BOSTON – Dougie Hamilton spent his 20th birthday watching the Stanley Cup finals.
He’d rather be playing in them.
The Bruins rookie defencemen was in street clothes when Boston defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 2-0 on Monday night to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series. It also was the first day of his post-teenage years.
After a regular season in which he played 42 of the 48 games, and then seven of the first 11 playoff games, Hamilton hasn’t suited up for any of the last eight, including the four-game sweep of Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference finals and the three games against Chicago.
So what has the 6-foot-5, 2011 first-round draft pick learned?
“I’ve learned that it’s not fun not playing,” Hamilton said Tuesday. “It’s been kind of tough in ways, but, at the same time, you’re just trying to have fun and enjoy it. I think it’s a pretty exciting opportunity to start the year in junior hockey and you’re two (wins) away from the Stanley Cup.”
He still figures in Boston’s plans for the future despite his current idleness.
“I now know what it’s like to go this far in the Stanley Cup finals and see what it’s like and the schedule and how guys play and things like that. So I think it’ll only help me,” he said. “When I was younger, I don’t know if I would have thought I’d be in the NHL at 19 and you look at what I would be doing instead. You just have to remember how lucky you are.”
FACEOFF DOMINATION: One of the most lopsided stats in the Stanley Cup finals so far has been Boston’s domination of faceoffs, including Patrice Bergeron’s 24-4 edge in the Bruins’ 2-0 victory in Game 3.
In all, Boston has won 57 per cent of the faceoffs while opening a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven NHL championship series.
“When we’re winning draws the way we are right now, it’s big for a team,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “You’re with the puck a lot more. It’s always nice to start with it, than chasing it. We create a lot of opportunities from that. We really have to give our centermen a lot of credit. They’re doing a great job.”
Bergeron led the NHL with a 62.1 percentage in winning faceoffs in the regular season. He has won more than 65 per cent (63 of 96) of his faceoffs in the series.
“Twenty-four and four on the faceoffs yesterday, which is an incredible stat,” Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. “That’s a part of the game that he takes a lot of pride in and that we take a lot of pride in as a team. Every pregame skate, I know the guys are working on faceoffs and it’s a lot easier starting with the puck than it is chasing it. I’m sure they talked about it and we need to stay sharp on our faceoffs.”
Blackhawks forward Dave Bolland also noted the discrepancy and said Chicago would work on eliminating it. Playing in Boston, where Bergeron has the advantage of being allowed to put his stick down last, makes it even more difficult.
“We’ve got to be better,” Bolland said. “We will be better.”
STANLEY CUP SUB: Blackhawks forward Ben Smith, who filled in when Marian Hossa was a late scratch in Game 4, has more experience at the TD Garden than many of his teammates.
Because of the lockout, the Western Conference champions did not visit Boston this year. But Smith, who won an NCAA title at Boston College in 2008, estimated that while in college he played about 15 games at the Garden, which is host to the Hockey East and Beanpot tournaments.
Hossa was scratched about an hour before Game 3, which the Bruins won 2-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the Stanley Cup finals. Smith said he was a little surprised when the coaches told him he would be in the game.
“You don’t know what’s going on, but you don’t ask any questions,” he said. “You get a chance, you go.”
Smith, who played in one regular-season game for Chicago this season, said it took him a couple of shifts to get into the game before settling in. He also played seven games for the Blackhawks in the 2011 post-season.
“I’ve played in the playoffs before, obviously not in the finals but playing in the playoffs, drawing from that experience helped,” he said. “You know, just keep having the confidence in what I can bring and hoping that I could help the team.”
PRETTY ‘SPECIAL’ TEAMS: Having a man advantage against the Boston Bruins isn’t much of an advantage.
They haven’t allowed a power play goal in their last seven games while facing some top scorers—Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with the Pittsburgh Penguins and Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane with Chicago.
The Bruins have killed off 27 straight penalties, including all 11 in the three games against the Blackhawks. Chicago was scoreless on five power plays on Monday night when Boston won 2-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven Stanley Cup finals.
“Our penalty kill’s done a great job for the whole playoffs and all year,” Lucic said. “I don’t penalty kill so it’s nice to see them doing a great job out there. I know we put a lot of time and effort into our penalty kill.”
Chicago has been scoreless on its last 20 power plays.
TUUKKA’S BACKUP: Two years ago, Tuukka Rask backed up Tim Thomas and never played in the post-season when the Boston Bruins won their first Stanley Cup since 1972.
Now it’s Anton Khudobin’s turn to watch and wait.
When Thomas decided to sit out this season, Rask was elevated to the top spot and Khudobin to the backup role.
“I always keep looking forward,” said Khudobin, who had a 2.32 goals-against average in 14 regular-season games but hasn’t appeared in the playoffs. “He was waiting for his moment, same as me. … He shows right now that he can, so why can’t I do it.”
Khudobin was drafted by the Minnesota Wild in the seventh round in 2004. He played two games for them in 2009-10 and four the next season. He appeared in just one game for Boston in 2011-12.
This season, he’s mostly watched Rask, who is 14-5 with a 1.64 goals-against average in the playoffs.
“He feels the game right now,” Khudobin said. “He’s played a lot of games in a row.”