The Montreal Canadiens were able to sweep by the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs thanks in large part to their depth scoring and getting contributions from all four lines.
Rolling four lines was not something the Habs were able to do all season, but they were quite comfortable doing so in their first round series, and will need the same efforts from their depth players if they are to match the Boston Bruins.
Boston’s depth may be as strong as it has been in recent memory. They relied heavily on their top line of Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla to get by the Detroit Red Wings in round one, but that is not the norm for this team.
The Bruins had nine players score 40 points in the regular season, and Loui Eriksson narrowly missed, only having played 61 games. Their second line of David Krecji, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith combined for just four points in their five game series against the Red Wings.
This is more of a sign of a major turnaround about to happen and not the beginning of a lengthy slump.
The Bruins bottom six will be without Chris Kelly, but will get Dan Paille back for game one tomorrow night. Paille will line up alongside Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton on a very effective fourth line.
The Canadiens will need a similar effort to the one they showed in round one if they are going to have any chance of moving past the Bruins. The Habs received at least one point from 16 of their 18 skaters in the four game sweep of Tampa Bay, and got huge goals from the bottom of the lineup.
Dale Weise scored the overtime winner in game one, and set up Daniel Briere for the opening goal of game four. The third line of Rene Bourque, Lars Eller and Brian Gionta chipped in with more offense than was imaginable after the trio all had down years in the regular season.
Bourque in particular was oddly fantastic in the series, scoring three goals, playing physical and averaging 5.5 shots per game after a regular season in which he had less than two shots per contest.
In fact, the Canadiens least productive line in the opening round when you factor in ice time, was the top trio. David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Thomas Vanek all looked spectacular at times in the series, but were not rewarded with great offensive numbers.
All three players scored a goal apiece, and Vanek chipped in with two helpers while Pacioretty and Desharnais had a single assist each. Based on the way they played since they were put together, including the series against Tampa, you can expect the Habs top trio will not be quiet for long.
The Canadiens will also receive Travis Moen back in the lineup for game one, and could be only days away from having a healthy Alex Galchenyuk return to action. If Galchenyuk returns the Habs will receive a boost in their scoring, but they still don’t quite have what it takes to match the Bruins up front.
Boston boasts a third line with Carl Soderberg and veteran sniper Loui Eriksson behind one of the most talented top six forward groups in the NHL. Bergeron, Lucic, Iginla, Krejci, Marchand and Smith all scored more than 50 points in the regular season, while just three Habs forwards matched that output.
If the Canadiens depth forwards can play at the same level they displayed in round one, the deep Bruins will have a hard time matching up with the Habs speedy forwards. However, the Bruins forwards have been playing at that high level all season, and had one line struggle for offence in a five game series.
The Canadiens on the other hand had their third line step their games up for a four game series, but struggled for most of the first 82. The Bruins are the safer bet to have four lines playing well all series, and having said that I have to give the edge in this series up front to the Habs hated rivals.