When it was announced that Jarome Iginla would not play in Saturday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers, Bruins fans had reason to worry. After all, how could a team possibly be better off when you subtract the player that leads the team in goals and is second in overall points?
As it turned out, the Bruins did just fine while letting the 36-year-old get some rest, beating the Flyers 5-2 to snap their two-game losing streak and clinch the best record in the Eastern Conference, with the first line scoring three of the team’s five goals and combining for nine points.
“It’s great that we had that winning streak, but in the short term we did lose two in a row and we wanted to turn things around and get back in the win column as soon as possible,” Milan Lucic said after the game. “We expected the game to be the way that it was before puck drop and we expected [Philadelphia] to come out hard because they’re right there with Columbus as well, so they’re playing desperate right now and they’re going to be playing that way for the rest, for the last couple of games that they have.
“For us it’s easy just to kind of lean back and not be focused and take these games for granted because of where we are in the standings, but these are the games we want to be in so we stay sharp heading into the playoffs.”
With Iginla out of the lineup, Claude Julien moved Loui Eriksson up to fill his spot on David Krejci’s right side, and the move paid off in dividends as the Swedish winger assisted on all but one score.
“Coming back [from the Olympics,] he’s been playing really, really well for us and he’s being the player that I guess everyone expected him to be,” Lucic said about Eriksson. “He’s a very smart hockey player. He’s in the right position a lot of the times. He’s got a good stick. And that’s what makes him an easy player to play with.
“Two of the last three games where we were able to play with him, we were able to generate a lot of offensive chances and today were able to get rewarded for those. And big game by him as well with four assists, so it’s good to see him get rewarded and playing to the best of his abilities.”
First line regulars David Krejci and Milan Lucic each got a goal and an assist of the Bruins first two scores of the day, with Lucic giving the Bruins the lead back just 17 seconds after the Flyers had snapped their 3:05:01 scoring drought.
Lucic finished the day with two goals and the assist, while Krejci had a goal and an assist. The only goal Eriksson did not assist on was Johnny Boychuk’s go-ahead score 13:54 into the third period.
“It’s pretty easy to play with [David] Krejci and [Milan] Lucic,” Eriksson said. “They are two great players to play with and they are making some great plays out there and tonight we had a good game.
“They are such smart players to play with. The way they play, it’s pretty simple; you go out there and try to help them out. It was a good game.”
A strong first line has been key to both of the Bruins’ Stanley Cup Final runs over the past three seasons, but this season Krejci and Lucic will have a new partner on the line after Nathan Horton signed with Columbus in the offseason.
While Iginla will undoubtedly shift right back onto the first line when healthy, Bruins fans will remember that in the 2011 and 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, Nathan Horton was not 100 percent and someone else was needed to fill his spot, so it is good to see that a talented player like Eriksson can seamlessly hop onto that line in a pinch.
“I thought [Eriksson’s] composure was unbelievable,” said Torey Krug, who assisted on Lucic’s second goal. “He’s really patient with the puck. And playing with guys like [Lucic] and [Krejci], they’re going to open up lanes for you, and I think Loui took advantage of that.”
The Bruins don’t play again until Tuesday, when the head to Minnesota for the first of their final four games of the regular season. With home ice throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs now solidified, Julien may decide to give some of his regulars rest before the long playoff road begins in two weeks.
A fully healthy Bruins first line has shown to be one of the most deadly in the NHL this season, so there is no question that if this line can keep on rolling once the playoffs begin, there may be no stopping the Black and Gold.