The Bruins’ third line has been a revolving door of forwards, both young and old, rookie and veteran, all season long. And while the names and players have changed along the way, the B’s have been getting the same result for just about the entire season — not much of anything.
So it was a more than welcomed sight for the Bruins to see the third line break out in Game 3 of the team’s first-round series with Toronto. The trio of Chris Kelly, Jaromir Jagr and Rich Peverley clicked Monday night, and they were a big reason the B’s took a 5-2 win and a 2-1 series lead out of the first playoff game in Toronto since 2004.
The line made differences in all three zones from the time they hit the ice 1:50 into the game. Their first shift was buzzing, and they sustained that intensity for the entire game. Each player contributed in different ways, and the end result was arguably the line’s most productive game of the season.
It hasn’t been an easy season for the line that started the year with Kelly, Peverley and Chris Bourque. While Kelly and Peverley are reunited — although Kaspars Daugavins got the call in Game 1 — the transitional period hasn’t been easy. The bumpy transition of adding Jagr to the mix and getting them all to feed off of each other has taken some time. Things got even more difficult when Jagr missed time toward the end of the season after a nasty bout with flu-like symptoms.
“Again, it’s my job to make the excuses and I made the excuses for them because I felt it was right,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “Jagr hasn’t been feeling that great and had to turn a corner here. And at the same time, he’s had new linemates who hadn’t play much together. It was just a matter of giving them some time. Sometimes, you’ve just gotta be patient and I’m more of a patient guy than a guy who’s gonna panic. Tonight it paid off.”
It did in a big way. Jagr, at 41 years of age, was one of the best players on the ice in a game with two teams that feature a ton of young talent. His relentless puck battling was finally rewarded in the second period when he abused Ryan O’Byrne (28 years old) and Jake Gardiner (22 years old) behind the Toronto net to win the puck. Jagr then quickly shoveled the puck to the front of the net for Peverley, who quickly one-timed it by James Reimer to give the Bruins a 2-0 lead.
“It doesn’t matter how old he is, it doesn’t matter how long he’s been in the league, it doesn’t matter how accomplished he is, he’s a real proud competitor,” Julien said. “He takes everything at heart.”
Jagr had his signature strength on the puck back, which was evidenced on the Peverley goal and throughout the night. It helped the future Hall of Famer create chances for his teammates and for himself, as he put a team-high six shots on goal.
He wasn’t alone in making his presence felt, though. Peverley had the goal, and he and Kelly combined to go 22-for-25 in the face-off circle. You also can’t discount the play of all three on special teams, with Jagr’s playmaking efforts benefiting the power play while Kelly and Peverley work to stabilize the penalty kill.
The most encouraging thing to come out of Game 3 for Boston’s Line 3, however, might be the way they all came together. The chemistry was starting to become evident, as the three are starting to complement each other’s game. Jagr’s skills with the puck are starting to work well with the speed of Kelly and Peverley.
“He may not have the speed he used to have, but he’s still got the hands,” Julien said of Jagr. “His forwards like I said are getting used to playing with him. Instead of being ahead of him¸ they’re supporting him and giving him the support he needs. … Vintage Jagr in the offensive zone.”
That should be a scary thought for the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins can get the third line going on a more consistent basis, it will only add to the play of the other three lines, all of which are playing well right now.