Boston Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is surely breathing more freely as of Tuesday night. In what can be considered a satisfying sense of irony, given the unlikeliest of heroic performances earlier in the week, the collective sigh of relief from the fan base has been transmitted as the breath of fresh air Sweeney has needed since late February.
It was then that the current roster took its lasting shape, following the additions of veteran forwards Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson. The hope, of course, was that the Bruins would benefit from the scoring balance they’d bring to the lineup. While that wouldn’t be the case in the regular season, things have a way of changing, come the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
With Coyle, in particular, at the epicenter, Boston has finally found the kind of depth scoring synonymous with deep runs in the postseason. Here’s a look back at how the third and fourth lines led the way in another Game 7 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs and again in Games 1-2 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Boston’s Bolstered Bottom Six Terminates Toronto
Just when the Maple Leafs (and their fan base) thought their playoff fortunes against the Bruins couldn’t possibly get any worse, Tuesday played out. While the unforgettable collapse of 2013 stands as one of the worst in league history, at least it came at the hands of Boston’s best players, namely Patrice Bergeron. Then, last April, the Bruins trailed by one goal three times in Game 7, including 4-3 entering the third period. They’d ultimately prevail 7-4.
One year later, Toronto is left to wonder how Boston’s bottom-six got the better of them in Game 7, a 5-1 final. Joakim Nordstrom, the least productive Bruins forward in terms of point production in the regular season (seven goals, five assists in 70 games), opened the scoring. Johannson doubled the lead, late in the first period, with what proved to be the game-winner. A three-goal third period featured tallies from Sean Kuraly and Coyle, the latter’s third goal of the series.
Kuraly’s return to the Bruins’ lineup proved a key turning point in the series, as it essentially stabilized the bottom six. The 26-year-old reassumed his center position on the fourth line between Nordstrom and Noel Acciari. This allowed for Coyle and Johannson to link together on the third unit. While Karson Kuhlman would get the nod as their right wing for Game 7, coach Bruce Cassidy was quick to reinsert Chris Wagner before the start of the second round.
Coyle Continues to Capitalize Against Columbus
Sweeney met much scrutiny following the acquisition of Coyle, which in turn sent Ryan Donato, widely considered as the Bruins’ top prospect, to the Minnesota Wild. Coyle’s six points (two goals) in 21 regular season games did little to justify the move. His presence certainly didn’t hurt Boston, as he proved capable of playing up and down the lineup while logging ample time on the power play.
After his aforementioned role in the Toronto series, Coyle quickly proved to the Blue Jackets that his play was no fluke. After scoring late in regulation to force Game 1 into overtime, the 27-year-old native of Weymouth, MA played the hero with the game-winner, off a slick feed from Johansson. Acciari opened the scoring with an unassisted short-handed goal in the opening frame.
Even in an ensuing 3-2 double-overtime loss in Game 2, Coyle stood out as one of the better Bruins on the ice. He picked up the primary assist on David Pastrnak’s second-period goal after his pass from behind the net deflected in, off of the latter’s skate. The goal was ironic in its own sense, as Coyle’s presence has been all the more important given Pastrnak’s poor play of late.
Bruins Must Fire on All Cylinders to Win the Cup
While the successes of the bottom six is a feel-good story, they could very well go for naught if the top two lines can’t get going.
Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have been held without a point against Columbus thus far, while Jake DeBrusk has been held off the scoresheet in three straight games. Both Danton Heinen and David Krejci have just one assist in the ongoing series.
Despite these causes for concern, fans should look at these no-shows in a glass half-full manner. After all, the Bruins have survived a Game 7 and are in a comfortable enough position in Round 2, without much help from their top-six. Just imagine what could happen when they do get going.