Jordan Caron must have made a few Boston Bruins buffs spit their soda Tuesday night. The fourth-year professional and perennial underachiever buried his first NHL playoff goal in Game 3 of a first-round bout with Detroit.
It would not be a surprise if that proves to be Caron’s last goal with the Spoked-Bs. He is due to hit free agency this summer, and his failure to play the majority of each season's games under normal circumstances suggests a looming exit.
Still, Tuesday’s goal set a precedent of sorts in the series, which the Bruins now lead by a 2-1 margin. The play was a culmination of period-long pressure and ought to revitalize recently silent strikers as Boston seeks to strengthen its newfound momentum.
With less than five minutes left in the opening frame, Caron waited on the boards of Boston’s bench to complete a line change. Once cleared, he hustled down the left wing while puck-carrier and fellow fourth-liner Shawn Thornton swooped in from the opposite alley.
Caron filled a gap on Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard’s porch and nimbly stuffed Thornton’s rebound home. That meant the first dose of insurance for the Bruins, who augmented their lead to 2-0 en route to a 3-0 victory.
For the second straight game, depth and special teams (the first goal came on a power play) emboldened the difference.
Caron’s strike constituted Boston’s 10th shot on net. By night’s end, all but two visiting skaters had pelted Howard with at least one puck.
Granted, six of the first eight shots came from defensemen. The other two, both via center David Krejci, came on a power play that culminated in sophomore blueliner Dougie Hamilton’s icebreaker.
But extended highlight packages show that nearly every forward on every unit did his part to pressure Detroit in the tone-setting phases.
The consistent knocking on opposing property indubitably precipitated the chance that Thornton started and Caron polished. The more pressure a team endures, the more prone to poor decisions it becomes.
Precisely 12 minutes and 15 seconds before his goal, Caron was in on one of those early excavations. He would receive one half of a set of coincidental roughing minors at 3:33, but his compete level did not diminish.
On his second shift, he accepted a check from Detroit defender Kyle Quincey at the 7:19 mark. Roughly eight-and-a-half minutes later, his fourth shift involved a little less punishment and a little more reward.
The fact that he kept his bloodhound’s nose for rebounds in front of the crease proved critical. It gave Boston’s scoring ensemble its second 2-0 lead at the first intermission in as many games.
No more biscuits entered any basket until Patrice Bergeron’s empty-netter with 1:59 left in the third. In between, close shaves were copious for several visiting forwards, but games are decided by who cultivates more goals.
To that point, per Jeff Pini of Boston.com, Bruins head coach Claude Julien made this observation:
When you look at the scoring sheet, I think the top lines on both teams are checking each other very well, so (there) doesn’t seem to be a lot of space there. In order to get through this sometimes you need secondary scoring, and that was a big part of our win tonight was getting (that), obviously Hamilton on that rush, and Caron scoring that goal.
One could say that about the Game 2 and Game 3 scoresheets alike. So far in this series, the Bruins have put three pucks behind Howard on the power play and another three at even strength. The scorers in the latter scenario have been Justin Florek, Milan Lucic and Caron.
Lucic is the only one of those three who is a top-six staple and was a regular on Boston’s game roster in 2013-14. Florek is a second-year professional who played in four NHL regular-season games before plugging an injury-induced void to start the playoffs.
Caron, the spare forward throughout this campaign, dressed for 35 games in the regular season. He scraped out three points and an un-Bruin-like minus-eight rating before essentially entering the postseason lineup by default.
Yet there he was Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena, doing what Florek did two days prior at the TD Garden. He refused to compete like an indefinite, default participant and successfully sought chances to contribute.
As quoted by CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty, Thornton said of his fellow depth winger, “It’s not easy being in and out of the lineup, and he’s worked very hard on and off the ice to stay ready when he’s been called upon. I thought these three games he’s played really well for us, he’s been a good fit on our line and he’s a really smart hockey player.”
If a player with Caron’s recent history can instill that conviction to the bottom line, what reason do the other three units have to lose their poise?
The short-term benefit of Caron’s goal was the cushion it offered on Boston’s path to a pivotal Game 3 victory. The long-term benefit should be a sustained, team-wide determination to keep plugging, no matter how long it takes any given player to get rewarded.
In one testament to Boston’s puck control, Detroit landed 30 of its 32 Tuesday night hits within the first two periods. Recipients of multiple checks included each of their top four regular-season goal-getters, two of whom have yet to score in the playoffs.
Jarome Iginla absorbed two hits within the first two minutes of play. Brad Marchand took three in the first period and one in the middle frame. He later drew a hard-earned tripping minor on Brendan Smith in the third, although his post-whistle dive should have created a four-on-four.
Fork out Marchand’s extracurricular antics and not much needs to change anywhere on the Bruins line chart. The Caron formula, as was laid out in Tuesday’s opening stanza, is the blueprint for creating separation where it matters most and anyone is capable of following it.
Pursue the puck, corral it on opposing property, take a hit when needed and take shots as they come.
The better part of Boston’s strike force followed those steps as best they could. Caron was the player who managed to capitalize once the droves mollified Howard and his skating mates enough.
The resultant proof that the Bruins can cultivate production from anyone is a natural cause for encouragement as top-sixers keep looking to hatch their goal-column goose eggs. With that said, it is equally imperative that the usual suspects stay on the accelerator.
While the Bruins do not want their supplementary strikers to let up, the fact remains that Caron saw a team-low 7:45 of ice time Tuesday. Florek, the Game 2 surprise, logged all of 10:31 in Game 3.
Iginla (30 goals), Marchand (25) and the like need to start translating their regular-season output sooner rather than later. With as many Stanley Cup playoff, final and championship veterans as this club has, that need not be an issue.
Now that Caron has made more with less and helped Boston gain the upper hand, his associates should be bent on doing more with more.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.