 hours after the Penguins eliminated the Senators, also in five games.
“You can’t believe how many times I’ve been asked that,” Bartkowski said of being asked about heading home. “It’s going to be awesome. I can’t think of any other way of it happening. Playing a role on the team now, and it’s playoff hockey. We’ve been looking at this match up for a while, especially me. It’s going to be awesome.”
When Bartkowski was growing up, his current teammate Jaromir Jagr was helping Mario Lemieux win back-to-back Cups in 1991 and ’92. The Penguins then went through a down period in the early 2000s before Sidney Crosby was drafted in 2005. Pittsburgh, home of the Steelers and Pirates, once again had the hockey bug.
“It died down for four years or so until Crosby got drafted,” Bartkowski said. “It’s the same thing with Jagr-Lemieux era. Now it’s the Crosby-Malkin era. Every time they get big players in Pittsburgh, it seems to jump-start all the little kids playing. It’s good for the area.
“With the Pirates doing [great], what do even you say about them? It’s pretty unfortunate. Every year they have a chance at the playoffs and then they kind of blow it. Once football season is over, it’s a hockey town. And especially with the talent they have now, it’s a hockey town once football season is over.”
His coach isn’t worried about Bartkowski being overwhelmed with it all.
“No, I don’t think so,” Claude Julien said. “I think it all depends how you approach it. He seems pretty excited, he’s looking forward to it. I think at the end of the day, he knows who he’s playing for. He wants to do well for his team. The better he does, the better he looks in everybody’s eyes, whether it’s his hometown that’s rooting for the other team or whether it’s us. I don’t see an issue with that; if anything, it’s a positive, it’s exciting. You know that he’s going to be ready to play.”
What’s interesting is that, as a defenseman, his idol didn’t play for the Penguins.
“Actually, it was [Scott Stevens] on the Devils,” Bartkowski recalled. “Any chance I got to watch a Devils game, I would. I remember in ’95, they played the Penguins in the playoffs.”
Reminded that it was Stevens who carved a reputation by laying out star players of other teams, like Eric Lindros in the 2000 playoffs, Bartkowski conceded, “Yeah, I don’t think you’d get away with those hits now. We talk about that sometimes.”
When Bartkowski, who was paired Wednesday with Dennis Seidenberg, gets on the ice, he won’t be worried about the fans, tickets or his hometown. The only names he’ll be concerned with are Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Jarome Iginla and the roster of the Penguins.
“I don’t know if many adjustments,” Bartkowski said. “Just making sure you’re hard on the puck and playing as physical as you can in every situation that you can. Don’t get yourself out of position but be as physical as you can.”
|Matt Bartkowski on M&M: ‘It’s not my call’ who suits up for Bruins||05.28.13 at 2:16 pm ET|
Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski checked in with Mut & Merloni on Tuesday afternoon to chat about the upcoming Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins.
Bartkowski and fellow call-up Torey Krug have played well since joining the team in the postseason following injuries to veteran blueliners. With Andrew Ference and Wade Redden back skating with the team, coach Claude Julien might soon have to make a roster decision.
“I don’t really think about it too much,” Bartkowski said. “I’m just trying to keep playing and assuming that I am going to play in the games. It’s not my call once it comes down it, who plays. All I can really do is put my best foot forward and see what happens.”
Bartkowski said the fact that he started the postseason playing in the AHL rather than sitting in Boston has played to his advantage.
“I think it was key that I went back down to play in Providence,” he said. “I think if I was just sitting up here and riding the bike, I don’t think I could have played the way I have. We were playing playoff hockey in Providence. It’s not the same level or speed or anything like that, but all in all, it’s still playoff hockey and you’ve got to bring the same intensity. That made a world of difference in being able to prepare for the role I’ve assumed up here.”
“Pittsburgh, you don’t want to call them an All-Star team, but they’ve got a lot of high-end talent,” he said. “I guess they’re more of a risk-reward team [than the Rangers]. I think it will be a pretty good matchup. We’re pretty defensively sound and we’re a strong team. It will be a fun series to play in.”
Hours after the Bruins’ 5-2 victory over the Rangers last Sunday, the TD Garden sat still and empty.
The boisterous crowd had long since departed after Boston took care of business, holding serve on home ice, supplying the team with a 2-0 series lead in its Stanley Cup playoff conference semifinal series. The players and coaches trickled steadily out of the building, the janitorial crew had finished cleaning. Hours after the final whistle, Jaromir Jagr returned, alone, to the ice.
‘Hockey is who he is,’ said Mark Recchi, Jagr’s former Penguins teammate. Last seen in a Bruins sweater hoisting the Stanley Cup, Recchi now is a hockey operations advisor with the Stars, the team that dealt Jagr to the Bruins. ‘That’s his life. He’s passionate about it, he works hard at it, and he still wants to be a great player. He does whatever it takes to stay at that level.’
