Schaller fights on with B’s

Photo by The Associated Press Merrimack native Tim Schaller (59) hopes his solid season with the Bruins carries over into the playoffs.

BOSTON – The cameras and microphones suddenly surrounded Merrimack’s Tim Schaller in the corner of the Boston Bruins dressing room.

Schaller admitted he’d never been besieged by as much media before.

“No, I haven’t,” he said Saturday with a chuckle. “But the playoffs haven’t started yet, and you can feel the buzz.”

Schaller had missed 14 games at the end of the season with a lower body injury before returning for the final regular-season game last Saturday. It’s not what he envisioned as he fights for a spot in the Bruins playoff lineup.

“It was tough to be out,” he said. “It takes time to get back, you just have to be paitent. It was tough being out when we were pushing for a playoff spot; I was playing pretty well when it happened.

“I thought I played all right (Saturday), so hopefully I can fight for a job in the playoffs here.”

Ah, fight for a job. Schaller has done that his entire professional career, since the former Hockey East top defensive player was signed by the Buffalo Sabres in April of 2013, and then inked by the Bruins as a free agent last June. With the Sabres, Schaller split time between the minors and the NHL. With the Bruins, he was determined to prove he should avoid the Providence shuffle.

Originally slated to begin the year with the Baby Bruins, he was a last-minute callup to start the season, and he’s stayed in Boston ever since, proving his worth with 59 games played, seven goals and seven assists as mainly a fourth-line forward.

“I think I just played my game,” he said. “The least I can do is work as hard as I can. Whatever skill and talent I have, it’s just going to take over at that point. I just have to make sure every practice, every game, it could be the last game of the season for you. So I work hard every practice, every game.”

And now, every playoff game – he hopes.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Schaller said. “The energy level is going to be high, the adrenaline is going to be pumping. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Schaller has had one professional playoff experience, playing in the AHL’s Calder Cup playoffs with Rochester a few years ago, the Sabres’ minor league affiliate losing in the first round.

“The step from the regular season to the playoffs is huge,” Schaller said. “I think you could tell from the past few games here the playoff mentality and the speed is different. It’s a step up from there.”

Where has Schaller improved in the last two years?

“I’m a lot smarter,” he said. “I think my skating has gotten a lot better and a lot stronger. … It’s a pretty fast league out here nowadays. If I can keep up, and even be that much faster than some guys, that will help.”

That’s why he made speed and skating a point of emphasis in the summer since signing with the B’s, and that work on his skating and speed has paid off. The fans at the Garden roared Saturday when Schaller, back from his injury hiatus, zipped up the ice after stealing the puck in the first period of what was a 3-1 loss to Washington in the regular-season finale.

“Timmy was Timmy,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He plays a north-south game. He gets behind their ‘D,’ forechecks, protects. He’s good on the penalty kill. You know, when we get behind, we’re probably limited in what we’re going to see out of him. He’s a player who will probably play more when we’re ahead. He fits that category, more protecting leads than try to play catch up. No ill effects from his injury, he’s ready to go, so that’s a positive.”

“I like to always move my feet, keep pressure on the D-men, finish my hits,” Schaller said. “I’ve just become a pest, I guess.”

Despite the injury woes down the stretch of the regular season, Schaller lived a childhood fantasy this year, playing a full season with the team he grew up idolizing.

“Playing for the Bruins was obviously a dream come true,” he said, “but put that aside; a full NHL season was what I wanted to do coming into the year. That’s one achievement. I had other goals that I set; whether I hit them or not, it’s been a pretty good year for me.

“What’s good is I know (based on this season) that I can do a lot more in this league; hopefully I can stay here for a long time.”

It’s been great for Schaller to be here, as his mother and father have come down from Merrimack often to see him play.

“They haven’t missed a game,” he said. “Wait, I take that back. Missed one game when there was a snowstorm.

“It makes it easy to play when you have familiar faces in the stands.”

Schaller’s deal with the Bruins was a one-year contract. He hopes he’s convinced them to bring him back, but that’s not foremost on his mind at this point, since there are more important games ahead.

“I’m not worried about that right now,” he said. “We just made the playoffs. I’ll worry about that when I have to.”

The postseason opener at Ottawa was Wednesday night, but results were not available by Merrimack Journal press time. Game 2 is Saturday.