BOSTON — The fans and media were baying for Tyler Seguin, but the Boston Bruins wanted to be careful.
The No. 2 overall pick from the 2010 NHL entry draft had endured a challenging rookie year as an 18-year-old with a contending club, and in the playoffs he had watched the first two rounds from the press box. Only a concussion to Patrice Bergeron put the kid on the ice, and even then Seguin was handled with care.
“Everybody has an opportunity to develop their players the way they want,” said Boston coach Claude Julien after Game 1, in which Seguin recorded a goal and an assist in just 9:38 of playing time. “And we’re doing that. We understand the quality of player we’ve got, and what he can bring, and what he’s going to bring in the future.”
The future arrived in a rush Tuesday night. Displaying thrilling speed and a safecracker’s hands, Seguin scored two goals and recorded four points in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final, pushing the Bruins to a whirligig 6-5 victory and salvaging a split out of the first two games of the series as it shifts back to Tampa. There are breakout games, and there are supernovas. This was the latter, and in the second period, the sellout crowd chanted his name.
“I tried to take everything in,” said Seguin, who admitted to nervousness in his playoff debut in Game 1. “I wanted to take advantage of the opportunity I got.”
Bonavista native Michael Ryder, had two goals — both set up by Seguin — and an assist.
Tampa had won eight consecutive playoff games over most of a month, dating back to when they fell behind the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-1 in their first-round series. But Boston was possessed by a terrible urgency in this contest, and Seguin, now 19, was simply extraordinary.
“He worked hard and he competed,” said Bruins winger Mark Recchi, who is a mere 24 years older than Seguin. “And he got rewarded because he competed.”
It was a strange night all around as these two defensive teams unleashed the hounds, skating and all but howling at the moon. Boston, which entered the game with two power-play goals in 41 post-season attempts, scored twice with the man advantage.
According to TSN, Seguin’s was the first four-point playoff performance by a teenager since Trevor Linden on Apr. 9, 1989.
“He worked hard and he competed. And he got rewarded because he competed." - Mark Recchi
The game began strangely, too. Tampa scored 13 seconds into the game, spent 19:40 being completely dominated by the Bruins, and then scored again with 6.5 seconds left in the first for a 2-1 lead.
And then, Seguin. His goal in Game 1 was a highlight-reel rush, and it was apparently replicable. Gathering the puck at his own blue line, Seguin blazed up the middle, past a reaching Victor Hedman and a flailing Randy Jones, and deked his way to a top-shelf Renoir of a backhand over Dwayne Roloson. The TD Garden went up like a volcano.
Just 96 seconds later, Dennis Seidenberg dished a slick pass to David Krejci for a tip-in; four minutes after that, after Tim Thomas stopped Tampa’s Ryan Malone on a breakaway, Seguin — set up by Ryder — scored again on a wrist shot that nestled in under the bar for a 4-2 lead, and the eruption continued.
Tampa got within 4-3 on a power-play goal, but Boston added two more by Ryder before the end of the period, with assists to Seguin on both. Seguin tied an NHL record for points in a period on just seven shifts; in two games, totalling 23:09 of ice time, Seguin has three goals and six points, and was a plus-3. He may vanish again without much warning, but this was a flash of genius. Somewhere, Toronto Maple Leafs fans — whose team traded the pick that would become Seguin along with another first-round pick and a second-rounder — were reaching for a bottle.
Seguin was not alone, of course — Nathan Horton had a goal and two assists, and now had 11 points in his last seven games, and Ryder was a factor, and the Bruins played one of their most purposeful and physical games of the playoffs. And Tampa still nearly tied the game with a late charge, scoring twice in the third and pushing Boston right to the end. This series could be long, and messy.
But this night will be remembered for Seguin’s brilliant turn. It doesn’t guarantee he will become a superstar, though the tools are clearly there. It doesn’t guarantee the Bruins will escape this series, though it does ensure that it will at least return to Boston. It was simply a signature performance, and the finest night of a young man’s life.