Commentary

Tyler Seguin earns his spot on bench

Updated: May 18, 2011, 2:15 AM ET
By Scott Burnside | ESPN.com

BOSTON -- It happened near the end of the second period, not long after the kid notched his third point of the period.

"Tyler Seguin, Tyler Seguin," the TD Garden faithful chanted.

"Tyler Seguin, Tyler Seguin."

And you had to wonder how many times this spring the 19-year-old wondered whether a moment such as this would come for him and what it would feel like.

Just for fun, Seguin added another assist before the end of the period as the Boston Bruins scored five second-period goals and hung on to a 6-5 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday night to even this Eastern Conference final series at one game apiece.

In an electric game that had maybe a hundred moments that brought you out of your seat -- hits, saves, passes -- this was truly Tyler Seguin's night.

In just his second NHL playoff game, Seguin had two goals and two assists after being a healthy scratch for the first 11 Boston playoff games this spring.

The Bruins flirted with being down 2-0 in this series -- they gave up a goal 13 seconds into the game and another with 6.5 seconds left in the first to trail 2-1 after one period -- so it is not overstating it to say that Seguin might have saved the Bruins' season.

[+] EnlargeTyler Seguin
Greg M. Cooper/US Presswire"He was extremely good tonight, no doubt about that. One of our best players out there," Boston coach Claude Julien said of Tyler Seguin after the game.

Sitting at the big-boy podium with his very own name card after the game, Seguin recalled a conversation he had with Boston tough guy Shawn Thornton during the second round of the playoffs.

"He said, 'Look, kid, if we're going to the Cup, you're going to get opportunity to play just because injuries are part of the game, and have fun with it and enjoy the ride and take it all in and use it as a learning experience,'" Seguin said.

There has been more than a little debate about how coach Claude Julien was using Seguin -- or not using him, as the case may be -- before inserting him in the lineup for the injured Patrice Bergeron. Tampa got a 5-2 victory in Game 1 with Seguin contributing a goal and an assist for Boston, but the rookie played only two shifts in the second period and was not used on the power play, a unit that went 0-for-4 in Saturday's game.

Julien explained he didn't want to overexpose Seguin, wanted him to experience the playoffs in small bites.

Small bites?

There was nothing small about Seguin's contribution Tuesday night.

The second period loomed large after the Lightning stunned the Bruins with goals that bookended a first period dominated by Boston.

Did the Bruins have the intestinal fortitude to overcome those disappointing lapses?

Were the Lightning, the epitome of opportunistic this spring and riding an eight-game playoff winning streak and a six-game road winning streak, poised to take control of the series?

Less than a minute into the second period, Seguin helped provide the answer to those questions. The youngster took a pass in the neutral zone from Michael Ryder and accelerated between Victor Hedman and Randy Jones like they were gateposts before beating netminder Dwayne Roloson with a nifty backhand deke.

All even.

During his time away from playing, Seguin said, he was working on his game, including driving the net and building up speed through the neutral zone.

Mission accomplished.

And Seguin was just getting started.

David Krejci gave the Bruins a 3-2 lead, but the resilient Lightning continued to press. Lightning forward Ryan Malone was sent in alone, and Tim Thomas made a great save. The puck came back up the ice, and Seguin took a pass from Nathan Horton on a 2-on-1 and ripped a shot high over Roloson's glove hand to make it 4-2.

He would add two assists before the end of the period to make it 6-3, one of those on the power play, by the way.

That the Lightning came oh-so-close to tying things up in the third period does nothing to mitigate Seguin's role in this game.

"Yes, he was extremely good tonight, no doubt about that. One of our best players out there. And he used his speed very well tonight. He challenged their D with it. Did a great job. And it was nice to see him respond that way," Julien said.

"He's competed extremely well, and he has been an excited individual waiting for his opportunity, and he's certainly making the best of it."

Maybe watching the first two rounds from the press box helped prepare Seguin.

Maybe Julien was being overly cautious, and we might have seen a performance such as this against Montreal or Philadelphia.

A moot point now.

The only issue for Julien now appears to be who else he takes out of the lineup when Bergeron is ready to return, possibly as early as Game 3 on Thursday night in Tampa, because it's hard to imagine there wouldn't be a Boston Tea Party revolt if Seguin went back to the press box.

Seguin carries with him the sometimes-uncomfortable burden of expectation.

It is so for all high draft picks, and he and Taylor Hall, the No. 1 pick by Edmonton last spring ahead of Seguin, were considered 1 and 1A in terms of potential heading into the 2010 draft.

But Seguin's development has been somewhat slower.

He played in 74 regular-season games for the Bruins but had just 11 goals and 11 assists. In a season with a sparkling cast of rookies, there might have been some who were disappointed in his play.

Added to the natural burden was the attention of the Canadian media, because he came to the Bruins via an oft-debated trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs that involved former Bruins prospect Phil Kessel.

Segin grinned when asked whether he had been telling himself that if he just got a shot in these playoffs, he had a four-point period in him.

"I don't know if I told myself that. But definitely tough watching from above. I tried to take everything in and learned as much as I can. But it's hard sitting there and not being able to help with the boys, but I wanted to take advantage of any opportunity I got," Seguin said.

"I think it's just a learning curve. It's been a whole learning curve all year, and as the year went on, I felt more confident, more poised, and in big games I always want to step up. Tonight, I had some lucky bounces, but I was trying to take advantage of all opportunities, and they were going in tonight," he added.

Against this short, historical backdrop, it was noteworthy that the Boston fans launched into their first such celebration of the Bruins youngster, a welcome if you will, a vote of confidence.

And yes, Seguin heard it.

"Yeah, I did feel that. And obviously it's a great compliment whenever you have great fan support. So I definitely appreciate that," Seguin said.

It is one game, of course. It does not guarantee anything. Certainly not stardom, nor a trip to the Stanley Cup finals. Maybe neither of those things will happen.

But for the moment, it is a game that should guarantee Seguin a seat at the big boys' table for as long as the Bruins hang around these playoffs.

Scott Burnside covers the NHL for ESPN.com.

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