Pittsburgh native Matt Bartkowski will face his hometown team for the right to go to the Stanley Cup Final.
Former Michigan State defenseman Torey Krug, he of the record four goals in his first five playoff games, may be all the rage in Beantown lately—but he's not the only former college player on the Boston Bruins' blue line this spring.
Another Bruin will literally be going home in the next round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, this time with a berth in the Stanley Cup Final resting in the balance.
Pittsburgh native Matt Bartkowski will now be facing his hometown Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final, after the Bruins dispatched the New York Rangers on Saturday, 2-1, in the fifth game of that series. Bartkowski, who has played a regular role on a depleted Bruins blue line, has a goal and an assist in seven Stanley Cup playoff outings this spring.
Prior to turning pro with Providence (AHL) in 2010-11, Bartkowski played two years at Ohio State University. The 6'1", 196-pound defenseman tallied 11 goals and 27 assists for 38 points in 79 career collegiate games, along with 145 penalty minutes.
As a freshman, he put up 20 points (5 G, 15 A) in 41 games as OSU finished 23-15-4 overall and also earned its most recent NCAA tournament berth. The Buckeyes fell to eventual NCAA champion Boston University in the Northeast Regional final, with Bartkowski scoring a goal in an 8-3 loss.
Bartkowski, 24, who starred in junior hockey with Lincoln (USHL) before going to Columbus, was originally drafted by Florida in the seventh round in 2008, but was later traded to Boston. He registered 23 points (5 G, 18 A) in his first 69 AHL games with Providence in 2010-11. He played in nine NHL games with the parent Bruins over the next two years, and skated in 11 contests this shortened NHL season, while playing in 106 AHL games with Providence since late 2011.
Bartkowski actually made his NHL debut in his hometown on Jan. 10, 2011 in a 4-2 win over the Penguins.
“It was unbelievable,” he said on the Penguins' website at the time . “I don’t know if you could dream it any other way.”
He had two assists in his call-ups to the Bruins this season, and had five assists in five Calder Cup playoff contests with Providence before being summoned to Boston, where he notched his first career NHL goal in a 5-4 win over Toronto on May 13 in a memorable Game 7.
"They like my play, they want me here, it's just part of the game," said Bartkowksi at bostonbruins.com following the Toronto series.
"It's a pretty cool feeling to know that I have the potential, at least they think I have the potential, to be a pretty good player in the future," he added.
And to think he was to be included in the Jarome Iginla deal with the Calgary Flames that fell through earlier this year. Instead, he has found a home on the Bruins' blue line in the most pressure-packed time of the year.
Against the Rangers, Bartkowksi averaged more than 21 minutes of ice time per outing, and finished with an even plus-minus rating over the five games. He also remained in the lineup after veteran Dennis Seidenberg got back on Saturday.
As Bruins assistant general manager and former Bruins/Harvard blueliner Don Sweeney noted on the Bruins' website:
Bartkowski had put in a lot of work prior to Game 7, as he was playing at a very high level in Providence and in all key situations. Matt deserves full credit for responding to the challenge and trusting his abilities to execute, regardless of the pressure and his inexperience in the NHL playoffs.
Now Bartkowski's going back to where it all began for him—with a shot at Lord Stanley's prize on the line.