BOSTON (CBS) – As impressive as the Bruins’ comeback win on the road against the Phoenix Coyotes was Saturday night, the victory that ran the Bruins’ winning streak to 12 games still came with its disappointments.
One such letdown was that Loui Eriksson didn’t record a point while the Bruins were turning a 2-1 third-period deficit into a 4-2 triumph. Eriksson had a three-game point streak (1-2-3) when the Bruins landed in the desert, but he didn’t get on the score sheet against the Coyotes.
Of course, that Eriksson’s expected to regularly contribute to the Bruins’ offense is a testament to how far he’s come during a tumultuous season that twice saw him sidelined by concussions and even once kept out of the lineup because of a freak accident.
Eriksson’s return to form has allowed coach Claude Julien to keep Eriksson, the centerpiece of the package the Bruins got from the Dallas Stars in the Tyler Seguin trade, with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. The Kelly-Soderberg-Eriksson line has given the Bruins their most effective third line since the 2010-11 Stanley Cup championship season and provided Julien with the opportunity to keep his other three lines stable.
Kelly’s speed, versatility and fundamental play, and Soderberg’s ruggedness and vision might be going to waste right now if their emergence didn’t coincide with Eriksson finally looking like the player the Bruins coveted from Dallas. In addition to his 2-8-10 totals in his past 14 games, Eriksson has shown his knack for anticipating in the opponents’ passing lanes and find his own space for both playmaking and shot attempts with the puck.
As Julien recently explained it: “Loui’s playing really well, and Loui’s probably the brains on that line that makes a lot of good things happen. So he’s made some smart plays and right now there’s a real good chemistry between those three.”
Eriksson might be the “brains” of the line, but not too long ago it looked like his brain might keep him from making any impact on the Bruins. A cheap shot from Buffalo Sabres forward John Scott knocked Eriksson out for five games, and then Brook Orpik’s borderline check sent Eriksson into the dark for 15 more games.
As a player who missed only three games in his prior five seasons and once had a streak of 263 consecutive games played (snapped on Jan. 21, 2011), the 28-year-old Eriksson was suddenly not only playing for a new team but going through things –games off and post-concussion symptoms – that he’d never been through before. Eriksson risked becoming known as a player that couldn’t stay out of the trainer’s room.
“That’s definitely not the guy I want to look like. I haven’t been hurt a lot in the season before, it’s just been this season. It’s kind of weird that it happened this season,” Eriksson said.
The Bruins tried to relieve any pressure Eriksson was feeling to rush back and impress his new organization. Julien said that the Bruins’ unfortunate past experience with concussed players – Patrice Bergeron, Marc Savard, Adam McQuaid to name a few – taught the team to let Eriksson know it needed him back 100 percent and not a second sooner.
The way Eriksson is performing now is a result of that patience, even if he did miss one more game with an infected cut just after the Olympics. The unfortunate accident happened in Sochi, where Eriksson was getting in a cold tub and caught his heel on the edge of a step. The hectic Olympic schedule didn’t allow for proper healing and then led to the infection.
A lesser man might’ve decided to pack it up for the season with the way the injuries were flying Eriksson’s way. Instead he’s trudged forward and the past few weeks he’s really felt himself.
“I think it’s more of a comfort level out there. I’m trying to maybe hold onto the puck a little bit more and make plays, stay in the right positions, things like that.”
Even though Eriksson’s feeling better, his production is still a ways off from what he was providing the Stars. His 28 points in 50 games would translate to 46 in a full 82-game schedule, well shy of the 70 or more he was giving Dallas. The Bruins will have to determine in the offseason whether he can return to his old levels or if they’ll have to configure their lineup differently in 2014-15. A potent return to the Stanley Cup playoffs by Eriksson could allay any of general manager Peter Chiarelli’s concerns.
Eriksson hasn’t been in the playoffs since the Stars went to the conference finals against Detroit in 2008. That playoff season he produced 4-4-8 totals in 18 games.
“That playoffs was real fun and I had a great time playing those kind of games. It’s so fun and it’s been a while since I’ve been there so it’s definitely nice to be on a good team here,” he said.
Good might be an understatement when describing the Bruins, who are the hottest team in the NHL and are battling the St. Louis Blues for the best record in the league. No matter how you classify them, the Bruins will be a whole lot better with a healthy Eriksson continuing to show why it was so important Boston imported him in the deal that shipped out Seguin.
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