In their 2011 first round series against the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins third line of Chris Kelly, Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley stepped up as unsung heroes. Three years later, Kelly is still nursing an injury, Ryder is golfing after the Devils missed the playoffs and Peverley is recovering from heart surgery.
Yet, despite a new cast of players on both sides, the script hasn’t changed that much in this year’s second round series. Instead of Peverley, Ryder and Kelly, Loui Eriksson and Carl Soderberg have been heavily featured against the Habs third defensive pairing of Douglas Murray and Mike Weaver. Insert Matt Fraser on the off-wing the last two games - his Frozen Yogurt "obsession" included - and the chemistry the three have are unmatched.
The three continued to follow the script in Game 5 taking advantage of Murray and Weaver. It resulted in the trio sparking the Bruins as Soderberg’s tally in the first period - his first career postseason goal - gave his team the momentum from the get-go.
That momentum carried over into the next 40 minutes where Soderberg tallied another two assists and Eriksson delivered a crushing blow on a Fraser rebound in the third during the B’s 4-2 Game 5 victory in front of another sellout crowd of 17,565 at the TD Garden.
“It’s definitely a nice feeling to have,” Eriksson said about the chemistry with Soderberg and Fraser. “I thought we played good the other day too, and we just kept going there. So it’s definitely a nice feeling to have.”
Unlike 2013, where they had a revolving door around the third line, the Bruins have that luxury in their pocket. The chemistry that Eriksson and Soderberg have developed during the second half of the season on is unmatched.
It is getting pretty comfortable where if a guy like Kelly goes down, they can put anyone on the off-wing. Justin Florek and Daniel Paille have benefited from that Soderberg-Eriksson combination, and so is Fraser.
“I play with whoever coach [Claude Julien] wants me to play with. But right now since Fras[er] came in and he scored the game-winner last game, he seems to be playing pretty well with our line,” Soderberg said while donning the Old Time Hockey jacket - previously worn by Fraser - at his postgame press conference. “Loui and I, I think we’ve played good throughout the playoffs, but we haven’t scored, so it was good for us to score today.”
In his 15 regular season games with the big club, Fraser played with both Eriksson and Soderberg. So the formality was there from the start, and now they picked up right where they left off.
They also finished strong too on Eriksson’s goal where a patient Fraser waited to find space before firing a puck towards Carey Price before the Swede put home the rebound.
“I think as a line, you can always be better and always want to be better,” Fraser said. “Anytime you get satisfied is when you get stale I think, and it’s again, like it’s fun playing with those guys. They work well with each other, and I’m doing my best to compliment them.”
“He’s played with that line, so he knows those guys a little bit,” Julien said about Fraser fitting in with Soderberg and Eriksson. “Even that last goal, that’s a great play by Matt Fraser. He hangs onto the puck and looks around and has nobody, so he throws it at at the net and it was a great rebound there for Loui. So again, he’s played really well for us. He’s a strong player and a trustworthy player as well.”
The third lines success is just an example of the Bruins using their depth to their advantage. It comes at a needed time, too, as the first line of Jarome Iginla, Milan Lucic and David Krejci struggled through the first four games of the series.
Things were a little different for the first line in Game 5 as Iginla scored the B’s second power play goal just 1:36 into the second period - 32 seconds after Reilly Smith’s tally on the man advantage - on a great feed by Torey Krug. But the Soderberg line was unquestionably the best unit out on the ice, again.
“All year, the success we’ve had on our team is to have scoring throughout our lineup,” Iginla said about feeding off the third line. “It relieves a lot of pressure on everybody. We can try to focus [as a line] to play a certain way and be physical and not just about scoring goals. We feel with the different guys that are able to score and the different lines that are able to score, and our D that’s been able to jump in and score, we don’t feel that there’s pressure on one guy, or one line to score.”
With the Bruins now a win away from another trip to the Eastern Conference Finals, it would not be surprising if the third line continues their hot streak, assuming Murray and Weaver are still paired. Still, they know the fourth win is the toughest.
At this rate, even Fraser’s frozen yogurt obsession might just be a superstition.
“I guess you just, you try to stay away from superstitions but I guess it’s turning into a running joke now,” Fraser said with a smile.
Give Fraser credit, he laughed off the frozen yogurt phenomenon in The Hub of Hockey. But the play of the third line is no joke.
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