Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends
Mm, I get high with a little help from my friends
Mm, Gonna try with a little help from my friends
-- The Beatles' "With A Little Help From My Friends"
TAMPA, Fla. -- With his game rounding into form in the Eastern Conference finals, Bruins defenseman Tomas Kaberle might just want to be singing that chorus from the Beatles classic. Through the first 11 games of the playoffs, Kaberle simply did not look like the slick, puck-moving defenseman the Bruins thought they were acquiring when they sent prospect Joe Colborne, a 2011 first-round draft pick and another conditional second-round draft pick to Toronto in exchange for Kaberle on Feb. 18.
The Bruins thought Kaberle would be the elixir for their fluttering power play. Instead, the power play got even worse down the stretch and in the playoffs, with the Bruins failing to light the lamp on the man advantage until their Game 4 series clincher in the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Flyers. Even after those power-play goals, though, Kaberle continued to struggle. Not until Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals, when he assisted on two power-play goals, did he finally look like the Kaberle the Bruins were hoping for.
But throughout those struggles, coach Claude Julien and his players made sure they defended the Czech blueliner and deflected as much blame for their anemic power play as they could away from Kaberle.
Following another strong performance in the Bruins' 2-0 Game 3 win Thursday, Kaberle made sure to thank his teammates and coach for standing by him as he struggled to find his game.
"It means a lot," Kaberle said of his teammates and Julien having his back. "Everybody cares about each other, and that's the way it should be. If you're going to be successful, not every game is going to be your best game and you let the guys know it's OK."
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara always knew his fellow blueliner would pull out of his slump and find his stride, as he appears to be doing now. Chara said he also wasn't worried -- as many in the media claimed -- that Kaberle was caving under the pressure of the playoffs and increased media spotlight and scrutiny.
"You know, I've never really thought it bothered him," Chara said of the criticism Kaberle has received throughout the playoffs. "I mean, he knows he needed to be better and he did get better, but honestly, he came from Toronto and it's a lot tougher being a hockey player there. He's used to it and he's strong mentally. So I had confidence in him and I let him know we knew he'd get better. We're here for each other and we're a team here so who cares what the outside says."
Kaberle, of course, is thrilled to be playing on the same team as the 2009 Norris trophy winner, who has been nominated for the award again this season. Kaberle said that having a leader such as Chara in the Bruins' dressing room has helped him and his teammates through this deep playoff run.
"He's one of the best defensemen in the league and a great leader as well," Kaberle said of his captain. "He cares every day and he'll never take any days off on and off the ice. He wants to win, and that's great for everybody in this dressing room. When he needs to speak up, he'll speak up, and he leads by example. But a lot of guys in this dressing room do."
As Kaberle tried to find his game, not only did his teammates give him words of encouragement, but their collective work ethic and passion inspired him to keep working hard to play the game he knew he could.
"It makes it easier for sure," said Kaberle, who now has five assists in the playoffs. "We're a good mix of guys, older guys and younger guys. Everybody knows what you're here for and everybody wants to win. That's the main thing. Nobody takes days off and plays hard every shift."
Kaberle said he now has his confidence back and, as a result, is having fun on the ice again.
"I'm trying to play my best every game," Kaberle said. "Not every game you're going to feel the same but I feel way better the last few games and it's important for me to get confidence back."
Julien said he also sees a more confident Kaberle on the ice.
"We had a conversation about maybe taking some pressure off of his shoulders about everything that wasn't going right about the power play," Julien said. "The fingers kept pointing at him, and he's more than just that. He's a good puck mover and he can play a pretty good game when he's on top of it. We have confidence in him, and I told him that I know that he can certainly help us. I think he's relaxed a little bit, which has given him some confidence in his game.
"I think the last two games, he's been a better player. He's passing, he's more poised, he's a little bit more aggressive and he's not sitting on his heels. And I think that's made a big difference in his game. We say it almost every day when we talk about players, and that it's about confidence. That word confidence plays big, and whether he feels it from others or plays with it, it makes a big difference in the player's reaction."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.