Third line play is pivotal to Boston Bruins hockey. A team that rolls four lines, relies on balanced scoring and the ability to wear down an opponent’s defense, the third line is producing and the Bruins are rolling.
With Carl Soderberg now centering Chris Kelly and Loui Eriksson, all three are playing at a high level. Kelly looks faster and stronger after the extended Olympic break, Eriksson looks more comfortable and confident in the Bruins system, and Soderberg, the most impressive of the three, really looks to be coming into his own as a North American hockey player.
On Thursday, in the second night of a back-to-back games, coming off a spirited win over their hated rival the Montreal Canadiens, the Bruins dropped the Phoenix Coyotes 2-1 on home ice.
Between the three-zone play and continued elite goaltending by Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask, the Bruins sudden surge ensued.
Just over five minutes into the first period, it was Soderberg who dodged a Coyote in the neutral zone and gained possession in the offensive zone. Pressure from both he and linemate Loui Eriksson forced a brutal turnover from Keith Yandle, who set up Zdeno Chara with the perfect opportunity. Chara skated to the slot and ripped the perfect wrist shot by Mike Smith, giving the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
Just like their game on Wednesday in Montreal, the Bruins third line contributed to the crucial first goal lead.
Post-game, Head Coach Claude Julien attributed much of the Bruins recent success to their commitment to the system; a full team buy in that translates consistency to winning.
“It’s pretty obvious when you play the number of games that you’ve played, and you look at the way you’ve played, there’s a pretty good commitment right now from our guys,” said Julien. “Even tonight, you could see that maybe we were getting tired there at the end in the third, but I think they had about ten minutes of power plays, and a pretty good power play at that. So we had to use a lot of those same players over and over again, and that’s not usually a good sign, but Tuukka [Rask] was really good for us obviously tonight.”
After killing off a four minute high-sticking penalty to Jordan Caron, who in no way helped himself in return to game action due to the Daniel Paille concussion, the Bruins finished the period on a good note.
Jarome Iginla extended the Bruins lead to 2-0 after tipping home a Johnny Boychuk rocket from the point; and the Bruins spent much of their time in the Coyotes zone to finish off the initial frame. An impressive start considering the circumstances.
Julien praised his team’s ability to build off last night’s emotional victory with another good effort against a rested club.
“Certainly a good effort on a back-to-back night again, and everybody knows we came off of a pretty important game, in our minds, yesterday, about going out there and playing your game, and making everybody understand that it’s not so much the matchup [with Montreal] than it’s been our make-up. All that put together, I’m pretty pleased with our effort, and it’s not so much the streak. It’s the consistency, and the consistency leads into that streak that you’re seeing.”
Captain Chara agreed with his coach, reiterating the importance of a full team effort that allows for consistent play.
“We are finding a way to win games,” he said. “For sure there are areas that we need to improve, but we are just finding a way to win hockey games right now so that’s a big difference. I mean when you look at it, every game we have somebody who is playing really huge for us. For sure Tuukka is making big saves, but we have every game some line or somebody really stepping up and making big plays.”
The Coyotes made things interesting late in the third when the Bruins fatigue finally caught up to them.
Pounding shots on net and coming within inches of a tally, Phoenix all but tied things up late in the third period at the garden. The biggest scare came when Antoine Vermette threw a puck at a wide-open net, only to be denied by Soderberg who busted through and broke up the play.
“Yeah, I’m not sure if I got a piece of it,” said Rask postgame. “It kind of felt like my glove hit something but then Carl [Soderberg], well he was the one who passed it back, he got the rebound there. So I’m not sure if I saved it, but whoever saved it did a great job.”
Everyone contributed to Thursday night’s victory.
It’s honestly gotten pretty simple. Redundant. With everyone buying in, and chipping in, the Bruins are rolling at the right time of year. It’s a sprint to the postseason and along with the Pens, the Bruins are taking it to the Eastern Conference. Blowing away the competition.
From goaltending, to defense, to depth in scoring, Julien once again has a Bruins team playing championship caliber hockey- further establishing himself as one of the NHL’s best head coaches.