For the majority of the first period on Monday night, the Pittsburgh Penguins thoroughly dominated the Boston Bruins in front of a sellout crowd at the TD Garden. At the end of the first period, the high-flying Penguins offense generated numerous scoring opportunities on Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, but the hometown team headed into the intermission leading, 2-0.
The scoreboard may have reflected a two goal cushion for the spoked-B prior to the start of the second, but the Metropolitan division leading Penguins easily owned the period. With names like Crosby, Malkin, Neal, Bergeron, Krejci and Iginla squaring off, you naturally think, “This game is going to be decided by three players who have combined for three goals and 50 regular season games played prior to this season,” right?
Don’t worry, I won’t blame you if the names Krug, Soderberg and Smith don’t exactly roll off your tongue as deciding factors on a nightly basis. However, on Monday night at the TD Garden, the Bruins’ youth was fully on display, punctuated by Torey Krug’s game-winning overtime hammer from just inside the face-off circle that beat Fleury high, glove-side.
More importantly for the Bruins, the third line once again contributed on the offensive end, led by Reilly Smith’s fifth goal of the season, while Carl Soderberg chipped in with two assists. Overall, the third line, centered by assistant captain Chris Kelly, finished with roughly 14 minutes of playing time and as we’ve seen over the last handful of games, made the best of their playing opportunities.
In the first period, Soderberg capitalized on a fanned shot at the point from Penguins defenseman, Brooks Orpik and quickly transitioned through the neutral zone where he made a no look pass at the Pens’ blue line that resulted in a Loui Eriksson breakaway goal.
” There’s definitely familiarity with Loui and I that goes back to our national days,” the soft spoken Soderberg mentioned. “With Loui and mostly the European players, you just know where each other are going to be on the ice.”
Roughly about three minutes later, Soderberg made his presence felt again with a relentless fore check that resulted in Boston’s first power-play of the night when the second year Swede drew a hooking minor of Pittsburgh forward, Pascal Dupuis.
After drawing the penalty, it didn’t take much time for Soderberg to make his presence felt on the Bruins power-play. Following a faceoff win in the offensive zone, Eriksson slid a pass to his fellow countryman down low by the goal line, who then one-touched a pass over to a streaking Smith busting the seams up the middle, who one-timed a shot over the glove of Fleury to make it 2-0.
“We were working on that play over the last little bit, so I think Carl saw me the whole time,” Smith added. “We knew they [Pittsburgh] were going to be pretty aggressive, as soon as it went down to Carl, he kind of knows that I’m going backdoor and he made a great play.”
Using leftwinglock.com’s “Line Production” feature and narrowing the sample size down to the last ten games played, you’ll notice the third line combination of Smith, Kelly and Soderberg ranks tied for fifth overall in terms of goal production as a unit. Furthermore, over the last five games, the Bruins third line has combined for three goals, eight assists and a plus five rating.
Think about that for a second.
“It just goes to show that they’re playing with confidence right now; they’re doing the things they have to do,” Julien added about his resurgent third line. “There’s a lot of guys that are chipping in here and there and that third line is one of those lines that really is coming along.”
Just last season during the playoffs, Claude Julien seemingly tried mustering production from the third unit by mixing and matching different personnel groups. Saying that, the group that Julien most commonly used on the third unit was Kelly, Rich Peverley, Kaspars Daugavins and Carl Soderberg.
Through 22 playoff games in 2013, the group combined for four goals, one assist and a dreadful goal differential of -16. Granted, the pace of playoff hockey isn’t on par with the lullabies of regular season play, the vast improvement being shown by the Bruins third line shouldn’t be ignored. Just remember how important Michael Ryder’s role on the third line became during the Stanley Cup run in 2011.
Check out what Soderberg, Eriksson and more had to say following the Bruins overtime win: