"Yeah, Thorny only allowed me to have one cup of coffee. I don't think I needed more because my heart rate was already high. But yeah, he talked to me and helped me relax. All the veterans did. They tell you to just relax and go out there and play your game."
-- Byron Bitz, on his pregame preparation before Game 3
Everyone knew Boston's Byron Bitz
would bring the size and toughness to the ice lost when he replaced the suspended Milan Lucic
for Monday night's Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Few, however, believed he could bring the offense Lucic does.
They were wrong.
Bitz, a rookie called up from AHL Providence late in the season, assisted on Shawn Thornton
's second-period goal that gave Boston its first lead in an eventual 4-2 win against Montreal at the Bell Centre.
After scoring just seven points in 35 regular-season games, Bitz is now on a point-per-game run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Not too bad for a guy who is just two years removed from college hockey and just a half-season removed from the American Hockey League
"It's not like anything I've ever experienced before," Bitz said. "The hair on the back of your neck stands up, it's an unbelievable feeling. You watch the playoffs on TV growing up, and you sit there and you feel that emotion; but being out there, it's the best feeling."
Boston coach Claude Julien
didn't try to hide Bitz in his playoff debut. Bitz, 24, took a regular shift with Thornton and center Stephane Yelle
. In all, he played a hair more than 13 minutes, got the aforementioned assist, finished a plus-1 and had two hits. He almost set up a second goal later in the game, but David Krejci
fired high after being fed by Bitz.
The second assist would have just been icing on the cake after a picture-perfect play for his first point. On the play, Bitz got the puck down low in the Montreal end, winning a board battle against Yannick Weber
, and then shielded the puck from the defenseman as he curled up the half wall before seeing Thornton rushing into the zone. He made the perfect pass that allowed Thornton to take a shot that surprised Montreal goalie Carey Price
"Bitz and Yeller did an unbelievable job down low today," Thornton said. "Bitzy's big and strong and held onto it. Good look by him, and I just threw it at the net and got lucky, but a great job by those two all night."
Bitz was happy he could help Thornton get the goal, because, the way he figured it, he owed his friend and linemate one. It seems that Thornton watched over Bitz as he prepared for his playoff debut.
"Yeah, Thorny only allowed me to have one cup of coffee," Bitz said, discussing the walk to the rink before the game. "I don't think I needed more because my heart rate was already high. But yeah, he talked to me and helped me relax. All the veterans did. They tell you to just relax and go out there and play your game."
Julien certainly liked the game saw from Bitz Monday night.
"The play he made on the Thornton goal, he was strong along the boards and we talked about that in the morning," Julien said. "When things are going your way, you have guys coming in the lineup like (Shane) Hnidy scoring a goal the other night (the winner in Game 2), Bitzy tonight comes in and make a big play.
"It's nice to have the depth that we have and as a coach you appreciate that because we lost a big piece of our puzzle tonight when Lucic was suspended and when a guy like Byron Bitz
comes in and plays the way he did, it certainly smoothes things out."
Lucic was suspended for one game after incurring a match penalty for high-sticking Maxim Lapierre
in the head during Game 2. Lucic will be back for Game 4, likely relegating Bitz back to healthy-scratch status.