Peverley falls right in line with 2 goals
When the Bruins began a season that’s now two wins from immortality — way back on Oct. 9, and miles away in Prague — Rich Peverley was in St. Petersburg, Fla., putting one shot on net for the Atlanta Thrashers in a 5-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Last night, bumped up to the first line in place of a fallen teammate who was seemingly everywhere at TD Garden despite not being spotted in the building, Peverley paid Nathan Horton the highest compliment. He played like a top-liner, scoring two goals in a 4-0 win over Vancouver in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, helping the Bruins tie the series.
Not bad for someone who wasn’t considered good enough to be drafted by any NHL team. Or someone who was claimed off waivers by the lowly Thrashers when his first NHL employer — Nashville — deemed him expendable.
“It doesn’t matter which way you come here,’’ said Peverley, who took only two shots last night and found the net with both. “When I got here, I wasn’t sure exactly how I’d fit in, but coach [Claude Julien] put me in a role that hopefully I can continue to succeed at.’’
Peverley was one of only two Bruins to play in 82 regular-season games, but neither he nor Tomas Kaberle spent the entire year with Boston. They were acquired in separate trades Feb. 18, Peverley coming to the Bruins in a deal that sent Blake Wheeler and Mark Stuart to Atlanta.
He scored four goals in 23 regular-season games following the trade. He has matched those four in the postseason, getting his first in the opening series against Montreal, and another in the Game 5 win over Tampa Bay during the Eastern finals.
Those weren’t nearly as big as the pair he bagged last night, and couldn’t have come at a better time, giving the Bruins a lift when they were left wondering how they’d replace the concussed Horton, who was tied for second on the team with 17 points in the postseason.
Peverley found out he’d be joining Milan Lucic and David Krejci right before pregame warm-ups, not giving him much time to contemplate the task. From signs to jerseys to Bobby Orr waving the team’s No. 18 flag before the game, Horton reminders were constant.
“You can’t replace a guy like that,’’ Peverley said. “He’s a tremendous scorer, a very emotional player, one of our best players. I wasn’t trying to replace him, I was just trying to play my game and help out any way I could.’’
It looked like the three were longtime allies, with Krejci and Lucic having a hand in both of Peverley’s goals, which bookended the scoring. On the first, with 8:01 left in the first period, Zdeno Chara passed to Krejci, who chipped it toward center ice and a charging Peverley, who broke free. Barreling toward Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo, Peverley sneaked one between the pads.
All three members of the new line were involved in the fourth goal, which came early in the third period. Krejci chipped a pass to Lucic along the boards, and Lucic sent the puck toward Luongo, with Peverley flying toward the crease.
Lucic’s shot glanced off Luongo’s stick and went into the air, then bounced off Peverley’s midsection and caromed into the net. Unconventional, perhaps, but fitting for a player who quickly impressed with his speed and hands, showing his versatility.
“Pevs was great tonight,’’ said Krejci. “He took the most of his chances and got two goals, so good for him, and hopefully he can continue on.
“He had a really strong game tonight, so hopefully he’s not going to get too satisfied, and he’ll go into the next game and do it all over again.’’
The thrill of scoring two goals in a Stanley Cup Final win is tough to top, but Peverley won’t forget what took place immediately afterward. Horton might not have been visible to the TD Garden crowd, but he paid a surprise visit to his teammates following the game, and handed the tattered jacket that has come to symbolize the Bruins’ player of the game to Peverley.
The jacket had been hanging in Horton’s stall since Game 3, when he was carted off the ice on a stretcher with a concussion.
“Pretty emotional,’’ said Peverley. ‘Nathan came in and spoke a little bit. He’s a big part of this team, and just to be able to see him and know that he’s healthy and safe, that’s very important to us. He wanted to give the jacket out, didn’t want to hold on to it. It was great to see him. I didn’t expect that.’’
Through four games, very little about this series has played out as expected. An undrafted journeyman’s star turn, in place of a popular teammate, serves as the latest example.
Michael Whitmer can be reached at email@example.com.