One of the primary reasons why the Bruins were defeated in the Stanley Cup Final last season was the Blackhawks’ bottom-six forwards outperforming their Boston counterparts.
The Bruins were forced to rely heavily on their first and second lines last season because players such as Chris Kelly, Jordan Caron, Jaromir Jagr, Tyler Seguin and others struggled to provide consistent offensive production from the third line. This season has been a different story with talented wingers Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg joining Kelly on the third line. This trio has combined for 35 points in 24 games, including 17 points in November.
Smith has been one of the team’s best players this month. He has scored four goals with six assists in his last 12 games, and enters Wednesday’s matchup against the Detroit Red Wings on a two-game goal streak. As for Soderberg, his transition to the slower, more physical North American game after playing in Sweden for most of his professional career is just about complete. He’s playing a smart, responsible, heavy style of hockey in addition to his consistent scoring (two goals, six assists in his last 12 games). Soderberg will try to extend his point streak to four games on Wednesday after tallying two assists in Monday’s win over Pittsburgh.
In 24 games, Kelly has already matched his three-goal total from last year, which he set in 34 games. His improved play and the chemistry he’s quickly developed with Smith and Soderberg has given valuable depth to the Bruins offense, something it lacked at crucial times in the 2013 playoffs.
“We’ve been playing well,” Smith said on Monday when asked about his line’s recent performance. “We’ve been keeping it pretty simple. We’re pretty good when we can get the puck down low and work good. [Soderberg] and [Kelly] are great players so if you can get the puck to them they’re pretty good at making plays and keeping it away from the other team.”
The third line played a key role in Boston’s win over Detroit on Oct. 5, and this trio will need to give another impressive performance to help the Bruins take two points at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday night.
Here are the projected lines and pairings for tonight’s matchup in Detroit, which begins at 7:30 p.m.
Bruins (16-6-2, 34 points)
Milan Lucic — David Krejci — Jarome Iginla
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Loui Eriksson
Carl Soderberg — Chris Kelly — Reilly Smith
Daniel Paille — Gregory Campbell — Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara — Dougie Hamilton
Matt Bartkowski — Johnny Boychuk
Torey Krug — Kevan Miller
Tuukka Rask (starting goalie)
Red Wings (11-7-7, 29 points)
Johan Franzen — Henrik Zetterberg — Gustav Nyquist
Justin Abdelkader — Darren Helm — Daniel Alfredsson
Drew Miller — Joakim Andersson — Tomas Tatar
Daniel Cleary — Stephen Weiss — Mikael Samuelsson
Jonathan Ericsson — Niklas Kronwall
Kyle Quincey — Brendan Smith
Brian Lashoff — Jakub Kindl
Jonas Gustavsson (starting goalie)