Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien switched around his top two forward lines during Monday’s 4-3 win over the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, moving David Krejci up to the first line while sliding Patrice Bergeron down into Krejci’s usual spot on the second.
Yet, Julien kept his third line of Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston intact and for good reason. They have been arguably the most productive line on both teams through three games with a combined three goals and eight points. With most of the Caps’ defensive attention being paid to the Bruins’ scoring lines, the third line has been able to fly under the radar and contribute effectively.
“Playing simple,” Rolston said Wednesday after Boston’s practice at Kettler Capitals Iceplex when asked what has been working for him and his linemates. “In playoff hockey, there’s no room for cute plays. Guys are too sharp, guys are ready, teams are playing defensively strong. It’s basically playing a simple game.”
Rolston, Pouliot and Kelly’s simple game seems to have the Caps off of theirs, especially the third pairing of Jeff Schultz and Dennis Wideman, who have been tasked with keeping them in check. Unfortunately for Washington, that has not been the case; Schultz and Wideman are both minus-4 in the series and have been on the ice for four of the Caps’ six goals against and all three goals that the Bruins’ third line has scored, including Kelly’s game-winning overtime goal in Game 1 and Pouilot’s game-tying goal in Game 2.
“They’re three skilled guys,” Schultz said. “They’re fast, they get in on the forecheck, they forecheck hard. In the first game, it was a good shot by Kelly. The second game was another shot to the net that was blocked and a good rebound find. It just seems like they’re at the right place at the right time or we’re just not close enough in our coverage that they are able to find a rebound or get a shot off.”
Perhaps head coach Dale Hunter has seen a mismatch between Boston’s third line and his third defensive pairing; John Erskine skated with Wideman during practice Wednesday, which could suggest that Schultz might not play in Thursday’s Game 4. Rolston, however, does not feel like he, Kelly and Pouliot have solved the Caps’ defense.
“If we were scoring five goals a game, then I’d say we have it figured out, but that’s not truth about it,” he said. “Fact is, they have great defense over there. We’ve been pretty opportunistic with our chances.”