BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins have been searching for a reliable two-way third line almost since the day right wing Michael Ryder packed his bags as a free agent and left a hole next to center Chris Kelly and forward Rich Peverley after the 2011 Stanley Cup championship season.
With center Carl Soderberg and right wing Loui Eriksson getting rookie Matt Fraser to join their line, the Bruins' search might be over.
The three combined for six points in the Bruins' 4-2 win in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Second Round series against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday at TD Garden. The Bruins now lead the series 3-2 heading into Game 6 on Monday at Bell Centre (7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, RDS).
"Well, I mean it's happened to us in the past. Anytime that we've had more than just two lines that can be a scoring threat, that's really helped," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "Carl Soderberg's line has been arguably our best line so far in this series and they make things happen. So you've got to give them a lot of credit. It certainly takes a lot of pressure off the other lines."
The pressure began to be relieved in Game 4, when Fraser capped a strong night by the line by scoring the game-winning goal in overtime off a feed from Soderberg. That evened the series 2-2.
Soderberg and his linemates picked up right where they left off in Game 5. Soderberg scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoffs goal at 13:20 of the opening period from in front of the net off a feed by Eriksson. Soderberg won a faceoff and Fraser had passed the puck to defenseman Matt Bartkowski, who slid it down low to Eriksson.
With the Bruins protecting a 3-1 lead in the third period, Eriksson struck at 14:12. Fraser fired a wrist shot from the right half-wall off Montreal goaltender Carey Price's pads right to Eriksson in the slot. Eriksson's goal was his first in five games.
"Yeah, we're playing really good," Eriksson said. "We're playing smart and simple and we're making good plays. And we're getting some really good chances out there, so it definitely feels good. We have to keep doing that."
Since Kelly went out with a back injury in early April, the Bruins have tried several different players with Soderberg and Eriksson. Veterans Jordan Caron and Daniel Paille and rookie Justin Florek all skated in that spot in the playoffs to varying levels of success. Fraser was called up from the Providence Bruins of the American Hockey League on Wednesday to skate in that spot in Game 4.
Eriksson and Soderberg had played together for a couple of months, ever since Eriksson got healthy after two absences because of concussions. Sometimes when two players have chemistry, it can be difficult for a third player to find his way, never mind one that hadn't ever played in the NHL playoffs before.
Fraser hasn't found fitting in to be difficult.
"You know what? They've both helped me out a lot. They've both talked to me, and that's such a big difference from, something I've noticed from the American league to the NHL is everyone's talking to you," Fraser said. "Everyone's letting you know how much time you have, and that makes such a world of a difference to, you get that split second to make the right play rather than kind of shoveling it up the boards."
Eriksson and Soderberg sometimes communicate in their native language, which is Swedish. They make sure to clue in the Alberta-born Fraser, and all three players bring a little something different. Soderberg uses his 6-foot-3, 216-pound frame to clear space and his powerful legs to build up a head of steam. Eriksson is shifty with the puck and smart about getting open on the attack and into passing lanes on defense. Fraser has a dangerously quick release on his shot that has benefited from Soderberg's ability to back off defenses.
"Like with Kelly before, it took 10 games, 15 games to get the chemistry together. But then you're all set," Soderberg said. "And Loui and I have that chemistry for that long time. And now we have changed the third guy on our line and I don't know, like it seems like [Fraser] is a pretty good option there."
Julien was uncharacteristically transparent after Game 4 when he said that Fraser would play in Game 5. Nothing he saw Saturday should change his mind before Game 6. It should soothe the coach to know that Fraser and his linemates don't plan on simply duplicating their efforts of the past two games. They expect to increase their production.
"Yeah, I think as a line you can always be better and always want to be better," Fraser said. "Anytime you get satisfied is when you get stale, I think. And it's again, like it's fun playing with those guys. They work well with each other, and I'm doing my best to try and complement them."
Said Eriksson: "Yeah, it's definitely a nice feeling. But like I said, we played good the other day too and we just kept going there."