All postseason long, the Bruins have been waiting to get something, anything, from their third line. Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Jaromir Jagr never clicked in the first round. Putting Tyler Seguin with Peverley and Kelly didn’t spark anything either. When Gregory Campbell went down with a broken leg in the Pittsburgh series, Kelly moved to fourth-line center and Kaspars Daugavins joined Peverley and Seguin. Still nothing.
Another change came Saturday night, in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks badly outplayed the Bruins in the first period, and even though the Bruins only trailed 1-0 (thanks entirely to Tuukka Rask), Claude Julien knew he needed to shake things up. If the game continued the way it was going, the Blackhawks would’ve cruised to a 2-0 series lead.
So before the second period, Julien put Kelly and Daniel Paille with Seguin on what became the new third line, based on ice time. Daugavins and Peverley wound up with Shawn Thornton, the only remaining member of the Bruins’ original fourth line.
The move paid off with a little more than five minutes left in the second period. After Andrew Ference kept the puck in the zone with a well-timed pinch, Seguin forced a turnover behind the net, Paille picked up the loose puck and took it the front, and Kelly followed up to bury the rebound and tie the game at 1-1. It marked Kelly’s first goal in 24 games.
“I think he’s been snakebitten for a while,” Julien said of Kelly. “When you don’t score, eventually you get scored on and the minuses start creeping up. That was certainly something that bothered him. I thought he played well tonight. He’s played well in some games. He hasn’t been able to produce.
“So tonight is a good night for him, a good time to obviously have a great game. His effort and his will to be a better player was always there. You’re just waiting and hoping for that moment. Tonight was a great night for that to happen.”
Paille, Kelly and Seguin continued to put together strong shifts for the remainder of the game. In overtime, they nearly ended it twice. A little more than five minutes in, Seguin set up Kelly for a one-timer from about 20 feet out, but Corey Crawford made the save. Then with less than nine minutes to go in the extra period, Kelly collected a loose puck in the slot and fired a shot that Crawford just got his stick on.
The trio kept pressuring, though, and with 6:12 left in overtime, they finally did end it, sending the series back to Boston tied 1-1. Once again, it started with a good pinch at the blue line, this time from Adam McQuaid. From there, Seguin made a great pass over to Paille, who fired a wrister off the post and in.
“The bottom six have all played together at certain times,” Kelly said. “If it wasn’t this year, it was last year or even the year before. We’re all familiar with one another. I think Claude is just trying to find different chemistry with different guys, who’s going on any given night. Claude has a pretty good feel for his players. I think our line got thrown together end of the first, beginning of the second. I thought we went out there and played well.”
If Paille, Kelly and Seguin can continue to produce, it would be a huge boost for the Bruins’ chances to win the Stanley Cup. Their first line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton has been great all postseason, and the second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Jaromir has been very good since Game 7 against Toronto.
The Bruins have been fortunate to get plenty of scoring from their defense, whether it’s been Johnny Boychuk, Torey Krug or Zdeno Chara. And the Paille-Campbell-Thornton line had a great series against New York. But all along, the Bruins still needed something from their third line, whoever was on it.
Not only was the line not scoring, but it wasn’t even generating chances or swinging momentum. It was getting pinned in its own end way too much, and its members were too often finishing games with a dash in the plus/minus column.
Earlier in the playoffs, it was easy to say they still had time to figure things out. But as the playoffs went on, and as the Stanley Cup Final got underway, it seemed like the Bruins would have to resign themselves to not getting anything from the bottom six forwards, and just hope the top two lines continued to dominate.
As we learned in the Toronto series, though, no one on this Bruins team is going to give up. Kelly had been struggling through one of the worst stretches of his career, but he was going to keep battling. Seguin had been criticized all playoffs for his lack of scoring, but he wasn’t going to stop trying.
On Saturday night, Julien’s line juggling and the third line’s hard work paid huge dividends. Perhaps the Bruins have finally found the solution to their third-line woes.