Back in late March, the Bruins thought they had a deal with the Calgary Flames to acquire veteran forward Jarome Iginla, the most coveted piece on the trade market at that time. In exchange for Iginla, the Bruins were to send Bartkowski, along with Alexander Khokhlachev and a 2013 first-round pick, to Calgary. It was nearly a done deal, with Calgary GM Jay Feester telling Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli that they had won the Iginla sweepstakes.
Instead, Iginla rejected the idea of being traded to Boston at the last second and said that he would only waive his no-trade clause for a deal to Pittsburgh. A few hours and (I'm assuming) a few dozen ignored calls from Chiarelli later, Feester accepted a deal from Pittsburgh.
Jarome Iginla was officially a Penguin.
In response to the deal that robbed them of a superstar and provided additional ammunition to one of their top conference rivals, the Bruins sought out veteran Jaromir Jagr and sent Lane MacDermid, Cody Payne and a conditional pick to the Stars for him.
And after all this...Matt Bartkowski? Still a Bruin.
Fast forward to May and Bartkowksi is a big piece of a Bruins' playoff squad that has clawed it's way to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second time in three years. Injuries to veteran B's defensemen such as Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden led to Bartkowksi's number being called, to which he rose to the occasion.
The 24-year old has averaged over 20 minutes a night on the ice since his debut in Game 5 against the Leafs and has been surprisingly impressive, especially during Game 7's epic comeback against Toronto, when Seidenberg was forced out of the game 37 seconds into his first shift. His added depth has allowed to Bruins to match up well with opponents and, equally as important, avoid inserting Aaron "Disaster Waiting To Happen" Johnson into the lineup.
And who waits for the Bruins in the opposing locker room during the upcoming Conference Finals? The top-seeded, uber-talented Penguins, of course. The same Penguins that Bartkowski grew up rooting for in his native Mt. Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The same Penguins that Bartkowski matched up against in his first three career NHL games. The same Penguins that saved him from becoming a Calgary Flame.
It seemed inevitable that the Bruins and Penguins would meet at some point in the playoffs, and while Iginla and Jagr (who won two Cups while with the Penguins from 1990-2001) are sharing most of the spotlight heading into Saturday's Game 1, it's Bartkowski's story that may intrigue me the most. The overlooked prospect making the most of a second chance with a shot to take down his hometown team for a spot in the Stanley Cup Finals? Storybook stuff.
But will the defenseman get his storybook ending? The Penguins are favored in the series and, with the imminent return of Ference and the emergence of Torey Krug as an offensive weapon, Bartkowski's spot in the lineup is anything but certain. That being said, the kid has dealt with uncertainties pretty well thus far in 2013.
Regardless of whether Bartkowski winds up as a scratch or not, what he has brought to this team for much of the past month proves that he certainly didn't play himself out of a lineup spot on this team and, despite the circumstances surrounding the Iginla trade, the Bruins are very lucky that he's not playing golf somewhere right now.