Bruins’ Third Line Playing Like Top Unit, Solidifying B’s Deep Forward Group

Bruins Third LineWILMINGTON, Mass — One of the hallmarks of Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s time in Boston is his insistence to roll four lines at any time in any game. So it should probably come as no surprise that the Boston bench boss looks at his lines a little bit differently than most.

When Julien’s teams are going right, there’s little differentiating between lines, especially the top-three units. That’s been the case as of late, with Boston’s top three lines all clicking at the same time. That depth has helped the Bruins win seven straight games, all while the club is in the teeth of its schedule.

The emergence of the third line as a legitimate threat is one of the biggest reason the Bruins are having so much success right now. Never mind getting solidified top-six forward production, the B’s have top-nine talent clicking.

“When I look at that (third) line right now,” Julien said Friday, “I’m gonna tell you we don’t have a third line. We have three top lines, that’s the way I look at it. That third line has been as good as the first and the second, if you name them that way. They play better than a third line.”

That combination, centered by Carl Soderberg with Chris Kelly on his left and Loui Eriksson on the right, has really started to hit its stride. Since Kelly returned from a leg injury on Jan. 28, they’ve combined for eight goals and 19 assists. It’s no coincidence that the Bruins are 11-2-2 over that stretch.

Injuries on that line and all over the Boston forward lines have made for some mixing and matching. But now that the B’s are healthy up front, the third line has been able to gain chemistry. That’s in large part because all three players are starting to adjust to new roles and new positions. Kelly, who has been a center since coming to Boston during the 2010-11 season, has made a pretty seamless transition to the wing. Soderberg looks more and more comfortable every game in the midst of his transition to the North American game after coming to Boston last season from Sweden. And Eriksson is finally healthy after a pair of concussions and has become accustomed to a new system after coming over from Dallas in an offseason trade.

The emergence of Soderberg is what has really brought that line together. Moving him to center — he had been playing wing for much of his time in Boston — seems to have really jump-started his game. Soderberg is a natural center, and there’s a comfort there that has made him a force, and he’s scored five goals and added eight assists in his last 15 games.

“I think he has that freedom that maybe he didn’t have playing wing,” Kelly said after practice Friday. “It’s just nice that Carl’s a free spirit, and his wings are able to let loose in the middle there, which is nice. He’s been playing extremely well. He’s got that comfort out there that when you’re accustomed to a certain position, you’re just reacting and not thinking out there.”

The Bruins don’t need to look back any further than their 2011 Stanley Cup win to see how important a third line can be. The trio of Kelly, Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder was vital to the team’s run to the Cup, especially in the playoffs when they combined for 17 goals and 25 assists over 25 games. If the Bruins can get anything close to that production from this year’s version of the “third line” over the next few months and into the postseason, that could end up being a huge reason for another deep playoff run.

It’s all about depth, no matter how you want to define the lines that Julien rolls.

“I think that’s, at the end of the day, what you want,” Kelly said. “Not one line doing the majority of the scoring or a few guys, but four lines and six (defensemen). A deep team makes a good team.

“At the end of the day, we’re finding ways to win games regardless of who’s scoring.”

Photo via Twitter/@NHLBruins

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