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These three tough to miss

Metropolit, Kessel, Stuart played all 82

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Barbara Matson
Globe Staff / April 6, 2008

Glen Metropolit limped out of the locker room last night, favoring a sore right foot. Mark Stuart lingered in the trainer's room, first riding the stationary bike and then sinking into a whirlpool. Twenty-year-old Phil Kessel was dressed and out the door nearly as quickly as he slips down the ice.

Those are the three players who suited up for every game as the Bruins scrambled to a 41-29-7-5 regular season, a 3-0 loss to Buffalo last night setting them up for a first-round playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. That's 82 pregame meals, 82 naps, 82 morning skates, 82 warm-ups, 82 60-minute (at least) games. It's a lot of airplane trips and a lot of mornings on the practice ice at Ristuccia Arena in Wilmington, repeating drills and taking shots, and adapting to a shifting lineup.

The trio has little in common. Metropolit is a nine-year pro who gambled on earning a roster spot when he came to camp last summer without a contract; Stuart is a 23-year-old defenseman who played his first full season in the league and became a quiet, steady presence; and Kessel is a stickhandling savant who left college after one year to join the Bruins last season.

It was no simple thing patching together this playoff team. In Claude Julien's first year as coach, the Bruins lost 358 man-games, hockey talk for the number of games missed by injured regulars. That's a lot of talent to be tabled. As the shape of the team took form around the framework constructed by Julien, injuries kept chipping away at the structure.

Forwards Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard, Glen Murray, and Chuck Kobasew, defensemen Andrew Alberts and Andrew Ference, and goalie Manny Fernandez missed significant periods with injuries.

"It's just tough getting guys in and out of the lineup," said Kessel, whose endurance is more remarkable after his diagnosis and surgery for testicular cancer only 16 months ago.

"I think we all managed to step up well," said Kessel, who contributed 19 goals and 18 assists. "I've never had many injuries in my career - knock on wood. And you can't be afraid. You've just got to go out and play hard."

Metropolit, a center who has skated between many different players this season, had 11 goals and 22 assists, and set a standard for hard work.

"That's quite an accomplishment [playing all 82 games], I guess," said Metropolit, who left last night's game with about five minutes remaining, but later said his foot injury was not significant. "It's a credit to the organization, to [general manager] Peter [Chiarelli] and the coaching staff, to be able to get the guys ready. We battled hard all year.

"We're not a flashy team, we're a hard-working team."

It's the drudgery that has driven this Bruins team, the first to qualify for the playoffs in four years.

"I think that's where the players deserve a lot of credit," said Julien. "They are the ones that are going out there and executing [the system]. We're going to teach it, we're going to enforce it on them, but you also have to buy into it, and they did.

"It's not that we were struggling and trying to convince them all the time. The more we went on in the season, the more they believed in it. Not only did they believe in it, they trusted it."

And then there was defenseman Dennis Wideman, who only missed one game, the first. He was a healthy scratch in the opener, the coaching staff doubtful he could thrive in the new system. His transformation into one of the team's top defenders, and a point man on the power play, is indicative of the team's ability to adapt.

"They weren't happy with my training camp," said the freewheeling Wideman, who played more minutes as the season progressed, and finished with 13 goals and 23 assists. "I had to earn their trust and prove to them I could help the team. Then some guys got hurt and I got a chance to take a more prominent role. I had to play better.

"Obviously, I'm real excited about making the playoffs. For this team, that's an unbelievable accomplishment."

Barbara Matson can be reached at matson@globe.com.

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