How Offensive Depth Has Led to Recent Success for the Boston Bruins

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How Offensive Depth Has Led to Recent Success for the Boston Bruins
Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

It is just too bad for Boston Bruins forward Carl Soderberg that the tertiary assist is not a formal hockey statistic. There was barely a lack of room to give him tangible credit for his role in the deciding play in a 3-2 win over the Carolina Hurricanes Saturday afternoon.

Before Boston’s top forward line of David Krejci, Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic clicked in the clutch once more, Soderberg’s third line made the glamour possible in a twofold manner.

The likes of Chris Kelly, Reilly Smith and Soderberg precipitated Saturday afternoon’s overtime with a goal that granted Boston a short-lived 2-1 lead. Later, that same troika precipitated Krejci’s overtime clincher with Soderberg prominently pitching in on a breakout that led to a line change and counterattack.

The new legs for the return rush happened to be those of the first-liners, who kept the end-to-end flow going while Kelly and his wingers took their seats. Within seconds, Krejci polished off his unit’s third deciding play to occur in either sudden death or the last minute of regulation this season.

Krejci splashed a personal five-game production drought by placing the stamp Bruins’ third win in four tries and seventh point out of eight over the past calendar week.

The Bruins owe that string of success, first and foremost, to the bottom half of their offensive depth chart. Of the 11 pucks that have tickled the opposing mesh in this four-game unbeaten streak, seven have come off the twig of a third-line or fourth-line forward.

That’s seven goals from less likely sources keying a gain of seven points in the standings within the last seven days. Enough good fortune for the club as a whole to make its more household figures less conspicuous by their absence in the scoring column.

Over that same span, second-line center Patrice Bergeron has gone pointless and uncharacteristically lost a point under his plus-minus heading. Linemates Loui Eriksson and Brad Marchand have one helper apiece to speak of from the past week.

Lucic did set up Zdeno Chara’s 1-1 equalizer on a Saturday power play while Iginla fed Krejci for the sudden-death strike. Other than that, their only points during the team’s active point-getting streak came when they collaborated on an empty-netter last Monday during a 4-1 road triumph over the same struggling Hurricanes.

That brownie biscuit, buried by Lucic and assisted by Iginla, would not have been possible if not for Smith and Soderberg. In last Monday’s first period, Kelly’s wingers traded roles as playmakers and finishers on successive scoring plays to help raise a 2-0 upper hand on Carolina.

Without the initiative of their depth allies, Iginla and Lucic would have joined Krejci in a scoreless skid each lasting either four or five games apiece leading up to Saturday’s extra stanza.

On Tuesday, Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille each opportunistically beat Henrik Lundqvist, granting grand thief goalie Tuukka Rask the requisite support in a 2-1, 43-save win over the Rangers.

Gregory Campbell, Paille and Thornton’s pivot on the fourth line, joined Soderberg in Thursday’s goal column to at least give Boston a regulation point against St. Louis. It was a timely first tally of 2013-14 for Campbell, who since Tuesday has doubled his point total for the year to four.

Prior to facing the Blues, the team that originally held his rights, Soderberg earned praise from his pivot and his head coach. Per ESPN Boston’s Joe McDonald, Claude Julien opined, “He’s a heavy player around that net area, and he’ll go through anybody to get to that puck. Those kinds of players, teams don’t have enough of.”

A few days after those remarks, the entire third line made use of itself in the neighborhood of the Carolina cage when it granted the Bruins their first lead in Saturday’s tilt.

Kelly tangled himself up with Tim Gleason on the porch, thus denying the Hurricanes rearguard access to a loose puck left by Soderberg. Smith swooped in to collect the remnants, cut around Kelly and Gleason and deposited a backhander at 13:31 of the second period.

The next recorded play was Chara’s slapper off the post, which came near the end of a shift for the Bergeron line. During that shift, the Boston skaters in action appeared convincingly poised to follow up on the third line’s scoring play and help put the Canes away.

As it happened, Carolina goaltender Cam Ward had one of his better outings with 35 saves. Still, the succession of threats served as one slice of evidence that, for at least the latter half of last week, the lately frostbitten top six was not frostbitten for lack of confidence or commitment.

That certainly was not the case on Saturday. Rather, after a week’s worth of letting the depth strikers cultivate the bulk of their sustenance, the rest of Boston’s offense was riding a teamwide stream of assurance in the wake of five points out of a possible six.

Even among those who were not scoring, there was more of a consistent rhythm―at least during five-on-five play―among all offensive groups. There had not been as much of that earlier in the week, especially in Tuesday’s visit to New York, though the bottom six was at least functioning as fundamental glue on the scoresheet.

There was another burst of that teamwide poise and purpose in the tone-setting phases of the third period. Iginla took a check from Jordan Staal and later brushed the post with a bid from 11 feet before his line’s onslaught induced a Carolina icing with only 2:03 gone in the stanza.

They could not quite wrest the game out of reach there or on any other threats. Meanwhile, quintessential power-play futility in the form of repeat blown opportunities and a short-handed goal at the other end invited the 2-2 equalizer.

In the resultant overtime, a few seconds short of a full period after Iginla’s near-miss, the top line finally broke out of its finishing funk.

It was only fair, though, that a depth unit literally handed them the puck en route to that key play after keeping their throne warm and the team’s win-loss ratio stable all week.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com

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