Nathan Beaulieu was put into a situation that seemed nearly impossible to succeed in last night. Having not played a hockey game in over three weeks, and only suiting up for one NHL game since early February, Beaulieu was thrust into the Montreal Canadiens lineup in a do or die Game 6 against the Boston Bruins.
Beaulieu was not the best player on the ice, nor was he asked to be, but at the end of the night there was no doubt the former first round pick from Strathroy, Ontario played an extremely successful hockey game.
Things went well for the Canadiens as soon as Beaulieu stepped on the ice for his first NHL playoff shift. Seconds after the speedy defenseman took his first stride in the game, Lars Eller made the Bruins pay for some sloppy defensive zone play, and the Habs were ahead 1-0.
Before he had even touched the puck, Beaulieu was a plus one in his postseason debut.
The 21 year old was entered into the lineup in favor of Douglas Murray, the often criticized veteran who hits like a steamroller but unfortunately moves like one as well. It was obvious that Murray was not working on a third pairing with Mike Weaver, as both could hit and block shots, but neither could win races to loose pucks, skate well or make a decent pass with consistency.
Enter Nathan Beaulieu.
The rookie defenseman was not asked to carry a heavy work load in Game 6, in fact he had the least amount of ice time of all Canadiens skaters. He played 9:36 over 14 shifts in the game but was expected to use his speed and passing skills to move the puck out of the Habs zone much more quickly than Murray ever could.
He did exactly that, using his blazing speed to jump into the rush on several occasions, only to gracefully make his way back to cover his defensive responsibilities as well.
Beaulieu made his finest play of the game while defending in front of his own net late in the second period. He blocked a point shot by a Bruins defenseman and scrambled to get to the loose puck. He gathered the puck and waited to find an outlet pass, before firing the puck up to a streaking Max Pacioretty. The puck bounced behind defenseman Zdeno Chara and Pacioretty beat the Bruins Norris Trophy candidate to the puck and fired it between the legs of Tuukka Rask to make it 2-0 Montreal.
Beaulieu was given credit for the assist and earned his first career NHL playoff point for his effort.
Murray played three games in this series, and Montreal was outshot 24-10 at 5 on 5 when he was on the ice in those contests. In Beaulieu’s first NHL game in over a month, the Habs outshot the Bruins 6-4 with the rookie on the ice at even strength.
There is no question Beaulieu is more valuable to the Montreal Canadiens heading into Game 7 tomorrow night in Boston than Murray would be. Most fans would have given the rookie a pass if he had a bad game after not playing at all since the Hamilton Bulldogs season ended on April 19th, but that was simply not the case.
Every Habs fan believed all year that Nathan Beaulieu would be a huge part of the Montreal Canadiens future. After scoring one assist, being plus two, and helping the second wave of the power play in his postseason debut against the best NHL team from the regular season, in an elimination game, I would say Beaulieu could be a huge factor for the Canadiens in Game 7 tomorrow night in Boston.