This past Saturday against the Philadelphia Flyers, the Boston Bruins were without their number one right winger and leading goal scorer in Jarome Iginla. Given the chemistry that Iginla and line mates David Krejci and Milan Lucic have formed over the course of the season, most believed that the first line would struggle without their normal trio. That never happened though, because Loui Eriksson jumped right into Iginla’s spot and had his best game of the season. Eriksson had an assist on four of the five goals, and logged 20:29 of ice time, including the final minute with the Flyers’ goalie pulled.
In Saturday’s game, Eriksson played as well as he has all year because he moved his feet in all three zones, he was strong on the puck, and he made smart decisions with the puck when he had to. His last assist to Chris Kelly for the empty-netter was a beautiful saucer pass that dropped right in front of Kelly, who just had to keep skating and tap the puck into the net for the fifth and final goal.
But it’s not just the offense that the Bruins love with Eriksson. His position on the second power play unit as a net front presence and active stick lead to many great scoring chances for the Bruins power play, while his penalty killing, alongside Kelly, has been spectacular these past few weeks. Thus, Eriksson has now earned the trust of the entire coaching staff that he can play on any line and in any situation.
However, it wasn’t all fun and games for Eriksson, who has suffered two concussions this season on jarring hits from John Scott and Brooks Orpik. After taking his time to come back from the second concussion, Eriksson has been nothing but impressive in his play recently. The Bruins current stretch of 16-1-3 in their last twenty games proves that, while it hasn’t been all because of one player, Eriksson, when healthy, is a true difference maker. Finally the Bruins are now seeing the player they thought they were getting when they traded for him last Independence Day in the Tyler Seguin deal.
Eriksson might have shined on Saturday on the first line, but chances are that he starts the postseason on the third line with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg as his line mates. Assuming everyone’s healthy, Iginla will be on the first line, while Reilly Smith could play with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on the second line. However, Smith has been on a bit of a cold streak lately, so if the Bruins try out Eriksson on the second line over their last three games of the regular season, and feel like he can produce more than Smith, then Eriksson will move up to the second line. No matter which way you slice it, the Bruins’ first-round opponent will have a tough time defending all three lines and keeping them off the scoresheet.
Heading into the playoffs, Eriksson will give the Bruins coaching staff many options conceding who will play on what line and how much time they’ll get. If he stays on the third line, that trio will eat up opposing team’s third defensive pairings in the playoffs. If he bumps up to Bergeron’s line, they’ll be an offensive presence with three players who all take pride in their two-way play. And if, God forbid, Iginla isn’t able to go, Eriksson will be just fine on the first line too, as we clearly saw on Saturday, when he turned in his best performance of the year.