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Conference Final

Johansson, Coyle providing boost for Bruins in playoffs

Forwards acquired before trade deadline playing key roles against Hurricanes in Eastern Conference Final

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / NHL.com Staff Writer

BOSTON -- At first, it seemed like the same bad luck all over again. 

Four games into his tenure with the Boston Bruins, forward Marcus Johansson was injured, following a hit by Carolina Hurricanes forward Micheal Ferland. He would miss the next 10 games, only returning at the tail end of the regular season to finish with three points (one goal, two assists) in 10 games with Boston. 

At the same time, the Bruins' other 2019 NHL Trade Deadline acquisition, forward Charlie Coyle, had gone cold as soon as he'd arrived back in his hometown, scoring six points (two goals, four assists) in his 21 games with Boston.

 

[RELATED: Complete Bruins vs. Hurricanes series coverage]

 

It was a familiar refrain, given how it has gone with deadline trades made by the Bruins in recent years.

So, you can forgive the Bruins -- and their fans -- for being worried about Johansson and Coyle.

Video: CAR@BOS, Gm1: Johansson buries loose puck for PPG

But this season appears to be different, most recently exemplified by the goal and assist that Johansson contributed in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Carolina Hurricanes, as the Bruins took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series with a 5-2 victory on Thursday. 

When the playoffs began, it was clear that the moves had been good ones, that the players would help, that they would produce. In 14 playoff games, Coyle has 9 points (6 goals, 3 assists), including the game-tying and game-winning overtime goals in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Second Round against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the first one on a beauty of a feed from Johansson. 

They have clicked. The Bruins needed it. It's been crucial so far, and remains so going forward, as Boston readies for Game 2 of the series on Sunday at TD Garden (3 p.m. ET; NBC, CBC, SN, TVAS).

"I would say very, very to our success," coach Bruce Cassidy said, of their importance. "We had some lines that weren't scoring as much early. They got it going for us. Pitched in when they've had to. It's been good timing all around.

"It's why we're still playing. I think Carolina and St. Louis and San Jose would tell you the same thing, that certain people stepped up at certain times. … If we don't get secondary scoring, we're probably not having this discussion right now. So that's a credit to them."

Video: CAR@BOS, Gm1: Coyle credited with empty-net goal

Over the past few seasons under general manager Don Sweeney, the Bruins made moves before the trade deadline, sometimes small, sometimes significant, and they have not often worked out. Last season, it was forward Rick Nash, acquired from the New York Rangers for Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey, prospect Ryan Lindgren, a first-round pick in the 2018 NHL Draft and a seventh-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft.

Nash had six points (three goals, three assists) in 11 regular-season games for the Bruins, did not make a major difference in the playoffs, and eventually retired because of health issues, including a concussion he suffered during his brief time with the Bruins.

The year before that it was forward Drew Stafford, who did not make an impact. In 2016, forward Lee Stempniak and defenseman John-Michael Liles, who combined to cost a second-round pick (2017), a third-round pick (2016), a fourth-round pick (2016) and a fifth-round pick (2017), failed to provide the expected boost. The Bruins did not make the playoffs that season.

The season before, under general manager Peter Chiarelli, The Bruins traded for forward Brett Connolly, who cost two second-round picks and didn't even play in a game before he was injured, because of a shot off his right hand by then-Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg in his second practice with the team.

This season, Sweeney traded forward Ryan Donato and a conditional fifth-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft that became a fourth-round pick when the Bruins made the second round of the playoffs to the Minnesota Wild for Coyle on Feb. 20 and sent a second-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to the New Jersey Devils on Feb. 25 for Johansson. 

It was a lot to give up. And it almost seemed like it might be trending in the wrong direction again, with the injury to Johansson, the ineffective play of both and the playoffs about to begin.

But things changed. Their play picked up. Their importance increased.

"We did identify some areas we felt we needed and, to their credit, they stepped in and provided those things," Sweeney said. 

Johansson, who missed two games against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round with an illness, now has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 12 games this postseason, giving him 37 points in 84 playoff games with the Washington Capitals, Devils and Bruins. 

 

And as his teammates have seen more of him, as they have gotten to know him, they have seen him blossom. The skill level was there from the start, when he skated alongside David Krejci upon joining the team, before helping build the nucleus of a formidable third line with Coyle, something the Bruins haven't had in recent seasons. 

But there was more.  

As Zdeno Chara said, "He's very intelligent player, very smart."

It's not just on the ice where he makes an impact. 

"I thought what JoJo did last night was really important for good teams," defenseman Torey Krug said. "After two periods [on Thursday], guys were looking around, wondering what's going to happen and JoJo had that look in his eye and he spoke up in the locker room. You get excited about that as a teammate, when you see a guy that maybe isn't as comfortable in the locker room as other guys, just because he hasn't been here for a while. 

"He stepped up. He came out right in that third period and scored that early goal and set the tone for us. He was great last night. Hopefully moving forward, he continues that."

Perhaps these players are different.

The trade deadline hasn't always been a boon for the Bruins. But this season? This season it was exactly what they needed.

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