In front of 17,565 empty golden seats, the 41-year-old Jagr skated. Using every inch of his 6-foot-3, 240 pound frame, the forward from Kladno pushed himself, feeling the burn in his thickly muscled thighs. Living over 3,900 miles from his family in the Czech Republic, Jagr needed to be back on the ice, back home. The man with such phenomenal balance on skates then skated some more.
‘This is playoffs,’ reminded Jagr. ‘Any player will find out. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the first, second line or third. It’s tight checking. It’s harder to score.’
Jagr began his NHL career with the Penguins but now is looking to end Pittsburgh’s season. His playoff resume includes 78 playoff goals, though none have come recently. Amidst the longest scoring drought of his career, Jagr has not scored in 21 consecutive playoff games (his last playoff goal came against the Penguins in 2012). Though he has accumulated 193 playoff points over the course of his career, Jagr has registered just four points in 12 games during the Bruins’ 2013 postseason run.
‘It’s harder to score for me, and it’s harder to score for anybody else,” he said. “Unless you the best player in the world.’
Jagr would know better than most, considering, once upon a time, he was the best in the world.
Just like Jagr can’t fathom the idea of leaving the rink after a game (he is on record stating his desire for the NHL to begin playing doubleheaders), the concept of life without hockey is far removed from his mind. The offensive dervish entered the National Hockey League at the age of 18. Since then, every imaginable part of his life — and the world — has changed. His identity as a hockey player has evolved over the past 23 years, but his profession remains unchanged. Jaromir Jagr, all these years later, is still a hockey player.
‘I don’t think he’ll ever change,’ said Craig Patrick, general manager of the Penguins from 1989-2006. ‘He was built this way.’
|Ed Olczyk on M&M: Jaromir Jagr ‘always looking for that edge’||05.21.13 at 6:30 pm ET|
Editor’s note: In an earlier version of this story, Olczyk was quoted as guaranteeing a Bruins series victory, but the quote was mistakenly taken out of context.
NBC Sports hockey analyst Ed Olczyk joined Mut & Merloni on Tuesday, prior to Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the Bruins and Rangers.
Olczyk, who played for six NHL clubs during his 16-year career that ended in the 1999-2000 season and coached the Penguins for a season and a half (2003-04 and part of ’04-05), has a personal connection to Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski, as he coached the Pittsburgh native when Bartkowski was a youngster.
“I just knew that he had the natural ability. It was just whether or not he would take advantage of the opportunities that were presented,” Olczyk said. “I couldn’t be happier for Bart. He’s a terrific young guy. I don’t think he’s really hit his full complement of his ability. He’s only played maybe 20 games in the NHL, whatever the number is. He’s getting a great taste of what it is to be a pro. I think he’s handled the situation very well.
“He has that great ability to skate you out of trouble. He’s poised with the puck. And I think there’s still an opportunity for him to continue to push the pace. And there’s something [to be said] for that, to have a guy back there that can be strong but also can skate you out of trouble. The game isn’t just about off the glass, get in to the neutral zone. Sometimes that’s the only play for a defenseman, sometimes that’s the best play. But for me, I think he’s got a lot of upside. I couldn’t be happier for him and his family. He’s playing obviously in one of the greats sports towns in the world, and playing for a great organization, for the Boston Bruins.
“He’s stepped in here very well, and it looks like he’s a seasoned veteran from watching him play. Is he going to make mistakes? Absolutely, those are going to happen. But when you put in [Torey] Krug, and you have [Dougie] Hamilton there, and you have the leadership of a guy like Zdeno Chara on the back end, I think it really makes those guys feel really comfortable.
“I’m not surprised, particularly with Matt Bartkowski, because I know him very well, but when you do put three young guys in there with not a lot of experience in the second round of the playoffs, more times than not you’re going to have a little bit more trouble, but the Bruins have been able to overcome that. And these guys and the organization could much better off because these guys have gotten this opportunity. ‘¦ There is something [to be said] for experience, but the experience these guys are getting right now is just so valuable, not only for tomorrow or today, but for down the road.”
|Matt Bartkowski on M&M: ‘It’s a great opportunity’||05.17.13 at 1:59 pm ET|
Bruins defenseman Matt Bartkowski, during an appearance on the Mut & Merloni show Friday, talked about jumping into the Bruins lineup and contributing to the team’s postseason success.
Bartkowski, 24, was called up from AHL Providence last week following injuries on the Boston blue line and has appeared in three playoff games since.
“It’s a great opportunity,” Bartkowski said. “It’s what you dream of as a player, being able to step in in the playoffs and hopefully perform and then help the team win. It’s what you want to show everybody in the hockey world and the organization that you can do. It’s just a great opportunity for me.”
