BOSTON (CBS) — Forward Matt Fraser has been such a revelation in his two games since the Bruins called him up from the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League, it’s easy to forget that the two players he’s skating with were on a bit of a roll before his arrival.
Center Carl Soderberg and right winger Loui Eriksson have built their chemistry over the past several months and were able to sustain a threat offensively in the playoffs even with a rotating cast of rookie Justin Florek, Jordan Caron and Daniel Paille skating to their left.
It’s just that now that Fraser’s been dropped into the scene, Soderberg and Eriksson are finally getting rewarded for their efforts.
Fraser famously scored the overtime game-winning goal in Game 4 on Thursday. Soderberg’s line then combined for six points in the Bruins’ 4-2 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference second-round series Saturday night at TD Garden. The Bruins now lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading into Game 6 at Bell Centre on Monday.
Neither Soderberg nor Eriksson had scored in the Montreal series until Saturday. Soderberg scored the first goal of the game, the first in his NHL playoff career, at 13:20 of the first. Eriksson scored at 14:12 of the third period to give the Bruins a 4-1 lead when things were starting to get dicey with just a two-goal lead.
The Swedish stars seemingly needed the Alberta-born Fraser to open the offensive floodgates.
“He’s a goal-scorer for sure. And we haven’t scored,” said Soderberg, who also had two assists. “Last game he came in and scored for us. So he got us going, too. And today it was me and Loui’s turn.”
Soderberg’s line is the third line on the Bruins’ depth chart no matter what way you draw it up. Although David Krejci’s line hasn’t been a factor against Montreal — or Detroit in the first round for that matter — Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla have the track record of a first line. Patrice Bergeron’s line will always be the second, or at least for however long Krejci’s in the first center seat.
But think about what the Bruins have on their “third line.” There’s Eriksson, who once scored 36 goals in an NHL season and has exceeded 25 goals four times. And there’s Soderberg, who last season in the Swedish Elite League led all scorers with 30 goals. These are not third-line players. And it should be pretty easy for anyone to play with them and put up points. Not to take anything away from what Fraser has accomplished in two games, but he’s playing with elite talent at his side.
Eriksson had a lot of things go against him this season. He battled through two concussions on top of the adjustment to a new team, a new system and a lot of different new linemates. Soderberg came over to North America for the first time last spring and got his feet wet with six regular-season games and two playoff games for the Bruins. However, he was never able to really be the player he could. Several weeks of inactivity while the Bruins hammered out his contract removed him from game shape. And then he was in a new country and city trying to make his way on a team that had Stanley Cup championship aspirations. Even his start to this season was delayed by an ankle injury that cost him eight games.
Eriksson didn’t really start to look like himself until the last six weeks of the regular season, when he scored four of his 10 goals. Having played just 61 games, plus some games in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Eriksson might be in midseason form in the playoffs, when many players are wearing down.
“I feel good. It’s really fun to play these games – it’s what you’ve been waiting for,” Eriksson said. “So, it’s definitely nice to be here and playing on this team and we have a really good team here, so it’s nice.”
Soderberg, who had 16 goals in the regular season, also might be playing his best hockey. But he’s not lowering the bar to his current level just because he had a three-point game against Montreal and has been dominant for a couple of consecutive games.
“I don’t believe in peaks. I think like hard work every game, that creates peaks,” Soderberg said. “And I don’t know, I’m playing pretty good right now but I think I can play this level for a while.”
Coach Claude Julien called Soderberg’s line the Bruins’ best through five games in this series. There’s no way to argue against that claim. They might be a third line on the depth chart, but by the time this playoff run ends, they might force a little restructuring.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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