Lars Eller and Rene Bourque of the Montreal Canadiens both came into this season with fairly high expectations. Eller was coming off a breakout season, where he scored a career high of 30 points in just 48 games, and improvement was expected this season. Bourque was coming off an injury riddled and inconsistent season, and a bounce back was expected.
The pair are the Canadiens two biggest forwards behind scrapper George Parros, and the closest players the Habs have to power forwards beyond Max Pacioretty. Eller started the season on a line with super sophomores Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher, and Bourque would line up with veterans Tomas Plekanec and Brian Gionta to begin the campaign.
Neither line would stay together long, mostly due to the poor and inconsistent play of Eller and Bourque. The “EGG” line was broken apart after a blazing start, as Gallagher was placed on a line with Pacioretty and David Desharnais to try and jumpstart their production.
Bourque had just four points in the first 12 games of the season, and would start making his way down the lineup. Eller began with seven points in his first five games of the season, but would then find himself in a major slump that stretched most of the season.
Bourque would be the first of the two to become a healthy scratch, on January 18th, when the Canadiens faced the Toronto Maple Leafs. He would be scratched for five straight in mid-March, and one final time on April 4th against the Ottawa Senators.
Eller would be a healthy scratch for just one game all season, on March 5th against the Anaheim Ducks. March 5th was trade deadline day and news of his benching led many to speculate he would be dealt. He wasn’t, and he is repaying the Habs now.
Eller wrapped up the regular season with 3 points in his final two games, before missing the Habs final three games with the flu. He picked up where he left off when the puck dropped on the postseason.
Late in the second period of game one between the Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning, the Canadiens were trailing 2-1 and found themselves shorthanded. When defenseman Mike Weaver cleared the Habs zone, Eller won a race to the loose puck and chipped it ahead to send Brian Gionta in alone on Anders Lindback. The Canadiens captain made no mistake in picking up his own rebound and knotting the score before the second intermission.
Early in the third period, Gionta returned the favor, chipping a puck out of the zone and sending Eller on a break. Lars showed plenty of patience and weaved his way through the Lightning slot, before beating Lindback with a wrister just inside the post.
It was Bourque who drove the net on Eller’s goal to distract the Lightning goaltender just enough, and help Eller’s shot sneak through the glove side. It was a simple enough play by Bourque, driving to the net as every hockey player is told to do, but it was a play we did not see enough of from the big winger all season.
Eller’s goal in game one made it 3-2 for the Habs, and gave them their first lead of the series. Montreal would go on to take the series opener 5-4 on an overtime goal by Dale Weise.
Game two was Bourque’s time to shine. With the Canadiens leading the Lightning 1-0 midway through the second period, Bourque picked up a pass from Thomas Vanek at center ice, and with a burst of speed split through Lightning defenders Sami Salo and Eric Brewer, and slid the puck past an outstretched 6’6” Lindback.
Late in the third period, with the Habs leading 3-0 and having already chased Lindback from the Bolts goal for Kristers Gudlevskis, Bourque would seal Tampa Bay’s fate.
Eller forced a turnover at center ice that sent the puck directly to Bourque’s stick. Rene once again used his speed to get to the outside of Radko Gudas, and collect his own rebound after his initial shot was stopped by the Latvian goaltender. Bourque swept around the Lightning net, and tucked the puck in on the far side, giving the Habs an insurmountable 4-0 lead.
It was the first multi-goal game of the season for Bourque, who was supposed to replace much of Mike Cammalleri’s goal scoring when they were swapped for one another two years ago. Bourque was coming off consecutive 27 goal seasons for the Calgary Flames, but scored just nine with Montreal this season.
Bourque had gone 20 games earlier this season without scoring two goals, so to see him score a pair in just over 20 minutes of play was a welcome sight for Habs fans.
The Canadiens have been looking for big forwards who can score all season. It turns out they had two of them in the lineup most of the year, they just waited until playoff time to bring their A game.
With the Lightning’s top defenders focusing on the line of Pacioretty, Desharnais and Vanek, and the Canadiens deploying Plekanec’s line against the Lightning’s top players, there will be plenty of opportunity for Bourque and Eller to continue producing offense in their third line role.