Bartkowski played almost 27 minutes in Thursday night’s Game 1 win over the Rangers, as he and fellow call-up Torey Krug were forced into a regular role due to injuries to Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden.
“Before the game the coaches talked to us and said we’re going to be playing a lot of minutes,” he said. “I knew I’d be playing with Johnny [Boychuk] against the [Ryan] Callahan line. So I figured I’d be playing quite a bit.”
In Game 7 against the Maple Leafs on Monday night, Bartkowski opened the scoring with a first-period goal. He said that helped him mentally, although he never felt out of place.
“I felt pretty in control. The more I played, the more comfortable I got,” he said. “Being able to score that goal pretty early kind of settled me down. It just gave me an opportunity to play my game.”
Bartkowski grew up outside Pittsburgh as a fan of the Penguins when Jaromir Jagr was in his prime in the 1990s. Now the two are teammates in Boston.
“I remember growing up watching him play,” Bartkowski said. “Then, I don’t know what year it was , but him going away from the Pens and it was like this heartbreak for the city. I just every year remember watching him do something different every game. It was pretty amazing. And now being able to play with him, it’s pretty cool.”
|Now that he’s actually in Boston, Matt Bartkowski ready to contribute||05.10.13 at 1:40 pm ET|
Matt Bartkowski knew there was a possibility he’d be able to join the Bruins during the playoffs at some point, but he was a little confused when he was first rumored to get the call.
When Andrew Ference was suspended for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Maple Leafs, Claude Julien told reporters the day of that game that Bartkowski was a possibility to replace him in Boston’s lineup.
There was just one issue, though. Bartkowski wasn’t on the team. He hadn’t been called up and he was in Hershey with the Providence Bruins for their playoff series, yet reporters unaware of the situation went with it and wrote that Bartkowski might be in Saturday’s game.
“A couple of guys on the team told me that, and I was just kind of wondering, like ‘Well, I’m sitting here in Hershey. Can I just jump on a horse and ride over?'” Bartkowski recalled Friday with a laugh. “It was kind of funny.”
Indeed, no arrangements were made to zip Bartkowski to Boston, and he stayed with Providence through their first-round series win over Hershey. He was preparing for the second round against Wilkes-Barre/Scranton when the Bruins recalled him Thursday night. With Wade Redden ruled out for Game 5 of the Bruins’ series against the Leafs, Bartkowski is likely to step into the lineup.
While fans may clamor for Dougie Hamilton‘s services rather than Bartkowski’s, Bartkowski is the better fit because the B’s need to replace a left-side defenseman in Redden, and Bartkowski is a lefty. When the Bruins put Hamilton, a righty, in place of the left-shooting Ference in Game 2, they had to break up their top pairing of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg in order to move Seidenberg to the left side. Not only was that a lot of work, but they lost the game due to shaky defensive play. With Bartkowski, the B’s can just slide him onto the third pairing in place of Redden, just as they did in Friday’s morning skate by pairing the 24-year-old with Adam McQuaid.
Bartkowski was sent down late in the season because the Bruins had extra defensemen but couldn’t send Aaron Johnson down to Providence without him having to clear waivers. Given that, they sent Bartkowski down to get more game experience, and he picked up five points (all assists) in the five-game series against Hershey.
His play at both the AHL and NHL levels has Bartkowski feeling more confident this season than in past campaigns. He admitted earlier in the season that he was too afraid of making mistakes in his Boston stints the last two seasons (nine total games), but that this season and his first professional playoff experience has prepared him for this challenge.
“Now I know how to play and I know I can play my game at this level,” Bartkowsi said. “Then playing playoff hockey down there — because all in all, it’s the same, playoff hockey, anywhere. It’s just different speed, size and pace.”
|Wade Redden out for Game 5||at 10:54 am ET|
Wade Redden will not Game 5 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the Maple Leafs, Claude Julien said after Redden missed Friday’s morning skate. Julien said that Redden is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.
With Redden missing, Matt Bartkowski skated with Adam McQuaid on the Bruins’ third pairing. Julien said that the team will decide between Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton when determining who will jump into the lineup in place of Redden, but reading between the lines, the team’s defensive issues when putting a right-shot D (Hamilton) in for a left-shot D (the suspended Andrew Ference) and the trickle-down effect of having to reshuffle the defensive pairings should make Bartkowski, a lefty, the front-runner.
With Ference suspended in the second game of the series, putting Hamilton in meant breaking up the Zdeno Chara-Dennis Seidenberg pairing so Seidenberg could replace Ference on the left side. The results were very shaky, with Seidenberg on the ice for three of the Maple Leafs’ four goals. Inserting Bartkowski in on the third pairing means that just the third pairing is changed rather than all three.
Redden did not appear to suffer an injury in Game 4, taking regular shifts until the end of the game. His last shift ended 10:17 into overtime.
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