The Montreal Canadiens find themselves trailing for the first time in this year’s NHL postseason, after losing Game 5 to the Boston Bruins last night. The Bruins took a 3-2 series lead over the Habs, and will have a chance to eliminate Montreal tomorrow night at the Bell Centre.
In Game 1, the Habs third line of Bourque, Eller and Brian Gionta combined for four points, and were the difference in the Canadiens taking a 1-0 series lead. The third line was shut out in Game 2, but the third line of the Bruins struck when Dan Paille opened the scoring late in the first period of a 5-3 victory.
Game 3 saw the Habs depth players strike again, as Eller and Weise combined to set up a P.K. Subban goal, and then Daniel Briere fed Weise for a breakaway goal of his own to give the Canadiens a 3-2 lead. Eller finished off the Bruins with an empty netter to give Montreal a 2-1 series lead.
Since then, the Habs depth players have been silent, while the third line of the Bruins has taken over the series.
Game 4 was a goaltenders duel as Tuukka Rask and Carey Price stopped every shot they faced in regulation, and the teams headed to overtime scoreless. Boston started overtime with the Patrice Bergeron line, but quickly sent out their third line of Soderberg between Loui Eriksson and rookie Matt Fraser.
Fraser was making his NHL playoff debut, and made the most of it when he banged in a loose puck from the top of the crease, and tied the series at two games apiece. Soderberg and Johnny Boychuk picked up assists on the game’s only goal.
The newly formed third line of the Bruins dominated Game 5, and are the reason the Bruins have a lead in the series. Soderberg opened the scoring on a perfect one timer that was set up by Loui Eriksson. Soderberg would then factor in on another pair of Bruin goals, finishing the night with three points. One of those assists was an Eriksson goal that put the game out of reach for Montreal, making it 4-1 Boston with less than six minutes to play.
The Soderberg-Eriksson-Fraser trio combined for six points on the night, and were the reason the Bruins won both Game 4 and 5. The Habs third trio of Bourque-Eller-Gionta meanwhile, combined for 0 points in the pair of games, and only contributed three shots on goal in the Game 5 loss.
This line was a huge factor in the Canadiens being able to knock off the Tampa Bay Lightning in four straight in the opening round. They also played a huge role in a win over Boston in Game 1 of this series.
In the last four games of this series however, Gionta and Bourque have been held scoreless, and Eller has an empty net goal and one assist.
The Canadiens have done a great job shutting down the Bruins excellent line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla. The trio combined for 189 points in the regular season, but have scored just three goals as a line in this series. This includes an empty net goal from Lucic in Game 2.
However, the Canadiens have not taken advantage of this, as their top line has struggled throughout the series as well. Krejci has just one assist in the series, but so does David Desharnais, who should be the Habs most productive center. Iginla’s two points are matched by Max Pacioretty’s pair of assists, and Vanek’s two goals and one helper, match the three points from Lucic.
The Bruins second line of Bergeron with Reilly Smith and Brad Marchand has outscored the Canadiens second line led by Tomas Plekanec. This has mostly been negated thanks to the combined 11 points put up by Habs defenders Subban and Andrei Markov.
The problem, especially in the last pair of games, has been the vast difference in production from the bottom of the lineup. Eller’s line has combined for six points in this series, including just two since Game 1 ended, while the Bruins third line has scored 11 in the series, and 10 of those have come in the last four games.
The Canadiens have been far from perfect in this series, but their third line being outscored by the opposing third line 10-2 is the real reason the Habs have lost three of the last four games in this series.
Sure, it would be great if Pacioretty and Desharnais were contributing at the same rate they did in the regular season. However, they have been shut down in this series, much the same way the Krejci line has been kept fairly quiet.
The difference between the two teams is the role players on the Bruins have taken advantage of favorable matchups and stepped up their game, making up for the lost offense from the Krejci line.
If the Canadiens are going to win this series, or even make it to Game 7, their depth players are going to have score more goals than the suddenly sizzling hot third line of the Bruins.