BOSTON -- Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg would not be working this hard at his rehab from knee surgery if there’s not a chance he could return to game action this season.
Despite the team being coy about that possibility, Seidenberg has been skating on his own for a couple of weeks, and on Tuesday participated in his first full practice without taking contact. The veteran blue-liner tore both the ACL and MCL in his right knee on Dec. 27 and had surgery on Jan. 7.
At the time, it was described as a season-ending injury, but with the help of team physical therapist Scott Waugh and strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides, there’s hope that Seidenberg could return if the Bruins advance deep into the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“It’s great to see,” said Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron. “It gives you an emotional lift to see your teammates battling like he’s been battling to get better. Obviously, he’s been doing that for a while and it’s nice to see him back out there. I don’t know what the timeline is, but it’s nice to see him with us.”
Without Seidenberg and fellow defenseman Adam McQuaid (quad) in the lineup for the last four months, the less-experienced defensive core of Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Matt Bartkowski and Kevan Miller has stepped up and played well for the Bruins.
The entire Boston defense was solid at containing the speed of the Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs. It won’t get any easier from here, as the Bruins face the Montreal Canadiens in the next round. If Boston advances to the Eastern Conference finals, a return for Seidenberg would be a major boost for the team.
Normally, during the regular season Bruins coach Claude Julien separates two of the best shutdown defensemen in the league -- Zdeno Chara and Seidenberg. But once puck drops on the playoffs, Chara and Seidenberg are paired. They thrive in the playoff atmosphere, averaging 25 minutes per game and shutting down oppositions’ top lines.
“We like to play together,” Chara said. “We’re used to it. We play a strong defensive game and we really focus on getting the job done, so it is fun. He likes to battle. He’s a strong guy and we have similar tendencies on the ice.”
Seeing Seidenberg on the ice and doing everything he can to return to action this season has impressed Chara.
“He’s been making really big strides, as far as recovery,” Chara said. “I’m not sure exactly how long he’s been out since that game it happened, but I’m sure he’s ahead of schedule and he’s doing extremely well. To have him skating with us for a full practice is very positive and upbeat for us.
“When you see a guy who works so hard and being away from the team and doing [rehab] on his own with the training staff, it’s not always easy mentally, because you’re always part of the team but sometimes when you’re always alone you feel like you’re on the sideline. So, a lot of credit to him, he battled it and he’s coming back. We don’t know when, but just to have him out there is a very positive thing.”
At the time of the injury, Chara knew the team would miss Seidenberg’s contributions, but he also knew the Bruins would need to move on and focus on their game.
“You’re not thinking about playoffs in December, you’re thinking, ‘I hope he’s OK. I hope he’s not badly hurt.’ Then when you do get the news that he’s out for a long period of time, then you have to move on and think about the options you have. Not that we didn’t feel bad for Dennis, we all know we have to move forward.
“For sure, it was harder without him, even though the guys who stepped up did a really good job, but I’m sure it would be better with him in the lineup throughout the whole year. It’s nice that he’s back now.”
Bruins forward Daniel Paille, who has been sidelined since April 12 with a head injury, also returned to practice on Tuesday at TD Garden. He’s been skating with Seidenberg for the last week and realizes how hard he’s worked.
“With his injury and what he’s going through, the fact that he’s skating is remarkable,” Paille said. “He still looks strong out there. You’re your biggest critic, so for myself, I don’t think I look too good out there, but he was saying I look great. And it’s the opposite with him. He looks solid. He continues to work extremely hard, and does more than is asked of him while he’s not playing. You can’t ask for anybody better than Seids to work his way back.”
In 2010, his first season with the Bruins, Seidenberg suffered a severed tendon in his forearm and missed the final four regular-season games and Boston’s 13 playoff games. He worked hard to return to game action that season, and if the Bruins had reached the Eastern Conference finals then Seidenberg would have been back.
It is remarkable that Seidenberg is this far along only four months removed from knee surgery. He’s one of the many reasons the Bruins won a Stanley Cup in 2011 and returned to the finals before losing to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013. His potential contributions to their 2014 Stanley Cup run are still unclear, but one thing is certain: Don't count him out.